A decade ago Peter Schjeldhal wrote in review for The New Yorker of the absence of love in art. I wrote a note praising his reckless courage. Overall “important” art is about fecal matter, tension and angst if it is all faux, melodramatic and insincere. Commentary on beauty, love, kindness do not win awards for critical writing.
Above image: Sudarshan Shetty, Every Broken Moment, Piece by Piece, 2014
I want to venture out on the same ledge and say that the art of Mumbai-based Sudarshan Shetty is both important and gives extraordinary pleasure. And it’s not just a ceramic or clay themed work that beguiles. He paints and sculpts in a dizzying array of material (although ceramics, metal and wood seem to be his favorites) and produces installations using sound and video. His approach has an earthiness that dissolves pretension although he can do bling very well (few countries do this better than India anyway). A silver Taj Mahal atop four large gold penises is a good case in point.
When I come across a work I have not seen before, be it in the flesh or in illustration there is always charge of joy and anticipation of encountering his visual intelligence, his poetry with materials and worker’s pride in the process. While his pieces would engage if they had no agenda, their presence and often tactility is seductive. He has his issues, vice and death being paramount.
For some time he has been known for ambitious public works and large installations like History of Loss and Path to Water, (2013) but recently he has returned to his love and fascination with objects and works scaled for the gallery scene: “The idea is definitely to bring in the activity of a market place to the fore. This is also a ploy to bring in a passerby into this arena – to seduce with the familiar.”
He describes himself as an information gatherer and often speaks of curating his art rather than making drawings from Mumbai itself and “from my day-to-day negotiation with this city.” This activity is lubricated by endless cups of tea, often in fine china.
His exhibition at GallerySke (New Delhi, January 12 – March 15, 2014), Every Broken Moment, Piece by Piece, is based on varied subjects like mortality, sense of loss and broken structures. Ceramics is at the core of this concept. The key installation is a broken tea service, virgin white but for bands of gilding. The set has been repaired with, of all material, wood.
This is not a new device but the material chosen is unusual and incongruous. It makes little sense, there is no connective cultural tissue. But the impact on their visual character is successful. Somehow the wood takes away the sharpness, fragility and the preciousness of the porcelain. It warms them, gives it an imitate heart.
He does the same to blue and white china, a domestic trophy for a refined home and those that aspire to some decorative art status. Shetty lines two rows of these vases above the rough-hewn wooden table for the tea service. Again the combination is curious, nature and industry in an unaccustomed partnership.
Ceramic storage jars in a two-tone cream and brown glaze get the same treatment but here the wood dominates because the ceramic maternal is more mundane, the heaps less iconic.
Some works are enigmatic and suggest a moment just parsed or about to happen, a jacket next to a teacup on a wooden shelf is surprisingly involving and, as I find often with Shetty’s art, he is constantly drawing narratives from his viewer if one takes time. Walk quickly past his art and it reveals very little. Linger and it speaks volumes.
To give a better experience of his work we recommend that you visit an accompanying post this week with Shetty’s videos that feature three exhibitions, Between a Teacup and a Shifting Constellation; The Matter Within, a group show surveying contemporary Indian art and Consanguinity. Do enjoy the video conversation below between Sudarshan Shetty and Aveek Sen.
Garth Clark is the Chief Editor of CFile.
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