The everyday canvas
Two new shows, by Lekha Washington in Mumbai and Yuvan Bothysathuvar in Chennai, draw on life experiences
‘The Nature Of Things’ by Lekha Washington
In a diptych titled Alone—a mixed-media work with figurines and found objects like a miniature T-Rex, pianos and barbed wire, all coated delicately with rust dust—the profusion of one frame is thrown into sharp relief by the emptiness of the other. And while the two 7x4ft canvases have been placed on separate walls, artist Lekha Washington’s overarching message is clear: It’s a jungle out there, and we are alone. “I wanted to show the ridiculousness of everyday life and the sense of isolation in all this chaos,” says Washington.
This insight may be a surprise, coming as it does from a 31-year-old National Institute of Design (NID) graduate who is also a well-known actor. She has acted in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada films, besides Hindi cinema.
But Washington’s popularity isn’t simply because of her presence on the big screen. Three years ago, she began a product design firm, Ajji, and patented a design for The Pink Sink, a sofa that looks like a flat, two-dimensional almost-circle with a stainless steel frame. Washington came up with the design at the Ahmedabad-based NID, where she studied film-making in the early 2000s. The Dot, her most famous piece of furniture, followed. It looked like a large circle (it has a diameter of 60 inches), and could be hung on the wall. The two-dimensional appearance of both pieces was a clever design element, but Washington’s focus on functionality never wavered; each piece sinks in as someone sits on it.
Was the move from designing functional products to making a piece of art easy? Washington insists the two aren’t dissimilar. Her furniture pieces are art, she says. “My process of designing The Dot, and designing the leaves in this piece,” she says, pointing to Up, a 5.4ft installation of metal leaves, also coated with rust powder, rising towards the roof, “are the same.”
Up forms part of Washington’s new exhibition, which began at the Sakshi Salon, an outpost of the Colaba gallery in film producer and interior designer Gauri Khan’s design studio in Khar, a Mumbai suburb. Titled The Nature Of Things, the show has a mix of works, including audio, video, canvas and installations. It also includes a short film, Spoonerism, that Washington made while at NID.
The show dips into some big questions surrounding art—its relation to utility and function, the importance of rarity in driving up its value. Washington also brings up the need for an artist to surprise her viewer. “The biggest thing in the industry now is scaling up, and making more of the same. That’s not my thing at all.” Pink Sink lends itself to mass manufacture, the Dot doesn’t, she says. She hopes to make another version of Up, which will be taller and more suited to the outdoors.
If rarity is a standard that is applied to art, her design pieces fulfil the criteria, she seems to suggest. Yet it isn’t easy to answer these questions when it comes to contemporary art, especially since many artists move seamlessly between media.
Washington seems to enjoy creating large-scale installations. For the opening night of the 2014 Kochi Biennale, she had made a work with five helium and light-filled balloons to depict the various phases of the moon. For another show held in a mall in Mumbai some months later, she exhibited a 15ft-tall balloon of rusted iron, filled with helium, to depict the nature of relationships. In this show, however, she has worked on smaller figurines of animals and humans, which crowd her canvases and are scattered across the exhibition space. She has also used the medium of metal and rust powder, something that she insists she has “got out of her system”.
The Nature Of Things is on till 14 August,11am-7pm (Sundays closed), at Sakshi Salon, Gauri Khan Interiors, 15 A Deepvan Building, Khar, Mumbai. The price of works ranges from Rs.10,000-Rs.12 lakh.
‘Shifting Paradigms: Learning From Life’ by Yuvan Bothysathuvar
It is an almost imperceptible shift in shape, but from the spiral of circles on paper affixed to plywood, a square emerges. “It is called Possible,” says Yuvan Bothysathuvar, whose latest works are on display at Gallery Veda, Chennai. “Anything can change if there is passion and hard work; my own life is an example of it,” says the artist. It’s fitting then that his exhibition is titled Shifting Paradigms: Learning From Life.
Almost a decade later, when Bothysathuvar enrolled at the Government College of Fine Arts in Chennai, he found that he did quite well in the classes for figurative art. At college he was introduced to collography, a print-making technique that involves gluing various things to a rigid surface, daubing the resultant collage with pigment and taking a print of it. “I still use this technique in my work,” he says. Two of his collograph prints, both titled Change, are part of his current exhibition.
The rest of the collection consists of mixed-media works that bear somewhat cryptic titles like Dilemma, Life, Other Life and Illusion. “Everything in this collection is derived from my own experience. There have been challenges at every stage, including my first wife’s death and my child being born with Down’s Syndrome,” says Bothysathuvar. In these works, bits of paper, cut from magazines, newspapers, novels and encyclopedias, and pasted on plywood acquire new dimensions. One can barely make out it is paper from far.
After Life is a 86x56-inch plywood board with a dizzying medley of varicoloured paper strips pasted on it. “This entire panel is composed out of the pages of an encyclopaedia. I wanted to give this book another life as it contains the stories of men like Tolstoy, Einstein, Van Gogh, Mandela and Karl Marx: all people who live after death through their work,” he says. Wall, a diptych, has two corrugated panels with barely discernible old movie posters. “In Tamil Nadu, movie posters are pasted on to shop shutters. These are soon ripped off and replaced by new ones, over and over again,” he says.
“Yuvan Bothysathuvar went through an incredible transformation,” says Namrata Kini of Bengaluru’s Kynkyny Art Gallery, who has exhibited his work in the past. “(His works) went from photo-realist figurative paintings to mixed- media abstract collages, expressing complex emotional and conceptual ideas with the seemingly impersonal language of lines, shapes and figures.” She says the change coincided with the birth of his child and his change of name.
“Different artists work with different mediums and mine is paper,” says Bothysathuvar, who won the 2013 Glenfiddich Emerging Artist Award instituted by the company and Bestcollegeart.com, a marketplace for art. He has also worked with crates, mirror, wood, glass, stainless steel, discarded bottles, beads and copper wire. “I like multiple dimensions and layers,” he says. “And I try to see that every piece is beautiful—whatever the sentiment behind artwork, it is beauty that draws people to it.”
Shifting Paradigms: Learning From Life is on till 2 September, 11am-8pm on weekdays, noon-6pm on Sundays (Tuesdays closed), at Gallery Veda, 4/22, Rutland Gate, 4th Street, Nungambakkam, Chennai . The price of works starts from Rs.40,000.
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