Brush with reality

Two artists, old-time friends, both doctors by profession, other also a poet, unite for a joint show for the first time. Both, Sudhir Pathwardhan and Gieve Patel, share similar artistic concerns. The two have been friends for over three decades. They also share similar artistic interests, and their works reflect the city of Mumbai in is myriad hues with empathy for its subaltern.

The brush with reality allows the two senior artists to then explore its complexities. Both engage with the urban landscape, scenes from the street and marginalized people. Doctor-painter Sudhir Pathwardhan's canvases often depict the specific area, an ordinary and quite typical part of Mumbai with its uncomfortable symbiosis of decent residential buildings and poor ones, of industry and nature. These exude a strangely bewitching atmosphere -both serene and disturbing.

His narrative has certain sameness, of the anonymous individual, possibly a wary zed migrant, directly confronted by the challenges of the city. His figures may be mundane but they are dignified by the effort that they invest in the everyday acts of survival. He explains: "The character and social background of these figures are established and they take on a sociological role but it could as well be an autobiographical one."

The artist invariably conjures an aura of things beyond the concrete and the singular by employing contradictory motifs and suggestions in order to make them transgress and unite in an evocation of the contemporary life cycle. Railway and bus commuters, construction labor, the by now famous solitary man in an Irani restaurant are his dramatis personae. According to the artist, he longs for proximity and so he does faces seen with a certain intimacy. Each of these gives me a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment, he adds.

Explaining his thought processes as an artist, he has noted: 'Painting the human figure is a commitment and a responsibility. A figure seen at a distance is observed and depicted carefully, either by a practiced mode of drawing directly, or through the use of photographs. The canvas has many such figures; also houses, streets, hills and sky. The predominant sense is of distance, and this gives me breathing space. All things are equidistant from me, united in texture, out there on the surface of the canvas. That is their world. This separateness is softened to some extent by multiple levels and perspectives which fracture the unity of the surface and allow for an outsider's view, a shifting participation in the scene.'

On other hand, Gieve Patel, poet-painter-doctor, draws his inspiration from various human situations. He was one of the avant-garde artists who altered the trajectory of postcolonial Indian art in the mid-1960s.

The artist sees a sense of poetry even in the tough and the tricky situations that ordinary people have to face and his paintings are a manifestation of this. His works mostly depict ubiquitous people performing the routine chores, and searching for a meaning and a purpose within them.

There are themes such as the City, the human body, violence, Nature and spiritual aspiration in his verses and his paintings. His creations are a testimony to his keen observation of the people and the postures, and the stances that he encounters everyday. The people depicted are presented without any pretensions or idolizations. Their bodies and physiognomies have been sharply observed with affection and sympathy.

As art critic Ranjit Hoskote mentions in one of his essays on the artist: 'If Patel's poetry has been haunted by the burden that the individual suffers, when a shift of frame produces a shift in others' perception of him - their reading of his social location and existential purpose, their imposition of an identity upon him - his painting stands back from the personal immediacy of this predicament." One of Gieve Patel's recurrent themes is a well, about which the artist has mentioned: "The wells work on two levels. One, what they are and the other, they represent the act of looking into yourself."

Elaborating on their broad artistic concerns, Sudhir Patwardhan has noted: 'The common factor that binds our work together is the representation of the human figure in an urban landscape. And while our preoccupations differ from time to time, there is a common concern for the working classes that dominates our paintings.'

Works by Sudhir Patwardhan and Gieve Patel are on view at the Museum Gallery, Mumbai, from November 28 to December 4 before they host their first show together at the Bose Pacia, New York.

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