An artistic duel

As part of a series of art events - a representative of contemporary Indian art - organized by Sakshi Gallery in cooperation with Alexander Ochs Galleries, Berlin, Shibu Natesan and Atul Dodiya showcased their works in a joint show.

Shibu Natesan's works were simultaneously presented by Sakshi at Shridharani Gallery, New Delhi in February. In his 'Existence of Instinct' canvases, Shibu Natesan juxtaposes synthetic and often glossy media images with those of wild creatures, in a seamless space. Rooted in fantasy, large in scale, bold in design and execution, these images have the attracting power of a charmed dream and the repulsive force of a recurring nightmare, springing from an imaginative use and extension of realism.

Shibu Natesan completed an MFA in Print Making from the Faculty of Fine Arts, MSU, Baroda has had some major solo exhibitions in the recent years such as Paintings, Galerie Nanky de Vreeze, Amsterdam (2001); Missing, Nature Morte, New Delhi and Sakshi Gallery, Mumbai (1998-99); Linkage, Galerie Nanky de Vreeze, Amsterdam (1997). Atul Dodiya too has had quite a few landmark shows in the last couple of years, the one among them 'Bombay: Labyrinth/Laboratory' at the Japan Foundation Asia Center in Akasaka that presented his series of three dimensional works, using mainly metal shutters.

If Natesan has employed synthetic and often glossy media images with those of wild creatures in a seamless space, Dodiya in his multi-media installation series titled 'Lost Father' uses objects like pelmets, old radio sets, family photographs, and texts of poems as openings into a world tinged with grief and nostalgia over the absent father.

His paintings on large, rolling storefront shutters merge the elements of Mumbai's hectic, everyday street life and floating worlds of fantasy. They are double paintings, literally paintings within paintings, which are only complete once the interior is revealed. For example, we roll up a shutter bearing the icon of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, painted kitsch-fashion; behind it, we find the terrifying image, based on a newspaper photograph, of three young women who hanged themselves because they could not afford a dowry.

Dodiya's allegorical collages are meant to reflect the culture of Indian cities and the aspirations of their inhabitants. The artist weaves a range of images into a postmodern fabric of ideas: autobiographical narratives focused on the family, pop-culture fantasies born of Indian movies, etc. whereas Natesan's larger paintings touch upon racism and the predicament of the migrant. 'Missing' his solo exhibition in 1999, was a series of portraits taken from various sources. The specificity of the faces paradoxically emphasized their anonymity, speaking of intimacy and distance in one breath.

This particular series of paintings is representative of the change that occurred during the time between 1996-97 that he spent at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam. The use of photography here is even more literal, though still adhering to a stubborn involvement with the processes of painting; their capacity to shift and re-focus the gaze to glean hitherto unperceived information.

His first significant body of work, a series of paintings entitled "The Futility of Device" derives from a feudal history excavated in painstaking detail. Shibu Natesan also had a show at Art Musings, Mumbai last year. The artist who is known to look up to German painter, Fredrich Casper, used the Post-Modernist's device and quotes liberally from imagery culled from cultures and civilizations, over centuries, and recast using the language of the photo-realist.

'My small canvases are about controlled experimentation,' he states in an interview. 'I often start with an idea or an object and translate it into another. I pick up from my mistakes and then going on improving the touch and impression.'' Most of his paintings are grand in scale and often complex in their detailing.

The artist's works at the show organized by Sakshi bring with it additional layers of experience. His subject matter is very varied. It is his deliberate strategy to take verisimilitude beyond the bounds of reason or personal choice, into an area of unease. It is this unease rather than the subject matter, which forms the basis on which his pictures are made and forgotten with such seeming facility whereas the theatricality of Dodiya's work is heightened by the usage of curtains- some heavy and velvety and others thin and gauze-like.

The joint show by Shibu Natesan and Atul Dodiya was a study in contrast of the two artists who albeit have certain commonalities based on their use and extension of realism. The juxtaposition of their works by Sakshi as was an interesting experiment.

View Shibu Natesan's works

View Atul Dodiya's works

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