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A fortuitous coming together at Nature Morte

Jitish Kallat and Subodh Gupta show their new works in an exhibition that appears seamless despite the artists' varying styles

Detail from 'Palindrome/Anagram' by Jitish Kallat; mixed media on linen 213×304cm (NatureMorte)

Delhi’s Nature Morte gallery opened an exhibition of paintings by veteran artists Jitish Kallat and Subodh Gupta this week. This is one of the first brick-and-mortar exhibitions at the Vasant Vihar gallery since it reopened after a forced hiatus due to covid-19, although virtual shows continued online on the viewing room on its website.

Confabulations: New Paintings brings together the formidable talents of Kallat and Gupta, both highly celebrated artists whose artistic practices, even though seemingly disparate, come together quite fortuitously in these paintings through a resonance in terms of both the tonality of the works and their colour palette. While Kallat’s work is a continuation of an ongoing series, Gupta’s paintings in this show represent a radical new direction.

Kallat continues his series Palindrome/Anagram, started in 2017, with puzzle-like drawings inspired by the sciences—biology, geology, chemistry and astronomy. The mixed-media on canvas works marked a return to painting after a five-year break from the medium by the artist, who called these works “speculative abstractions” that allowed a new format of expression by him. With a detailed hand-drawn graph underpinning each painting, their structural, almost constructed quality is evident in every frame. Like a palindrome, the painting can be read in multiple orientations, and are anagrammatic in the variety of associations they offer depending on the point of view.

Meanwhile Gupta, though primarily a sculptor, has lately given life to four new works, all titled Lonely City, which are a dramatic departure from his previous paintings, most of which had a close affinity with his sculptural works.

Lonely City (II) by Subodh Gupta; oil on linen (180×160×4cm)
Lonely City (II) by Subodh Gupta; oil on linen (180×160×4cm) (NatureMorte)

The inception of these four paintings were found photographs of the fires in the Amazon rainforest in 2020, and using these, Gupta crafts a series of atmospheric paintings in which the forest stands lonely and vulnerable. The smoke-filled vista presents haunting images of a forest fire, and while the paintings have a surreal, ethereal quality to them, they can, perhaps, be viewed as an indictment of human greed.

It should be noted that sexual harassment charges were levelled against Gupta during the #MeToo movement in 2018. The artist had refuted all the charges. In September 2019, he approached the Delhi High Court with a petition against the Instagram account 'HerdSceneAnd' demanding that they take down posts alleging sexual misconduct on Gupta's part and seeking compensation of 5 crore. After several court orders, in February 2020 the case was resolved when the lawyers representing those behind the Instagram account informed the court that they were willing to withdraw the posts and allegations.

Confabulations: New Paintings will be on till 27 March at Gallery Nature Morte, Vasant Vihar, Delhi, 10am-6pm (except Sundays).

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