‘Portraits’ – understanding the face and the mind

Portraits are an expression of the protagonist’s thoughts, emotion and identity. A new show presents an intriguing selection of drawings, photographs and paintings by eight artists who deftly bring their varied sensibilities to their portraits. The works on view in a show aptly titled ‘Portraits’ portray individuals, animals, communities and relationships in a wide range of approaches, which reveal more than mere likenesses.

The works on display at Bodhi’s Gurgaon art gallery encompass a wide range of styles from Govardhan Ash’s earthy portraits to the lively creatures, which populate Amit Ambalal’s world; from C.S.N. Patnaik’s dexterous ink drawings that capture the rustic hardiness of character to be seen in village folk to Akbar Padamsee’s heads apparently growing out of his unselfconscious linear mazes; from the sarcastic portraiture of Navin Thomas to Prabir Purkayastha’s awe-inspiring portraits of the priest in a Buddhist monastery; from K G Subramanyan’s portrait of a woman in his folksy, loosely formal rendering to Prabuddha Dasgupta’s people suspended in lost time.

The introductory note, resorts to two interesting quotes regarding the subject of portraits, to explain the theme. One by Charles Baudelaire states: “Nothing in a portrait is a matter of indifference. Gesture, grimace, clothing, and decor even – all must combine to realize a character.” It also quotes Bernard Poulin who had mentioned: “Seeing likeness in a portrait is to recognize the craftsman in the artist. Finding soul is to discover the artist in the craftsman.” One finds these tropes of portraiture effectively being put in practice here.

Veteran artist Amit Ambalal is known for the subtle, astute humor in his works wrought in supple brushing. His satirical representations of the everyday and the divine are filled with eccentric human and animal protagonists. All his characterizations are enhanced by rich gestural vocabulary and are infused with the warmth of insight. In one of his works ‘Summer’ the artist has captured a succinct image of summer- the season; he has also successfully revealed the animal characters by catching them in their familiar idiosyncrasies.

Mordant satire and Gentle wit combine in K.G. Subramanyan’s portraiture of women, especially, when in the boudoir or in the market. The contours of the highly colored image in this painting resonate in the decorative background, thus emphasizing and enhancing the ornamental stillness of the form. On the other hand, the works of Govardhan Ash, the 1940’s Calcutta Group artist, placed in the context of the Bengal famine, largely revolve around local-folk type of representation. C.S.N. Patnaik’s portraits are also of inspired by rural settings.

Young multimedia artist Navin Thomas, known for his audio portraits- comprising pre-recorded messages and actual conversations - frequently shuttles between audio-drama and other visual mediums. His photo-montage portrait is of a man, the tramp-like aspects of whose clothes are contrasted with his posture of confidence and the garland around his neck, in a background maze of apparently chartered territory filled with numbers and symbols of various religious faiths. ‘Sunshine of my Life’ is a conceptual portrait of a ‘phenomenon’, rather than of a particular person. Prabuddha Dasgupta and Prabir Purkayastha’s works are photographic portraits.

Akbar Padamsee’s portraits that fall under the broad genre of heads are inspired by his interest in structure as an abstract quality of figuration. He has been quoted as saying: “Besides the de-notational character there is also a coded, iconic message in my drawing. I use aesthetic anchors to exemplify this message. I let the image discover itself; at times in the linear maze, a form appears that I define, and later understanding the psychic resonance’. An accompanying note explains: “According to the artist, his portraits of Gandhi were the only time he happened to paint a head that denoted a specific individual.”

Fascinated by the unique character invested in each face, the participating artists have rendered the same in a wide range of form, mediums and style.

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