In his three and a half years in Bangalore, American artist and art teacher Jon Den Hartigh has found many things intriguing, but none more than the visual landscape that is the Indian road. Like most public places, the Indian road has the colour (vehicles) and character (dogs, cows, beggars) that lend it a distinct appeal. But Hartigh aims to give a perspective focusing strictly on vehicles and machines.
Hartigh’s upcoming exhibition in Bangalore is an aesthetic but whimsical contemplation of the Indian road. In the show titled POP! you will find oils, acrylics and paintings using a variety of media but bound by an abiding theme: vehicular traffic. You will be besotted by lavish Hindustan Ambassador cars coloured in red, blue, yellow, grey and more; the Bajaj auto rickshaw in pink; a green Royal Enfield bike and several Ashok Leyland trucks. The images have an immediate freakish appeal, but what is the artist aiming for?
“My current work retools the idea of mass production and transportation,” says an affable Hartigh. “Initially my idea was more concrete. I began by reconfiguring a white, 2000 model Hindustan Ambassador. I sought to redefine the concept of the car by repainting it metallic raspberry as a means of shocking others into a new visual relationship with something that was otherwise ubiquitous.” But the trial didn’t stop with just that.
“Experimenting with the Ambassador led me to reconsider the original concept itself,” Hartigh explains. “I chose to pursue my idea for the show by means of a more intimate system, through the medium of paint. In order to develop a suitable platform I expanded my transportation line, appropriating the iconic symbols of the Indian road. That is, an Ambassador, a Royal Enfield Bullet, a Bajaj auto rickshaw and an Ashok Leyland truck.”
Hartigh says he took on the idea of mass production of vehicles by producing his own concepts of these icons. “I sought to literally stamp out my own fleets. What has emerged from this process is a hybrid of my own intuitive Western palette fused with the most lasting production runs in Indian transport.” How does he compare what he sees on the Indian road with what he has seen elsewhere?
“Surely, there’s more colour on the Indian road than in other countries,” he says. “I see the Indian road as a place where people are expressing themselves through their machines. They do this both in a conservative way, and also in a way that is their own version of a type of personal success. For instance, for an Ambassador owner, the car is a sign of his or her own success in India society,” Hartigh emphasizes.
And since he has dealt with a plethora of vehicles, which one is his favourite? “I’m a car person. So Ambassador, of course!”
POP! will be on from 11am-7pm, 9-23 April, at Kynkyny Art Gallery, 104, Embassy Square, 148, Infantry Road, Bangalore.