Page 14 - Anjolie Ela Menon - Inner Vision
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The use of wooden frames came by quite             throughout her career. This had begun with                             The    Times   of   India’s  150th-anniversary      imagery to be the basis of her artworks, Menon has
         accidentally, with her looking to a friend and     training with live models during her brief stint at                    celebrations at Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai. It    gone beyond her apprehension of working with
         visionary O.P. Jain for help when she had run out   the J.J. School of Art to work with male models                       was attended by J.RD. Tata, one of Anjolie’s        technology to create something quite unique. With
         of frames for paintings. The founder of the artist   posed nude in the style of Greek statues at Beaux                    important patrons, among others. In the following   the use of computers, collages, and photography,
         village Sanskrit then scoured his backyard to find a   Arts, Paris. With this, she was able to build an                    year, she participated in the São Paulo Biennale.   she develops images of her own body of work that
         wooden window, which they nailed onto the          incredibly  strong  base  to  play  off  of  as  she                                                                       she then paints over with oils, creating an entirely
         canvas. Unhappy with the initial result, Menon     transformed nudes into her style. Visiting sculptor                    Not to be held down by one art style, Menon would   new artwork. Recurring motifs show up repeatedly
         priced the painting at INR 17,000 to discourage    Giselbertus’ Eve was also a turning point for the                      transform her works quite radically in the 90s.     in the same works, and images are often laid on
         buyers from purchasing it. But she was surprised   artist in the nudes that she created in the future,                    Going  from  sombre-hued  introspective  works  to   top  of  each  other,  sometimes  creating  filters  of
         to hear that it had sold despite that. She then    with her early nudes sharing the innocence                             giving a kitschy, new life to objects like chairs and   colours through which one can view the backdrop.
         asked O.P. Jain to find more such window frames     juxtaposed with the sexuality that could be seen in                    cupboards with her artwork. From her many           Despite the intervention of machines, these works
         at scrap dealers. Thus, the window frame would     his awe-inspiring sculptures.                                          foraging trips through Mohammed Ali Road during     still retain the Renaissance-esque feel that Menon
         also become associated with the artist.                                                                                   her stay in Mumbai and other travels, found         is known for - the Mutations-Pentimento series
                                                            Speaking of her female nudes to The Hindu’s                            objects became a long-running fascination for the   from  1996  being  a  fine  example  of  the  same.  A
         The late 70s saw her nudes transform into ones of   BusinessLine  in  2018  she  said,  “I  was  born  of                 artist. Further, on a stay in Chennai with gallery   pentimento refers to a work that shows a visible
         women, barely clad, exposing certain parts of their   Bengali-American parentage and my extended                          owner Sharan Apparao, Menon started painting an     presence of earlier paintings that have been
         bodies, and seemed to be more assured and more     family has Muslims, Parsis and Druids. I have                          old unused chair. This would then lead to the hunt   painted over in singular or multiple layers of paint.
         her  own.  Here one  can also  see her fascination   always stayed true to my multicultural lineage no                    for other such objects in junkyards in the city,
         with how clothing drapes, something that we will   matter which political party is in power. My female                    ending with 37 such pieces, painted over a year     Talking to The Times of India about the current art
         see throughout her oeuvre.                         nudes counter the misogynistic gaze of male                            and  finally  exhibited  in  Mumbai.  This  exhibition   world, she said, “Practitioners of art in the present
                                                            painters  like  FN  Souza  —  a  friend  whom  I  often                titled ‘Follies in Fantastikal Furniture’ held at   era are very lucky - never before have so many
         During this time, she would also create several    argued with — and this prevailing wave of hate                         Jehangir Art Gallery would be both criticised and   barriers been demolished, leaving artists to draw
         nude  paintings  featuring  blooming  flowers  and   crimes towards women.”                                                lovingly received, seeing her use pop art style     source material from both the past and the visual
         animals like snakes and goats. This was followed                                                                          movie posters as inspiration to paint South Indian   matrix of our own times. Folk, urban and rural
         by a period of painting nudes seated on benches    Menon, with her husband, then moved to Germany                         movie stars on furniture. This was a new,           influences,  the  new  digital  technology  and
         surrounded by either cats or crows, an example     with yet another posting, leaving behind their sons                    innovative  and  more  cheerful  style  of  work  than   multi-dimensional work all give us a huge canvas
         being ‘Nude with Cat’ from the year 1978. Nudes    in India so they could study further. The loneliness                   before. The exhibition would also feature a mound   to explore. Personally, I remain a painter but
         with a single breast exposed, reminiscent of the   of living away from family, combined with the                          of colourful, patterned blankets that were used to   endorse and admire all the bold new trends that
         Madonna, would also become a mainstay  in          discovery of a medical essay, led to her creating                      protect the chairs during their travel to the city.   are sweeping through India.”
         Menon’s body of work. ‘Madonna of Merriweather’,   the famed ‘open-heart’ series. The works created                       These would take a life of their own, becoming an
         executed in 1976, is one such example.             during this time featured  the stark  German                           installation in themselves. This innovative shift   In the late 90s, kitsch is another genre of art that
                                                            landscape  in  the  backdrop  with  human  figures                      from melancholic works to a more fun take on art    Menon delved into, starting with her found objects
         Her technique too was taking on a life of its own   that bared their hearts, symbolising her need for                     is  not  only  flippant  in  ways  but  also  visually   and then creating awe-inspiring paintings. Kitsch
         with her discovering Rembrandt’s works created     human relationships in the country. She would                          appealing. Many artists would go on to try to       itself is a heavily argued term, with some
         with thin glazes of oxides in Paris. Another       create  a  large  body  of  work  in  this  series  in  the            repeat the success of this exhibition with their    associating it with the fantastical, while others
         technique she started employing was to use         future, featuring fetuses in the womb, including                       individual takes on found object art, appropriating   state that it represents a lack of taste. For the
         various found objects like slippers, tablemats and   ‘Man With Heart Of Gold’, executed in 2005.                          Menon’s  works  in  some form  or  another.  But  by   artist, not to be held down by clichés and
         newspapers to ‘print’ onto her works, creating     Another monumental series originated during the                        giving these discarded objects a new, more vibrant   convention, this genre seemed to be the perfect
         texture and  detailing. This  was also  a time  she   late  1980s  upon  her  return  to  her  husband’s                  life  like  in the  case of  the  nudes  painted  onto  a   outlet and she began exploring it around the
         received even more appreciation from the art       familial home in Kerala. Her new compositions                          veena case and the iconic Kamal Hasan and Big B     2000s. First came a series of small collages
         circuit with exhibitions held in Delhi, Mumbai and   featured a subdued palette of browns and blacks                      chairs, Menon found a true middle ground            bringing together painted landscapes juxtaposed
         New York.                                          juxtaposed against bright contrasting details, with                    between function and art.                           with collages of religious calendar art. This
                                                            the subjects being South Indian. This was                                                                                  exhibition in 1998 in Paris would then lead to ‘Gods
         The 80s saw the nude subjects of her works take a   prompted by the discovery of albums and photo                         She is known to have said about her experiments     and Others’ in 2000, held at Gallery Admit One in
         turn as they were stripped of the innocence that   negatives of South Indian royal women who,                             with the lighter side of art, "Our work is so earnest,   New  York.  The  exhibition featured  large-scale
         the subjects of the earlier years shared. Arising   dressed  in  their  finery,  were  placed  before  fake                so dukhi (sorrowful) and I am called the queen of   paintings inspired by Hindu mythology, circus
         from her visits to Foras Road, a red light area in   Victorian backdrops. This is also when she started                   dukhi art. But we should move towards the funky     posters, and Bollywood movie posters. Bringing
         Mumbai, while out scouring for objects to work     creating her Namboodiri priest series, positioning                     and the satirical."                                 her signature aesthetic and motifs to the paintings
         with, she came upon the many sex workers that      them against these same backdrops. Her travels                                                                             and combining it with popular art, she created a
         would stand at windows for potential customers.    through Tamil Nadu and Kerala, where she                               With this, her experimentation would lead her to    never-before-seen amalgamation. Witnessed in a
         This would result in a series of impactful works.  immersed herself in rich tradition and classical                       test out new media works. ‘Mutations’ was an        painting of Kali and Durga holding aloft bandit
                                                            music deeply influenced these works.                                    exhibition  of some such  works  held  at  Wallace   Veerappan’s severed head, Menon’s exploration of
         Anjolie Menon is now known for the distinctive                                                                            Gallery  in  Manhattan.  Most  likely  one  of  the  first   the genre elevated street art, making audiences
         female nudes that have been a focal point for her   Her first retrospective was held in 1988 as part of                    major Indian artists to use computer-assisted       question what defines ‘high art’ and ‘low art’. Many

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