Eddie Saint-Jean, arts and culture
The pandemic sent shockwaves throughout the art world, disrupting market behaviour and shaking up the creative routines of both established names and new talent. Although innovative digital offerings such as NFTs increased in popularity and value, the wider cultural and creative landscape dipped significantly and research shows the sector will be the last to recover. Regardless, three emerging artists look set to ride the waves of market volatility and make their mark in the ever-fluctuating world of international art.
The first of these, printmaker Suman Gujral is an abstract artist whose focus is the 1947 Partition of India. For her MA in Fine Art at the University of Hertfordshire she conducted research into the history of printmaking in India and learned more about the Partition. She describes print as the medium of protest. Her etchings and monoprints are utilised to create spectral maps which show the fractural markings of the displaced and lines of divisions. She works on zinc etching plates and sometimes exhibits the plates themselves.
Light and dark are recurrent themes in her work. She tries to show that events of the past cast shadows that affect us today – and light does the same thing. Despite the intricate detail, fluid geometric language and circular themes, she approaches her work without a strict plan – certainly in her triptych Tears/Tiers created on khadi, a hand-woven natural fibre cloth. She says ‘I let the material guide me’. The work speaks of coping with lockdown and the sadness of social separation.
Her work varies in size from the large scale to the handkerchief-sized All My Sorrows, which is a monotype created on her father’s handkerchief and shares his Partition experiences. She uses barbed wire to show the borders drawn up by the colonial powers which caused division and displacement. The choice of palette is meaningful in historical and geopolitical ways – the blue black ink is the colour of the shadow cast by the Partition and the dark, late hours used as cover by the displaced as they fled. Her work on the Partition led to her current work examining the Migrant Crisis which has similar themes around displacement.
Anirban Mitra’s brightly coloured work is in stark contrast to Suman Gujral’s more introspective monochrome prints. This Kolkata-based painter’s unique visual language presents characters from popular culture crammed together on canvas but claiming their own sacred spaces sometimes within halo-like compartments. Everything from cartoons to religious imagery is used in this way.
His palette has a luminous, neon-like quality which adds to the hallowed effect of the narrative. This is evident in works such as Exhibition of Kalighat painting in Victoria Memorial Hall (2013) Acrylic on Canvas. Calcutta was a main geopolitical centre during the colonial period and there are many references to colonial dignitaries and their statues. The bright colours inject the piece with irony and parody.
Lord Curzon, the Viceroy of India is amongst the figures depicted in this way, and you can see how the cartoon-like caricature deliberately inverts his grandeur and authority. Themes around British colonialism are quite common in his work and the gains of modernisation during the period are weighed against the ills of colonisation.
To define his work within current art brackets would be difficult; however, some works such as India (2009) and The Act of Redrawing Mr. Muscle are dotted with pop art references. Popular culture is ubiquitously underscored – you’ll find comic book style imagery and Disney characters such as Mickey Mouse in Grow More Food, 2010 planted in disparate corners to emphasise the playfulness and irreverence.
Born in Narag, India, Parag Sonarghare’s paintings are sometimes almost indistinguishable from photographs because of the detail. He developed his precocious talent during his school days when he tried to copy the works of the Great Masters using a pencil. By the time he moved to Baroda, his style incorporated both popular culture and traditional figures. In this new environment he soaked up this exciting and challenging new aesthetic and the wider range of cultural and popular influences. Painting and Performance Art became his preferred medium but the work he does today is a form of Hyperrealism often featuring male nudes – and he models himself.
He is at pains to point out he is not out to merely make realistic copies of the physical form and his art often contains expressionist statements that belie the accusations that his work is indistinguishable from that of a photographer. Since his first sale at the Jahangir Art Gallery in 2008, his focus has been the evolution of this visual language. He has examined issues such as identity and again reimagined context and time wherever it is layered thematically. There’s a post-modern twist in works such as 5 For Substitute, (acrylic on canvas) where he takes mythological themes and reworks them with a contemporary tilt.
This playfulness never undermines his intricate craft. It’s the focus of a draughtsman but the excoriation processes of an artist. Notably, he produced a large-scale painting of hands and his mind-bogglingly accurate brushwork maps every fingerprint with a level of detail that makes it easy to understand why it took half a year to complete. The 6ft tall work shows the signs of manual labour in the torn and calloused skin. Indeed, you can read the life struggles of the subject in the open-handed gesture in a few glances. Usually, artists use their subjects’ eyes to convey tropes of emotion and character but Sonnarghare has redirected our focus.
Writer Eddie Saint-Jean is an arts and culture writer who reviews the London art scene and is familiar face at many exhibitions and private views in the capital. He is also an artist working in moving image and photography. His former studies in Visual Theories in Art and Film permeate his career as a journalist, artist and filmmaker.