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Artist Profile1
Sudhir Patwardhan's socially relevant art
A number of fascinating parallels can be drawn between psychological, social and physical conditions of contemporary urban society and the art that makes an attempt to depict the bitter reality. As in the case of Sudhir Patwardhan's work where reality meets magic and logical accommodates possible.

The socially conscious artist, who rightfully considers himself a ‘painter of people’, depicts multiple peculiar perspectives into struggles of urbane population, Mumbai in particular, the melting pot of commercial, financial and sociological ironies. His oils on canvas works incorporate a skillfully honed aesthetic to explore everyday realities of the city life, its locales and the way it inhabitants shape it.

The artist wants to take the viewers beyond the surface tensions and noises of one of the world’s most densely populated, largest and most energetic metros, engaging then in a probing encounter with it. His works explore with finesse the urban milieu of dramatic transformation, dislocation, anonymity and alienation.

Born in 1949 in Pune, Maharashtra, a practicing radiologist, Sudhir Patwardhan took to art out of his urge to express his social concerns. His first show was held at E. Alkazi's New Delhi based art gallery Art Heritage almost three decades ago. Since then he has had shows at Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai; Gallery Chemould, Mumbai; Vadehra Art Gallery, Delhi; Sakshi Gallery, Bangalore and Mumbai among other venues – nationally and internationally.

His work formed part of the major group show ‘Gateway Bombay’ at the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) in 2007. Entitled ‘Pokharan’ it depicted a distressed site in transition - filled with the toxic air and littered with haphazard construction owing to rampant industrialization. The muted colors emphasized the pollution of this lovely landscape and the near-exclusion of people that testified lifelessness amidst a looming panorama of urbanization.

Over the years, Sudhir Patwardhan has established himself as an artist who enters a deep dialogue through his work that addresses issues of materiality, isolation and fragmentation. He engages with the chaotic cityscape and scenes from the bustling street with unmatched sensitivity and intensity. His body of work ‘Citing the city’ at Sakshi Gallery in 2007 served as another example of a constant dialogue his art has with society, representing the reality in a transparent manner.

His artistic approach has a striking similarity marked by a subtle difference with that by fellow artist Gieve Patel. The two together showcased their work at Bose Pacia, NY, in 2006. Works such as ‘Paying the Bill’ represent his oeuvre with its dynamic and heroic rendering of the commonplace. The figures in his Studio series loom less large even as an aura of introspection subtly takes precedence, attesting to the complexities associated with artistic self-realization.

Bringing out the core of their respective practice, Gieve Patel had explained: “Sudhir Patwardhan was influenced by Marxist philosophy, with a deep urge to speak for the marginalized. I though, never wanted to speak on behalf of others. If he is the spokesperson, I'm the witness.” Analyzing his work, The New York Times art critic Holland Cotter, has mentioned in an essay: “His painting might well be considered a form of Socialist Realism, sans ideological hard-sell or an agony-orecstasy tone. Instead, the artist depicts day to day, unprivileged urban lives with a solidity of form along with deliberateness of pacing, which imbue even crowd scenes with a ceremonial, moral weight.

“This holds true even in a beautiful new picture of an artist sitting in front of a drawing in his studio. He looks grave and sunk in thought, perhaps about work done, or not done. The shapes of pastel-colored buildings outside his window get reflected in the glass doors of a cabinet, to form a marvelous abstract composition. It’s an unasked-for gift from the street, a reward for being attentively alive.”

It can be concluded that his treatment of the diverse subject matter - whether it be stripping the human figure to its bare essentials, or painting a landscape - carries a sense of asceticism.