Blue & Red

Recent works by RAVI MANDLIK

4 – 14 December 2013  |  Daily 11am – 7pm, Sundays Open


In the present exhibition Ravi Mandlik meditates to return to contemplate his art practice. It is not on a variety of things he ponders, but on a few recurrent concerns through which can be sensed underlying verities. The moment of aesthetic distance in Ravi Mandlik’s work has a double edge. An alumnus of Sir. J.J. School of Art Ravi Mandlik with several international shows is respected as one of the most significant artists working in Mumbai today, producing work that uniquely straddle modes of abstraction. Beginning with a remembered experience, Mandlik works on any series for long periods, often several years, characteristically producing richly coloured, sweeping compositions, which continue into the painted space itself. Mandlik’s penchant in working in different scales is evident particularly in his more recent series in mostly done in three formats-medium(40 x 30 inches) and large(48x 94 inches) mainly. The shapes and substances assuming a mental quality, conferring upon the mind that brought them forth a thrilling if somewhat a power of detachment and an acomplished syntax of language able without modification of its own nature to transmit an indefinite variety of mystical messages. There are 26 works in this show titled “Autumnal Cadences in Blue and Red”. The current enthusiasm for cool, distanced conceptual strategies threatens at times to transform abstract painting into a purely cerebral understanding. Mandlik reminds us of the pleasures to be found in visual seduction. He has an ability to state the most enduring truths in a style that is measured and patiently gathers a subliminal energy.

There is a turning, a barely perceptible displacement that joins all the articulations and penetrates all the points welded together by the imitated discourse. A trembling spreads out which then makes the space crack. There is the large, monochrome ochre shore as the background. There is the contour as an autonomous power. We can see the function of these secondary yet indispensable elements. The field is limited and contained, in this a large contour still belongs to the field, precisely because it is itself only the outer limit of other, more concise contours or rather the broken tones. It becomes doubtless the purest pictorial situation and is fitting that his language, often evokes and on several occasions actually realize the potentials of a meditative enclosure and are replete with images of a static eternity that substitutes the external one translating feeling and emotions into a visual language. He stresses the deliberateness of his process and enumerated the ingredients that constitute his painting and measures them carefully. He considers his jagged forms to be actual objects that he positions on a stained field. His paintings are not arrangements of that flat geometric form that divide the picture plane, nor are they vast atmospheric backdrops but sublime texts where he uses light and keeps the source as a revelation of some kind of the spiritual. For all the runnels of colour that maintain a certain austerity, these paintings celebrate their artifice, and sweeping brushstrokes seem genuinely felt, warm and intimate. He starts with a bright palette and at the last moment he builds up tones using layers of thin colours: earlier they would have threatened the tone of an essential eclectic exercise. The artist is inundated by the degree to which his own powers can enter, alter, withhold, made precious the clear view beyond, which they are in danger of shutting off forever. Those stretches of paint, they sustain and extend; their calm shimmer and overwhelms; slowly as they start to gather in scene after scene, they begin to speak of relinquishment, of escape lacking any exuberant painterly iridescence. The application of paint also reveals distinct purposes, where paint body produces a kind of textual differentiation enumerating various forms and corresponding traditions. The abstraction contests the space of the painting by standing up against one another, by raising the intensity or value of their colour or simply by aggrandizement. For such a drama the space might be quite shallow. The linear forms of the earlier paintings quickly disappear to be replaced by profound structures which appear to grow from within on the canvas and are not defined by contours. As such visual text emerges; they come up against the edge of the picture. The axiom of struggle within the space sets the edge as the limit, though the need for contained identity for the forms do not allow them to share a boundary with the canvas or to mimic it too precisely; silhouette which encompasses formal structures, for another, his studies become unpretentious. For him a particular colour might demand a specific proportion but more often it seems that mutual adjustment of colour, shape and definition require that a form grow and shrink- which may reinforce or contradict the optical expansiveness of a colour field of combination. It seems, therefore, that the initial motif was essentially a choice of colour- shape protagonists, as it were actors in a play, but once placed in the field, they might be radically transformed by the tussle- the flat paint body seem less important than tone, creating an abyss set against deeper abyss, marking the points where their forms reflect, intersect or overlap, the frame within the frame diverges instead of converge, now another illuminating areas evolve, – a rough parallelism is achieved. Eventually the drive of the forms towards consistency leads to their development into vast fields or bands which are characteristics of his mature work. As Mandlik recites to us the entire dramatic scale of his subliminal passions, no wonder we are received with grand emotivity, transcendental emotivity, so precious that makes our soul tremble before the pulsing drama of abstraction.

What is terrifyingly ecstatic though disparate they are: is the spectre of non-saviour and profound exuberant visual reading as in lush painted spaces- no repose or appropriation, no comfortable possession is posited, only affliction and supplication meeting at an imaginary point. His abstractions are pulsating markers woven from whiplash lines, coloured fields and an occasional sweep that commands the space, they filter, and they intuit our minds. The paintings speak here to contemporary abstraction’s continuing fascination with isolation and depersonalization of the autographic gesture. Mandlik recreates for the eye, in two dimensions, something of the pleasurable hindrances of a winding progress through pictorial space. It becomes apparent experiencing his work that Mandlik enjoys solitude for his painting which awakens and takes its shape in silence.

Broadly, the negotiated space of national/international, in a subliminal manner brought two kinds of subject positions in the Indian art world. First the confrontational and the heroic- outsider to the mainstream and its institutions who upheld a subversive revolutionary identity, and the second that verge on the solipsistic guise, whose reclusive symptoms manifest often through a disquieting expressionism by using the premises of abstractionist formalism. A great artist never recapitulated the history of painting in his own work in an eclectic manner. Nor does this history correspond directly to the painter’s periods, though the periods may have an indirect relation to it. It does not even correspond to the separate aspects of a given sculpture or painting. Rather, it would be like the space covered by the unity of a single, simple gesture. The historical recapitulation consists of stopping points and passages, which are extracted from or reconstitute an open sentence- and then the form collapses. The form is no longer an essence but becomes an accident; humankind is an accident. This accident opens up a space between two planes; the contour ceases to be the common limit of the form and the ground on a single plane. The diagram is never an optical effect, but an unbridled manual power, a spectacle that forces the eye to confront this manual power- it is a frenetic zone in which the hand is no longer guided by the eye and is forced upon sight like another will, which appears as chance, accident or the involuntary. Mandlik is like a philosopher on the aesthetics of sensation, colour and form. The colour pulsates with the texture he gifts them with a certain fluency allowing these pulsating strokes to follow the natural folds, he uses them as multiple washed fields of motion contradicting nature and this distinct use of lines create a formal contradiction on the canvas that gives life to the figures, a contradiction that is further heightened by a gesture, a look or an attitude is an inclusive act, unassuming as it is realistic, and it is bound to give a direction as it is realistic, and it is bound to give a direction as many of his works do, to a more sympathetic understanding.

Culled from our sources of imagery, an uninhibited freedom of subterfuge and play, the energy, dynamism, absorption and spontaneity reveal strands of social semiotic of what a culture talks about and the means and style of expression it employs to do so. A tormenting thought that as of a certain point, history is no longer real and art practice, the accelerations of modernity has given ‘us’ the velocity enabling us to hurtle free of longer real and art practice the referential sphere of the real and the imaginary. Since the purpose of imagery is to remind us, by approximation, of those meanings for which the image stands, and since, apart from this, imagery is unnecessary for thought, we must be more familiar with the image than with which it clarifies. The concept of time is rather of a continuous unfolding rather than a series of static incidents. Mandlik’s imagery leads to a sort of sensation of meaning and significance cramped and obscured than of the unfolding of meaning through its narrative structure largely because, for him, the imagery is not much that can be ordered within any framework based on the historical progression or retreat of time confined by the sense that movement happens within the province of proportional space or of measurable historical time. Instead the flow of mnemonic images creates a different sense of movement and a different hierarchy between objects. This is also linked with a deeper realization that the handling of a body of paint, its articulation and sense of gesture as paint, are largely capable of an immediate registration of the movement in time of an intuitive-subjective experience with the culmination of a romantic apogee. This is perhaps the stillness of the forms of his earliest work, now rendered to suggest a separation between his subjects in an active world. A languor of an infinite yearning, celibate but still singing. We are left cerebrally purer and warmer for the experience.It is through such discourse that the other become anonymous and structures eternal texts of desire. The viewer strays into them as if in half remembrance, unanchored, Instead of strands, one holds on to the textures in a vast middle of broken vectors; the substance of a wakeful dream materializing image and reality, dream and component made by teasing paint and pigment beguiling the viewer into a seemingly no-win game of illusion and recognition of many beginnings and no end.

He was trained in century old Sir. J.J. School of Art and had legends like Prof.Palshikar, and others as his teachers but spiritually he remains closer to Gaitonde. He reminds us that the progression of a painter’s work is toward clarity, toward the elimination of all obstacles between the painter and the idea, and between the idea and the observer. He gives as examples of these obstacles: memory, history and geometry. These works suggest a passage of time, an extremely precocious painter in his early years, both in time, his own evolution and the body he produces. The dynamism in the present series is a subtle indication of changed circumstances. His involvement in light illusory space, dreamy moods create the illusion of looking through a kind of which is illuminated from beyond by diffused sunlight celebrates weightlessness of a great tradition. His works articulated in terms of a picture-script, he voices gravity in somber paintings suffused with an inner glow submerges every other colour- bands of prussian blue and dusty brown fall in broken ridges of white and dark grey, at the bottom of the avalanche, a pinpoint blast of red on white reminds that in the far distance, things dissolve into a dusky haze tinted with crimson red, yellow, orange and grey. There is a degree of impressionistic naturalism about this especially in the depiction of light, but what is more strongly projected is an otherwordly numinous quality. There’s a literalism about the ‘wash down stream’ imagery that makes the makes the paintings evocative combined with an imaginal vision, formal complexity and luxurious painterly sensuality that makes them work so well. It is fitting that Mandlik’s language is implicit in its evolutionary path often evokes and on several occasions actually realize the potentials of a meditative enclosure and are replete with images of a static eternity that substitutes the external one translating feeling and emotions into a visual language- the implacable absolute of otherness. His sensuous clarity turns out on inspection to be both lyric vision and a complex enigma. From as yet ambiguous longing, sustenances that will be available in time as ripeness, necessities of the heart. Ultimately it is sensibility that gives these works their distinction, the quality of his attention, the unlikely subtlety and boldness of his sensuality, the harmony he creates of tensions, inarticulatenesses, ambiguities, volume, light, elusive moments. Elements of the repertoire are continually backgrounded or foregrounded with a resultant strategic overmagnification, trivialization, or even the annihilation of the allusion It is as though he sets out to escape the confines of everyday reality, the colours of the intermediate zone do not suggest the etherealized ambience of ecstatic release; they are imbued with an almost vigorous candour.

– Nanak Ganguly
(Independent curator and critic based in Kolkata)

Exhibits in this show

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