Windows, square and rectangular, small and big, in clusters and by themselves, populate the canvas in artist Jaideep Mehrotra’s new works. The Mumbai-based artist’s new solo show carries forward his engagement with the developing world city’s—or more specifically Mumbai’s—shifting horizons, and its stifling sameness, with matchbox apartments jostling against each other and the interminable traffic clogging movement, reducing human beings into robots.
While humans dotted some of the cityscapes in Transmogrification of a City (2007), in Growing Panes in Solitude, the man is hidden behind the concrete. Only cubicles, windows, walls and light bulbs are left to delineate the changing city.
The painting: Tall Stories, a work of acrylic on canvas.
Mehrotra, 54, happens to be one of the first in India to have utilized digital technology in fine art but is one of the few contemporary artists to have continued exploring the potential of the two-dimensional canvas. In the early 1990s, he produced a series of giclée prints, then a new name in the West too—images generated from high resolution digital scans are printed with archival quality inks, a process that results in better colour accuracy than other means of reproduction. Later on, Mehrotra also made works of video and mixed media installation.
But he is primarily a painter. Growing Panes in Solitude includes 13 paintings and three video installations, priced at Rs4-12 lakh. The unique feature of the paintings are their glazed, reflective texture, achieved by using gold, silver and copper foil; and fine glass particles over acrylic paint. In Tall Stories, three skyscrapers stand next to each other against a night sky, brightened intermittently by neon and yellow blobs. When yellow light falls on the canvas from above, the neon and the yellow transforms into light bulbs—these homogeneous apartments come to life, suggesting human habitation and activity.
Cubicles is again a multi-storey building built up by the artist from a low-angle perspective. Hues of yellow and blue merge, giving the canvas a melted, surreal effect. Light again plays an important role in its viewing.
The artist: Mehrotra prefers to keep his works in his house and live with them before he displays them in an exhibition.
Subsequently Bygone is a room with a broken window placed below a decrepit chandelier, and against a white wall with scribbling, melting on to the floor. In the first two works, as in some of the other works in the show, the squared spaces are charged, lit up and alive. In the third, as in a couple of others, there are remnants of human habitation.
The most provocative, thought out work in the show is Within, a video installation. Mehrotra projects a black-and-white film shot with a digital camera on a roughly textured, dark grey canvas. The infinite loop film begins with a shot of a hoarding towering over a busy Mumbai road. The camera zooms into the hoarding, into the picture of the man who is in it. The camera enters frames within frames, entering worlds separated by different milieus and objects, returning finally to the first image. It makes for addictive viewing—while unspooling, it sucks the viewer in, challenging him to juggle memory, to put the pieces together and find a story.
The city is an apolitical space in Mehrotra’s works—stripped to the very fundamental level of inhabiting a physical space, and surviving. The artist says his concerns are now more philosophical, wherein he acknowledges that the city will continue to change no matter what and we are just spirits, small and inconsequential, in this large scheme.
Growing Panes in Solitude at Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, from 15 to 20 April.