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My City – Solo Painting Exhibition by S.A Vimalanathan

April 16, 2017

My City
Solo Painting Exhibition by S.A Vimalanathan

Vimalanathan a Gold Medalist from the 2009 batch of Masters of Visual Arts, Bangalore University, has won many awards and has done many solo Shows and Group Shows all over the country. He lives and works in Bangalore.

It can be expected that an artist’s work in some measure reflects and reacts to his or her own life and circumstances. For S. A. Vimalanathan, however, such compulsion of reference as well as the aesthetic results of his existential exposure become central as the very subject-matter along with its formal manifestations. One needs perhaps to stress this considering the presence of often simultaneous but apparently diverse and unconnected idioms he employs. For the same reason, since the paintings in the current exhibition conjure a separate line of development whereas inherently growing from the previous practice, it should help to recall elements of the latter. In the briefest account, Vimalanathan’s story can be framed between his art studies in Bangalore followed by seven years as a designer in Dubai to be culminated a decade ago by a Masters back in the city, his marriage to sculptor Devipriya and resuming full-time painting. Not entirely comfortable but energetic and optimistic, he locates himself amid the ever metamorphosing metropolis. He observes and comments on its purely visual aspects and on socio-political issues all the while identifying with and questioning the situation in ethical terms, which brings him doubt and distress yet also awareness and possibilities of compensation and emotional security. All this happens in a sincerely direct, often simple and slightly literal manner that largely can be understood from its metaphoric language and enveloping mood, nonetheless partly necessitates verbal explanation.

Throughout and in view of his involvement with reality, both intuitively and as a conscious choice, Vimalanathan expresses himself best in figuration. It is based in realism evident in his focus on the muscular, often tense body which stands for the painter critically participating in the world around, but which gets a little stylised towards universalisation. The specific, however, is permeated by the general, metaphorical and moralistic when human-animal or human-object hybrids convey their message though confrontational positioning in a contemporary way but like in traditional fables too. Thus, the artist paints himself in the shape of a half-chameleon internalising the prevalent niceties of hypocrisy or of a man-lion next to the official Sarnath capital wondering what has happened to Buddhist values. The surroundings look aggressively competitive especially when seen after a long stay abroad, still the hopeful painter finds solace in a slow but steady progress wholeheartedly embracing the responsibilities to his young family. Juggling direct, actual sights and motifs from the surviving heritage of mythology, he finds reassurance both in symmetry and challenging off-balance contrasts while his figures sometimes absorb atmospheric hues, birds or flower details, even written words from around. Desirous of calm and inner peace against a restless or disappointing context, he may depict himself in meditation. Once his painfully arched body, singed by the flames of violence is shown generating a lotus from the navel. It should not surprise then that the painter dedicates many canvases to the Buddha for the sake of consolation and anchoring. The classical symmetry, frontality of display and stylised forms there filled by floral motifs and accompanied by flocks of birds create an independent branch of his work. The balanced repose and the meditative, beatific contentment, the eternal serenity of the nearly closed, all-wise eyes remain focussed within while virtually permeating the globe.

As Vimalanathan alternates his areas of concern and corresponding styles, another, somewhat later line of development becomes evident. His canvases with a realistic figure amid, rather than in contrast to, its specific, metaphorical background which clearly belong to the city, eventually start to include more actual elements of its scenery. Abstracted urban grids, whether tighter and related to building structures or vast and looser to evoke entire spaces can fill the protagonist’s head captured in turbulent considerations or his silhouette in an upside-down

predicament. Increasingly, they transpose into the backdrops of what is enacted as commentaries on the metropolitan reality. During the past few years such compositions almost illustrate this, like in the painting where a mighty elephant in the city encroaching on the forest becomes an excavator or in another which sets off a hybrid sprinter of rivalry against a wider constructional geometry. Conscious of the immediate environment, Vimalanathan increasingly turns the attention of his art to it, observing its visual character and admitting the role it plays in determining human life. The earlier (2008) canvas has himself as an eagle looking down onto the rapidly changing city not to find familiar landmarks, even his own nest. The disappearance of the nestling tree made the artist wonder whether he would be able to find a home for his family. Soon enough from a distant background the urban landscape spread on the full canvas surface as the predominant, in fact, single subject-matter which he straightforwardly calls “My City”.

At first glance, these comparatively new paintings from about two years ago, whereas the exhibition material was done during the last six months, with their foreground focus and highly abstracted form, could appear much unlike Vimalanathan’s other works. On closer consideration however, they reveal a basic coherence in the approach. Similarly to the figurative compositions whose significant motifs around and behind as though loosely compress towards the surface, the abstracted, spreading out ones too suggest a soft combination of shapes that come through simultaneously as flat shapes, contours and masses, seen frontally at a distance as well as taken from a bird’s eye view on close proximity, while depths and various degrees of spatial arrangement retain their sensation without the whole losing the centrality of its surface. One is able to recognize also that all that is layered by the current familiarity with the virtual, perception-flattening Google Earth perspective. The artist now as a spectator documenting the phenomenon of urbanisation, may not be represented any more, nevertheless his attendance can be strongly intuited, somewhat like in the Buddha paintings one sensed his admiration for the serenity of the Enlightened. The sheer evocation of the overwhelming phenomenon anyway does not necessitate a verbally defined symbolism.

The incessant demolition of old structures, construction of ever taller and broader buildings along with the not quite adequately widened roads keeps altering the narratives of city inhabitants and dominates them. Hence, the spectator can empathise with Vimalanathan’s urge to fully imbibe the scenery and register its transitory character before it changes again. So then, the pronounced frontal view of individual buildings and their stretches echoes the modular regularity of expansive grids punctuated by multitudes of equally geometric, smaller motifs. Their repetitiveness and stability are emphasised and at the same time undermined by slightly leaning contours and the general throbbing rhythm. The linearity of those shapes is married to the wider but also pulsating and shifting, softly rectangular patches of colour which absorb the hues and radiance of some concrete grey overwhelmed by the brightness of the sky, bricks, earth or stones, water and greenery, human-introduced light and other creations together with the overall atmosphere. Since all these substances and places are framed by constructed areas, here too they arrive as hues dressed in almost geometric outlines. Even though sporadically gloomy moods or signs of danger are noticed, for instance, the blood-red soil emerging from below things, the general tone remains positive, even appreciative and cheerful. The foreground aspect of city scenes becomes quietly merged with sights from above. The latter, yet, acquires the appearance of frontality, remaining recognisable nonetheless in the ample details of greenery patches or pots, pools of water on roof tops and terraces. Similar details are usually displayed lower in the compositions only to gain a larger than normal ratio if compared to the full building shapes, thus adding to the prevailing fluctuation of perspectives and vantage points. The effect is strengthened by the combination of natural light and artificial illumination at night. This shifting, overlapping and partial mixing of things includes the somewhat ambiguous behaviour of masses and recesses versus facades, of light spreading naturally and being embraced or enhanced by the silhouettes and volumes of large-scale architecture. It is further stressed by the reciprocal presence of sharply depicted and blurred shapes.

Although some of the paintings admit hardships and problems with the sadness of the dull green that marks the no longer cultivated residues of villages, there is much optimism about the energy of the place and its prospects. A good future is predicted by the maybe artificial, beautiful nonetheless, outlines of flowering plants that fleshed out in gold pigment seem to transform into a new sort of urban nature, its shapes attuned to the pulsating enmeshments of gold-coloured roads that superimpose on and engage with the buildings. In the end, everything is astir in a harmonious manner from the very slowly throbbing frontal grids of the vertical canvases to the somewhat faster moving horizontal panoramas of the diptychs and triptychs, whilst throughout there appears to be a potential for expansion on all sides. On the other hand, the older figuration sporadically lets itself remembered as dormant in the shape of an abstract but mildly corporeal, whitish appearance that provides a base for the architectural as well as organic growth upwards.

The artist who sometimes plans his compositions and sometimes trusts his spontaneity, perhaps without realising it, has almost entirely forgone his brushes here. Instead, for the sake of modular grids and acute contours he relies on the roller, plastic oil can and all his paint tubes squeezed directly in the rendering of details. This indeed can be understood as responding to the mechanisation of urban building practices. Employed, however, with some hand-felt irregularity, passion and sensitivity, it tends to pick up the constant, tentative adjustments in the coexistence between technology and organic growth. The method suits also Vimalanathan’s preference for acrylics that dry quickly enough for the speed of his working.

Marta Jakimowicz

Inauguration of the exhibition on 17th April 2017 at 6:00 PM
On view till 23rd April 2017 | 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM

Karnataka #ChitrakalaParishath
#Art Complex,
Kumara Krupa Road,
Near Shivananda Circle,
Kumara Park East
Bengaluru-560 001.

Directions to the Venue :

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