They observe you quietly from within the boundaries of the frame. Yet they are hardly confined to the enclosure. They occupy the space in which they are set, and beyond. They do not shout for your attention, yet they get enshrined in your subconscious. The works of Prabhakar Barwe bring out the extraordinary in the seemingly ordinary. A welcome deviation from contemporary art that carries a whole lot of political and social baggage.
Gallery Threshold in New Delhi is showcasing works by Barwe and four other artists from Mumbai. What is common between Barwe and the four? Apart from pedigree (all five are Sir JJ School of Art alumni), the four carry forward in their own styles the line of thought that Barwe drew. Girish Shahane, the curator of Legacy: A-vanguard, sees Barwe’s canvases as a meditative way of looking. “(The show) attempts to trace the influence and relevance of Barwe through two subsequent generations,” says Shahane.
Change and continuity: Millstone by Yashwant Deshmukh. Images Courtesy Gallery Threshold
A millstone, a china jar, oil lamp—things, often, from rural settings—occupy Yashwant Deshmukh’s canvases. Deshmukh paints everyday objects, their form placed in space that itself seems to be the subject sometimes. He believes he was chosen to show alongside Barwe as he too is fascinated by things and forms around, although his way of looking is different. Describing Barwe’s work as poetic, he recalls the time when he was Barwe’s student. He credits the master for teaching him the approach to the abstract. “I learnt from him how to think of the painting visually. Barwe always said that we must find our own visual language,” says Deshmukh. That lesson is at the root of Deshmukh’s works. He believes he does not show anything through his painting, he searches.
That Barwe did not work with a preconceived thought but searched for subtle relationships between forms also explains the inclusion of Parag Tandel. A sculptor, Tandel has made drawings over the last two years as a personal exercise to explore the use of space. Work that he terms study—done for himself, without any specific goal. “Shahane saw the similarity with Barwe in terms that my work does not seek attention. None of the drawings were done with the idea of this show or even Barwe for that matter,” says Tandel. “I was just following my heart, tracing life’s rhythm. The connection with Barwe’s work was identified by Shahane.”
An untitled drawing by Madhav Imartey.
As for Barwe’s work, Tandel believes one doesn’t have to read the title and then try and interpret the work; it has its own energy in its visual form. It doesn’t need any verbal back-up or any reference, but stands by itself. At the show, Tandel is exhibiting drawings done in gel-pen ink and charcoal.
Another artist who traces similarity with Barwe in his own way is Madhav Imartey. Senior-most among the four, Imartey spent some time with Barwe in the 1980s and worked with him on a few projects. His linear expression of objects is spontaneous and a way of improvisation. Imartey often chooses machine-like objects, such as a typewriter and a stove burner, to draw. “Sharp flowing lines, tube-like serpentine forms and traces of limbs or parts of the human body can be seen in this drawing, the source of which is a stove burner,” he says about one of the untitled works on display. That his subjects are things that are usually not looked at for their aesthetics brings him close to the genre that defines Barwe. However, Imartey does not feel there is a need to put the spotlight on this way of thinking, or that it is unjustly overshadowed by content-driven art. “This show is only to say that there is this as well as that.”
The only female artist in the show clearly feels she cannot be put in the same slot as Barwe. Prajakta Potnis paints everyday things and that’s where she believes the similarity ends. She does find Barwe’s work extremely poetic and pretty, a tag she was sure she didn’t want associated with her work when she started. What she finds interesting is how Barwe often shows the presence of something through its absence. “Like human forms which he did not paint but you could sense them. In that way, the politics in his work was not in your face, it was hidden. That is where I connect with him.” Potnis’ work is close to Barwe’s visually more than conceptually. She too does not paint anything unnecessary; the minimalist quality of her paintings defines her style.
Canvas by Prabhakar Barwe.
For instance, her Porous Walls, which is on display at the show. Potnis says she is moved by the peeling walls in middle-class homes and wants her work to be a part of those walls. “I also hope to evoke a metaphorical reference to systems or beliefs crumbling under daily pressure,” she says. Possibly a fitting visual for the world of art populated and influenced by a 24x7 news cycle.
Legacy: A-vanguard will show at Gallery Threshold, F-213/A, Lado Sarai, New Delhi, until 15 February. For details, log on to www.gallerythreshold.com
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