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Artist Profile1
Grasping nuances of a sensitive artist’s philosophy and practice
Jyothi Basu’s art has been greatly influenced by the nature and scenic settings of Kerala, his home state - palm trees, ponds, canals, a beach, the seascape seen through a coconut grove etc. The geographical basis of many of his compositional variations is a vivacious vista seen from his ancestral home. After arriving in Mumbai, he has also been inadvertently immersed into chaos endemic to the city, causing yet another intriguing synthesis of opposites in his visual idiom. Both the urban and the rural milieu, imbibing the language of forms and patterns that picture roadways as jungle vines, vegetation as an electronic grid, and trees as concrete towers. His practice also often draws elements from India's popular, all-pervasive visual culture and abiding decorative traditions, yet placed within a universal context.

Born in Kerala in 1960, he did his Bachelor of Fine Arts (Painting) from College of Fine Arts, Trivandrum (1987) and a Post Diploma in Painting from Faculty of Fine Arts, Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda (1991). He wanted to avoid studying the subject of Art History, so he opted for a diploma instead of the MFA course. A member of the ‘Radical Group’, striving to revolutionize modern art techniques and practices in India in the 1980’s, his imagery can be traced to works of artists like Hieronymus Bosch, Rousseau and Frida Kahlo. Among his selected solo exhibitions are 'Visionary Antiquities', Nature Morte, New Delhi & Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke, Mumbai (2006); 'Landscapes Towards A Supreme Fiction', Thomas Erben Gallery, New York (2006); and 'Healing Properties: Landscapes of the Self', Artists' Center, Mumbai (2003).

He has also featured in several group shows including ‘Expanding Horizons’, a traveling exhibition courtesy Bodhi Art (2008-09); ‘Anxious’, Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke (2008); 'ART FORUM Berlin', with Aji V.N. and Ratheesh T. courtesy Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke (2008); and 'Mumbai Metronomes', The Museum Gallery, Mumbai (2007). Among his noteworthy participations are 'Santhal Family: Positions Around an Indian Sculpture', MuHKA, Antwerp, Belgium (2008); 'Horn Please: Narratives in Contemporary Indian Art', Kunstmuseum Bern, Switzerland (2007); 'Private/Corporate IV: Works from the Lekha & Anupam Poddar and Daimler Chrysler Collections' in Berlin (2007).

He underwent a self-imposed painterly hiatus from 1991 to 1998. Alluding to his rebirth as a painter, his subsequent series of works, he dealt with the themes of death and resurrection, tinged with tones of the fantastic and ephemeral. His ‘Resurrection Series’ highlight how we often forget our history in our advancement. It points out how the contemporary can only exist and is made possible by the apparently neglected historical buttress. Further elucidating his methodology, a catalog essay to his exhibition (2003) at Artists' Centre, Mumbai (courtesy The Fine Art Resource) mentions: “Dwelling on his work, we realize it is an interior time-zone and location, developed around perspectives of the personality: the landscapes are landscapes of the self. Jyothi Basu takes the eye captive, by means of small differentials of scale and tone that continually alter the dialectical connection between the figure and the backdrop of natural objects portrayed. Paying intense attention to the practice of picture-making as a puzzle or game, he engages the viewer's energies fully.

On the eve of his solo in the US (2006), entitled ‘Landscapes Towards a Supreme Fiction’, The New York Times writer Ken Johnson, has mentioned of his paintings, not small in size, yet carrying a miniaturist feel to them, reminding the viewer of Indian miniature painting tradition. Inspecting the intricately and meticulously detailed structures, statuary & vegetation, one can see they are made with a brushy, though not perhaps overly exacting touch - grounding the dreamy imagery comprised within in a very tactile sensuousness.

Viewing his images is equally soothing and unsettling; one tends to sense something unusual and unconventional, like a beast seeking human sacrifice, might lurk below the uneventful and quiet surface. His ‘hair-raising’ fantastical landscapes can easily be considered for covers of science-fiction illustrations by writers like as Samuel R. Delany or Stanislaw Lem, as the critic mentions in his review, and adds: “On canvases, which measure eight feet across, done in stained-glass colors, he gives bird's-eye views of grid-based realms. In them, nature and architecture, ceremony and function as well as the post-apocalyptic future and the primordial past apparently strike an eerie equilibrium. Hardly any people are visible in the paintings dotted with a lot of quiet animation: neon letters and signs appear in the deep blue skies, lights float and glow, geometric objects hover, flames burn from the headless statues’ necks.”

In his large-scale oil paintings, the artist dips into being a realm of his own making: hallucinatory, albeit grounded in precise observation of the world around. His art like an animated cartoon that brings together astronauts and cavemen synthesizes profound conflagrations, sees delight inextricably bound to terror. The painted landscapes depict inter-connected systems, which carry energy and information, the flows of light and matter moving in different directions, interweaving of technology and biology, the solar systems’ genetic coding. Seen from an omnipotent viewpoint, they evoke cosmological diagrams, as if inferring a theological program. The fluorescent colors tend to ape the special effects of a jazzy science fiction film.

It refers a futuristic reality - partly palpable, partly virtual. For him, painting is an anthology of details, which needs to be read and deftly decoded. The artist is as if commemorating, a sense of time - both historical and futuristic - in order to construct a system to make sense of the old and the new. The idea is prompt the viewer to mull over the possibilities of a strange world whose classical character has been overpowered and altered by technology. His other-worldly landscapes are constructed of architectonic ciphers, which mimic the forms of both culture (writing, figuration, decoration etc) and nature (plants, animals and spores). The fantasy landscapes combine totemic figures, eccentric architecture natural elements and computer circuitry.