Bengaluru: Two offline art shows worth going to the galleries for

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#Bangalore, #Bangalore art, #Bengaluru events, #Indian art, #KK Hebbar, #Ravikumar Kashi, #Rekha Rao, #Rekha Rao solo show, #The Unruly Syntax by Ravikumar Kashi

Artists Rekha Rao and Ravikumar Kashi.

Before the pandemic, artists could go wherever they wished to create art; be it their studios, art camps or any place that was inspiring for them. Galleries regularly mounted shows; feeding the network of artists, collectors, curators and critics. But importantly, art lovers could visit those galleries freely and view the works. With the new normal setting in, galleries hesitantly opened up to the public, enticing them with new shows as well as adhering to Covid-safe practices. This too seems to be faltering as Bengaluru is bracing against rising Covid cases and weekend curfews.

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Against all odds, two shows opened to visitors recently; The Unruly Syntax by Ravikumar Kashi and a solo show by Rekha Rao.

A city’s landscape

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In about a month, around 450 people visited Gallery Sumukha to view The Unruly Syntax. The number could be a testimony to Kashi being a significant stakeholder in the city’s art scene – as he is a reputed artist born and brought up in the city, a photographer who has been documenting Bengaluru’s unique cultural landscape since he acquired a digital camera in 2004, an educator who has been teaching budding artists, architects and designers, and finally, an author of books on art and the city.

From a distance, 19 canvases, mounted in clusters, look like collages. But they are all paintings on canvases sectioned by visible grid lines.

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Kashi professes to being inspired by the billboards in the city which were left unattended during the lockdowns, so the paintings are as textured as the tattered boards.

The imagery is from everywhere within the urban landscape; seen on hand-painted hoardings, behind autorickshaws, on personal automobiles and on vandalized walls. For someone familiar with the city, images pop out instantly – the fierce ‘Hanuman’, the Kannada texts, agrarian symbols, and local heroes.

Kashi had to resort to gimmicks like projecting the images on the canvas with a projector, since his hands are “too well trained” to replicate the ‘not-so-academic’ works seen on the hoardings painted by painters of different levels of proficiency.

“My art has become syncretic and crosspollinated by all my creative practices,” Kashi said. “In fact, I was teaching my students online about using the grid as an organizing tool when it occurred to me to use it in my paintings.”

The grids in the paintings have helped placing the images in a certain order to maximize visual impact.

Incidentally, this is a rare show of so many paintings by Kashi as he is also known for his work with paper. Trained in paper making from schools in South Korea and Glasgow, Kashi has been moulding wet hand-made paper into huge sculptures that are strong and lasting. In an old show in 2016, the showstopper was a life-size boat installation done entirely with handmade paper.

However, the lockdowns and the pandemic have forced Kashi to abandon his studio and paper work temporarily and bring canvases to his house. Two years’ worth of work is what the show highlights, and each of the canvases demonstrates how Kashi uses his creativity to make overt and subtle remarks on the current state of society, culture and government.

Sticker tag: Rs 1.5 – 7 lakh for a painting

A solo act

Rekha Rao has a gentle touch in her paintings. There is a softness, even when she is critiquing something through her paintings; like the one (“Melancholy State of Happiness series”, 2019) she did of Varthur Lake, a highly polluted lake in the city that was frothing and foaming with chemicals. Her treatment made it look soft and so appealing; but the lake’s woes could be plainly seen by anyone who ‘looked’ at the work.

Inherently, Rao is a colourist and looks at the brighter side of life and that’s what her paintings try to achieve. There are glimpses of her garden, nature, waterbodies, cityscapes – done in an expressionistic way and with a soft colour palette.

But this solo show, which is going on in Time and Space gallery, has several of her drawings apart from the paintings (in oils and acrylic) she has done over the past decade. These were personally selected by Renu George, founder of the gallery, when she visited the artist’s studio. “We spent hours discussing art,” Rao said of that pleasant afternoon.

The paintings are executed well and need to be viewed closely to get an idea of what Rao wants to convey. An inspection of the paintings may set off thoughts like: where could she have possibly seen the tall buidings across a lake in a congested city like Bengaluru? Is the painted boat actually a coracle? Or if the soft whites blubs were actually the smelly foam of a polluted lake.

The paintings done in shades of orange and blue – the artist usually uses just 2-3 colours to create a vibrant canvas – have echoes of her father, the eminent artist K.K. Hebbar and even a bit of Jasper Johns, the great American artist. The strokes in these paintings are broad, short and flat; trying successfully to compress the 3D imagery onto the canvases as flat as possible. The energy that’s compressed in these works throbs palpably as the viewer discerns forms and in one, people dancing at the base of the painting!

It is Rao’s artistic lineage that has shaped her in a deep way. She said, “My father’s studio crackled with creative energy. We always had artists, musicians, dancers, writers, and students visiting our home/studio. This gave me an opportunity to meet the best of contemporary Indian Artists (post-Independence), see and study their works, paintings and sculptures. I absorbed all that I saw and heard. This expanded my artistic vision.”

She and her siblings have been running the K K Hebbar Art Foundation that annually hand out awards and grants to promising artists and some of the now famous artists like Bose Krishnamachari, G.R. Iranna, Riyaz Komu, and Jitish Kallat have been recipients of the foundation’s largesse.

Having seen, interacted with and absorbed art so closely all her life, Rao said, “In a way, I am uniquely placed by history and circumstances I was born into.”

The solo show is just one aspect of her art-ingrained life.Sticker tag: Over Rs 1 lakh for a painting; Rs 10,000 – 30,000 for a drawing.

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