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Artist Profile2
Atul Dodiya’s artistic aspirations, sensibilities and inspirations
Atul Dodiya belongs to a new generation of committed Indian artists, who painstakingly chronicle and capture the gestalt of a country on the boil, undergoing a constant churning. His biting visual commentaries on what vexes his home country incorporate all the ubiquities that can easily be found around.

The artist’s striking imagery has invariably been packed with a stirring swirl of motifs: Bollywood, film stars, political icons, Hindu mythology characters, and so on. His canvases allude to everything - from the eccentric everyday India to high art elements from all over. They embrace issues ranging from exuberant Indian economy to the garish kitsch and disturbing disquiet of daily life.

Indian cataclysms have shaped his work and so the explicitly political concerns without, descending into social realism, as an essay in International Herald Tribune mentions. Edward Hopper and Jasper Johns have been among his earliest artistic influences. Deeply touched by Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings and conscious of historical perspectives, Atul Dodiya tries to re-contextualize his message through his paintings. He strives to fathom the impact of fundamentalism and religious violence on society, tracing Gandhi’s relevance in these trying times.

The artist has stated: “He was an intimate part of my boyhood. I used to draw him quite often so one could say Gandhi is a recurring theme for me!” For example, his much acclaimed work ‘Father’ presented two forms of ancestry, a more universal ancestry of his art and culture, revealed through the veiled artistic references in the canvas hidden beneath the shutter and a more personal ancestry, symbolized by an image of his father shown with a swelling belly.

Driven by intellect, intensity and ideas, he continues to experiment with many forms. Revealing the secret of his artistic passion, he has said in a recent interview: “I’ve always tried to retain that student phase in Sir J.J. School of Art when seeing a new form or new medium greatly excited us about its possibilities.”

In a unique experiment, Atul Dodiya tries to assess and analyze his own oeuvre on the kind of metal roller shutters used on shopfronts. He uses the painted shutters of different hues and sizes feature as a backdrop to examine his own art practice in a new show ‘Malevich Matters & Other Shutters’. The large canvas works provide an insight into his artistic influences and aspirations over two decades. He has also been working on some 3D works carrying actual shutters for the upcoming Art Basel edition.

Incidentally, the intrinsic, albeit ignored uniqueness of humdrum shop shutters first inspired him for his works at Tate Modern’s ‘Century City’ show, almost a decade ago. The painter then worked on laminate board and the roller shutters. Evoking the jostling imagery of Mumbai’s streets, he mixed autobiographical portraits with those of well-known Indian personalities.

The new series at New Delhi based Vadehra Art Gallery testifies Atul Dodiya’s contemporary sensibilities laced with continuing curiosity about traditions – artistic and otherwise. His works refer themes explored by old masters or the great artists themselves. True to his chosen themes, he displays a perfect control over structure and form, the precise detailing and immaculate mastery over oils and chosen color scheme.

The artist mentions on the eve of his solo show: "I’ve used oil for my new shutters painted on canvas. Their life-like corrugated metallic surface has images of Tyeb Mehta, Mahatma, Picasso, Bhupen Kakkar and all those I admire. They appear on the surface like appliqué work. I let this hybrid imagery happen so that it engages the viewer and (in the process) raises questions."

Art critic Ranjit Hoskote elaborates in a curatorial essay: “Calibrated at various levels, half open, three-quarters shut or fully lowered, these shutters presented the viewer with a varying ratio of concealment to disclosure; but in every case, the metal surface receded from sight beneath the weight and power of the image it carried. In the 12 paintings that form his recent suite of work, ‘Malevich Matters & Other Shutters’, Atul Dodiya breaks with this formal precedent. In these works, he chooses to reverse and complicate the established relationship between metal surface and painted image in his art, by painting images of roller shutters on canvas.”

Summing up the essence of his practice, the artist concludes: “My work tries to weave the past with the present concerns, bringing out the irony of the situation. It’s a commentary on the troubled times we live in against the backdrop of values and principles that we as a nation are so proud of.”