EXHIBITION - Sujata Bajaj (Mar 26-Apr 19, 2008) :


L'Ordre du Monde is the title of a magnificent new book, uniting Sujata Bajaj's paintings with texts by Jean-Claude Carrière, one of France's foremost writers and thinkers. L'Ordre du Monde translates as The Order of the World, but this doesn't do justice to the true sense of the phrase. It has much to do with the way the world is put together, the structure and sequence of things, the spiritual basis of our existence. The book is a form of discourse between artist and writer, with Sujata's pictorial language counterbalancing Carrière's writing. Each complements the other.

The complex yet comprehensible visual language that one looks for in an artist is immediately evident in Sujata's work. She employs colour confidently and with an expressionist bravura, yet the exuberant spontaneity of her art surely exists within a somewhat formalised structure. There is no doubt that the brilliant colours of her Rajasthani homeland are evident, yet for me there is often a more European structural formality, even perhaps a Nordic sensibility, especially in the mixed medias. She exhibits a great understanding of the harmony of colour and form, using the most vivid of palettes yet within a structured framework, extending to the highly absorbent hand made papers she sometimes uses, and indeed to the shape of the paper itself, often torn and collaged.

She shares this structural sense and vivid palette with Sam Francis, the great American abstract painter who manipulated colour and form in a way that had rarely been seen before. The paper and canvas becomes a starting point for a thrilling adventure in a phantasmagorical landscape. Yet Francis, as with Sujata, always managed to anchor his art in a structured sense of balance. Her works also evoke Victor Pasmore, the great English abstract painter, who frequently gave musical titles and compositional structure to his work, with a harmonic proposition (in literary terms a thesis) and counterpoint (the antithesis) leading to a unified whole composition (synthesis). To achieve this successfully the artist needs to be in full control of the palette and understand completely the interrelationship of abstracted forms and above all the chromatic consequences of the juxtaposition of colours. The application of shape and colour has to be spontaneous, innate, instinctive, yet the artist must have an absolute confidence in the visual consequence of each brush stroke.

Some writers use cosmological terminology in reference to Sujata's painting. Look at her work and you may well sense the elements of life, primeval life forces, traces of antiquity in the ancient script, the firework colours of an alchemist, energy and vitality. Take a look through the Hubble telescope at exploding stars at the far edge of the galaxy, or into the depths of a boiling volcano and you will see the scope of Sujata's canvas. Her art is of this world and outside this world.

I am struck by the harmonic formalism of Sujata's work, not so much the evident symmetry of a kaleidoscopic image, rather an innate sense of proportion, simply put, what is visually right. The chromatic complexity of her palette augments the challenge for the artist, the serrated, deckle edged and layered hand made papers pre-suppose an even more elaborate multi-dimensional structural requirement. The introduction of calligraphy adds to the compositional complexity.

And yet her pictures are utterly dynamic, her ability to understand colour and form is self-evident, perhaps more so in her recent work which has a remarkable self assurance in conception and execution. Look at one mixed media work (page 87 in L'Ordre du Monde) which seems at first glance to be a spontaneous, typically exuberant composition. Look more closely and realise that the juxtaposition of the key elements is not coincidental, and the central dramatic circle of inky black acrylic is positioned exactly at that place where it will counterpoint the calligraphy and where it becomes framed by the outline of the collaged, torn paper. Visually this is entirely satisfactory and the finishing touches, literally, are the three small spots of crimson which harmonise and complete the composition.

Sujata's light and airy Paris apartment is modern and uncluttered almost to the point of austerity. Sujata herself is a creative dynamo, transmitting her personal energy to all those around her, and when she is alone and left to work so this passion and conviction is released upon the canvas. She has entitled this exhibition Emergence. This word is full of meaning, but does it perhaps suggest that her work has fully matured, that she has discovered the full means to express herself, after a long personal journey, from India to Norway to Paris. No artist ever reaches a final destination, but perhaps there is now a self-confidence and assurance, she has found a visual language that speaks to us clearly and unambiguously.

Sujata has been working for a long time on this exhibition, her first major London show, timed to coincide with the release of the long awaited L'Ordre du Monde. She has shown great personal strength and single-minded determination to create what is without doubt a wonderfully accomplished and mature body of work.

PETER OSBORNE, Berkeley Square Gallery