Playful and contemplative -Uma Nair, THE HINDU

Of scale and proximity: Jitish Kallat in front of one of his paintings

Of scale and proximity: Jitish Kallat in front of one of his paintings


Jitish Kallat returns to painting with “Palindrome/ Anagram”

Jitish Kallat’s solo presentation at the just-concluded India Art Fair marked his return to painting after close to a five-year hiatus from the medium. Kallat’s newest works, titled “Palindrome/ Anagram” paintings, draw upon insights from his varying artistic explorations, as well as his work from the mid-nineties, to produce a radical linguistic renewal accommodating a wide array of his recurring preoccupations. Kallat had split this latest between Galerie Templon Paris and Nature Morte at the India Art Fair 2019.

Long-standing inquiries

“The exhibition is a result of several months of painting. The ideas enshrined in the exhibition have been long-standing inquiries but directed through a deeply probing and speculative painterly process. I, sometimes, feel as if the works are giving vent to an accumulated archive of silent observations, evocations of the bodily, the botanical, the sub-oceanic and the intergalactic – all intermingle and exchange energies,” said Kallat. “How does one think about emergence, evolution, entropy…perhaps the controlled environment of a painting within which forces of change and transformation can be slowed or expedited, where pigment can be deployed to extract imagery from places, remote in space and time,” elucidated the artist.

Five years can be a long span for someone as versatile and eloquent as Kallat. “Such a long gap away from painting was never anticipated,” said Kallat. “The last paintings I made were perhaps around end 2012 or early 2013. Titled ‘The Hour of the Day of the Month of the Season’, they formed part of a solo at Templon Paris. Soon after, I was invited to curate the 2ndedition of the Kochi Muziris Biennale, for which I completely stopped making any art myself, and cancelled all exhibition commitments for about 16 months. Following this long gap, several of my long-standing preoccupations began to find utterance through large format elemental drawings such as theWind Studies, sculptural works such as ‘The Infinite Episode’ and ‘Covariance’, and photo-works such as ‘Sightings’.

He also embarked on two open-ended exploratory drawing projects, a hexagonal vitrine of studies titled ‘Flowchart’ (2015) and a suite of folded drawings titled ‘Tetralemma’ (threefold postulates)(2016). In these works, indistinct impulses began to find utterance and set the stage for him to begin painting again. It is in 2017, following his large NGMA survey exhibition titled ‘Here After Here’ curated by Catherine David that he slowly began the return to painting.

Gestural abstraction

“On various occasions, I felt that the paintings were returning my gaze, not always in a single orientation. I would paint them facing up or down, or flat on the ground, and each orientation would exert different forces on the work, altering its course and its meaning. By calling it a Palindrome, I subtly point to its internal symmetry wherein you could read it from any direction.” While painting, on several occasions, he recalled, “I was reminded of the uniformity of the sphere where it is hard to agree upon which is the ‘top’ side of a sphere.”

A hand-drawn graph undergirded the paintings as well as the Untitled (Emergence) drawings, a suite of small works on gesso panels. Like a ‘palindrome’, the large paintings can be read in multiple orientations, and are essentially ‘anagrammatic’ in that they reorder various components to create a sweeping web-work of associations. Abstract gestures seem to crystallise, acquire perceptible form and resonate with meaning as if celestial orbits, geographical coordinate systems, botanical and topographical evocations begin to reveal the signatures of generative growth,evolution, and entropy.

With a complex body of works in mixed media (drawing, collage, painting), the solo show brought forth several new dimensions to some of his long-standing artistic inquiries. Kallat’s imagery created out of acrylic, gesso, lacquer, charcoal, and aquarelle pencil on linen, delves into ideas of time, sustenance, vision and perception along with a compelling interplay of scales and proximities, and evocations of the celestial, the earthly, and the cosmological preoccupations that have recurred across Kallat’s wide-ranging work. To create these anagrams, Kallat ritualistically overlaid abstract elements, realist forms and intricate elements that resemble a rock, boulders, an ancient fossil, even marine follicles. Each painting beholds viewers in a vigilant, thought-provoking gaze, posing perplexing questions.

Distinct impulses

As an artist, his process in the pursuit of stimulating reflection is both playful and contemplative. The palindrome series gather distinct impulses, reflects working studies, echoes private ruminations and pinholes the power of references as if the artist offered the viewer a gaze on his artistic meditations that rummage through the pages of geophysics and science.

In 2017 at his NGMA retrospective when asked about his new directions, Jitish said: “If Warhol spoke about the 15 minutes of fame, I’d say the occupational hazard of being an artist is that you only enjoy 15 minutes of satisfaction. The completion of a piece or a project is a mere stop-over, a pause in a very long, endless expedition.” At the India Art Fair, Kallat proved there is always room at the top, but there is no place to sit.

(The show runs at Galerie Templon Paris until March 9.)

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