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Jeram Patel's Blow Torch works and B & W drawings

Well over three decades ago, Jeram Patel first experimented with blowtorches on woodworks. The 74-year-old artist has revived the form for his new exhibition. Sharing prime space with the Blow Torch works are black and white drawings.

He is among one of the artists who turned around the Indian art scene and formulated a new visual identity and method of abstraction in the late 1950's and 60's alongside NS Bendre and Sankho Chowdhuri who set up the Baroda School of Art, Patel, and artists like KG Subramanyan and Jagdish Swaminathan. "I worked extensively with the Blow Torch in the 1960s, but then had to give it up because of health problems," he reveals. The art requires it to burn the wood with a blowtorch-the same instrument used by welders on iron- and then engrave on it.

Jeram Patel's show at Phillips Contemporary, Mumbai showcases his famous blowtorch paintings apart from his quieter ink on paper. As he recounts, he had experimented with the blowtorch in the 1960s, and then completely gave it up because he wanted to concentrate on paper works. Though Patel himself stayed away from blowtorches for three decades, others, most notably, Satish Gujral, did take up the art form.

Now, persuaded by friends, he has returned to the form. The blowtorch deconstructs material in order to reveal some interesting forms. The solo show represents Baroda master Jeram Patel's second attempt at his seminal Blow Torch works and new drawings. His Blow Torches and Paper Works are on view at Phillips Contemporary, in association with Gallery Espace, till November 6.

Born in 1930, Jeram Patel studied Drawing and Painting at Sir J.J. School of Art, and went on to study Typography and Publicity design at Central School of Art and Craft, London (1957-59). He won National exhibition Award (1957, 1963, 1973 & 1976) and was Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, London. He has held one-man shows in London, New Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai and has represented India at the Tokyo Biennale of 1963, the Sao Paulo Biennale of 1963, the Third World Biennale at Baghdad in 1980 and the Festival of India, London, in 1982.

About the medium that he pioneered in the 1960s, he says, "There is a search for the unknown which, I think, has always found expression in my works.'' His images often look like they don't belong to this world. But the artist adds to say: "I don't know if they are spiritual. They are just visuals which may have never crossed your mind."

He is among the founder members of the group 1890 of which J Swaminathan was a core member. Together with J Swaminathan, Himmat Shah, Jyoti Bhatt and Raghav Kanoria, Jeram Patel belonged to the group that spearheaded a new movement in Indian art, looking for an indigenous language to take on the institutionalized western idiom. According to Patel, there were a few like-minded artists who got together to do something different. They had their own manifesto. It was to "reject the vulgar naturalism of Raja Ravi Varma and the pastoral idealism of the Bengal School, down through the hybrid mannerisms resulting from the imposition of concepts evolved by successive movements in modern European art."

The group members held their first and only exhibition in 1963. It dispersed within one-and-half years. Some of these artists would later be involved in other artistic groupings and have much to contribute to the fashioning of Indian contemporary art.

After he gave up on the blowtorch, Patel turned to black and white drawings after dabbling briefly in color. He perhaps realized that "black is best". Black in form of the charred parts also dominates Patel's blowtorched woodworks.

His collection of paper works on view is equally interesting. There's an ink work that he done in Rajkot where he stayed with Avinash Thakkar, a fellow painter just on the outskirts of the city. His work can mostly be classified as abstract. The amoeba-like forms that swim into view, swirling and throbbing with life can leave the viewer perplexed. Since they don't really stand for anything though, the viewer is free to draw the inference.

The septuagenarian artist now lives life at serene pace. He spends most of his time quietly reading, meeting friends, painting and drawing. He paints more to keep himself engaged and fulfill his artistic urge rather than to stage exhibitions. Patel's motivation to express himself again through blowtorched woodwork came from a few of his close friends, leading to one of the rare shows that the artist has held in last decade or so.

View the artist's works

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