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Artist Profile2
One of India’s most distinguished contemporary artists back in spotlight
One of India’s most celebrated contemporary artists, Atul Dodiya has created a niche for himself not just in India but internationally. The history and culture of his home country plays a significant role in constructing the barrage of images that inform his oeuvre. Launching his career with a rather straightforward and cleverly deadpan realist approach, he switched to the fragmented and multi-layered approach from the literal one in the mid-90s.

Conscious of history, his rich oeuvre reflects his deep knowledge about immediate surroundings, current events and ancient religious traditions. He often quotes from the recesses of Indian as well as Western art traditions. Even his potent pictorial language can be attributed to his to adoption and usage of the vocabulary of Western contemporary art. Driven by intellect, intensity and ideas, he continues to experiment with many forms. According to him, ‘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.’ Even as he strives to bring contemporary Indian art into a closer, deeper embrace with Western Post-Modernist art, Atul Dodiya also looks to the former closer to its fundamental roots, through re-adjustment, and reproaches to mythological and cultural figure. His recent shutter paintings at Art Basel 2010 courtesy Chemould Prescott Road respond to iconic paintings from the 1970s by late Bhupen Khakhar, called ‘trade series’, depicting middle-class figures from a wide range of professions.

The talented and socially sensitive artist’s 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. The striking imagery has invariably been packed with a stirring swirl of motifs: Bollywood, film stars, political icons, Hindu mythology characters, and so on.

An exhibition of his recent works takes place at Nature Morte, Berlin, another significant step in his highly distinguished career throughout which he constantly has posited key questions regarding the identity of India. The internationally celebrated artist strives to interrogate the relationship contemporary Indian culture shares with its own traditions and also to fathom how it intersects and aligns with the world outside. The latest show is primarily comprised of ‘paintings under construction’ seemingly still in the process of making. Significantly, these are not painted works in the conventional sense, albeit replicas of paintings that have been crafted out of milled steel and burnished to a rather dull, silvery glow. For them, he has burnished the images onto steel sheets, made to resemble the back of canvases.

With their faces tilted towards the wall and delicately standing on blocks erected on the floor, you get to see the back-sides of stretched canvases, stretcher bars - dividing their spaces into squares and rectangles. According to Peter Nagy of Nature Morte, the new works reflect the artist’s emphasis on the process of replication, wherein one ubiquitous material represents, or mimics, another. Another suite of paper works is done in watercolors. ‘Breakfast Project’ is a watercolor that employs text. Atul Dodiya has been over the years quoted the works of artists like Raja Ravi and Marcel Duchamp, who have played a significant role in his life. In the past he has rendered exquisite poetry in fine hand-painted watercolor letters.

Atul Dodiya has turned to news headlines this time as explained in an interview: “The newspapers always state the full report is on page so and so, but one might wonder what really the whole story is; is the tension between our neighbors a created one?” In another work he alludes to the struggles and survival instincts of the lower middle-class, his major artistic concern, having grown up in Mumbai’s working class locality himself. Throwing light on his new body of work, a curatorial note elaborates: “Images conjoin on these back-side surfaces, coaxed on by the artist’s hand with soldering putty used to repair automobiles (not paint, for sure) and through the vehicles of refrigerator magnets picturing some of art history’s greatest hits, collected in museum gift shops around the world. The resulting works are conundrums of references, purposefully chosen by the artist so as to posit an amalgam of identities that is both genuine and sincere.”

Completing the curious display is a sculptural work, large-scale watercolors, and two sets of smaller works-on-paper, all continuations of on-going bodies of works. They both compliment and build on the images and materials used in the ‘replica’ paintings, to attain a rhizomatic structure. In it the artist reflects on artistic influences, the manipulation of meaning through juxtapositions, and the extreme self-consciousness of producing art from a specific vantage point for a globalized consumption. His pre-occupation with the intriguing idea of boundaries has been over two decades old.

First having worked on a series on Mahatma Gandhi in the nineties, he looks to explore the relevance of philosophy in modern society. It’s only now that he feels that his artistic preoccupation is reaching a level of fuller, logical expression. On the eve of his new show, he points out that he has always been drawn to the idea of communities - neighbors and borders something that has surfaced as a subtler, even ironically hilarious underpinning at times in his work over the years. ‘If It Rains Fire’ examines highly critical political issues and his home nation’s relationship with its neighbors. The body of work also addresses contentious issues, such as the Naxalite movement and terrorism.

As is evident, Atul Dodiya’s allegorical collages tend to fuse fabulous fragments of select art historical masterpieces with defining moments of Pop Culture, today’s life and times juxtaposed with his own autobiographical narrations. The new series once again underlines his propensity to tackle today’s most pressing socio-political issues that confront the country.