Catalogue article - Exhibition of Paintings 1992 In any discussion of contemporary Indian art the significant contribution of Sudhir Patwardhan is undeniable. He belongs to the openly eclectic generation of artists born in the 40's whose socio-political commitments seem to have been best realized in their work through figuration. Their eclecticism which includes Western influences as well as their own traditional ones springs from a particularly Indian mandate which has to be understood in its art historical contexts.
In the case of Patwardhan, he uses his sources with deliberation, quoting when the need arises from Leger and Cezanne to the Jehangiri School of Moghul miniatures. What emerges however is a highly personal style which has focused in different ways over the years on the working classes; their predicament has impinged deeply on his work - the deepened spaces of construction sites, suburban trains, crowded tenements and cheap cafeterias have become Patwardhan's stage upon which his bit players with walk-on parts have stayed on to become heroes. Blown up to impart maximum tension, his sentient figures have shuttled between the expressionist idiom and the realistic. "Close enough", in the artist's words "to be sensually full bodied and disquieting, but distanced through the act of observation and depiction" A bit of a tight-rope act in which he goes on to say "are compounded the pleasures and problems of both extrernes."
This balancing between the self and the subject runs through the new works as well. The artist's need to keep his subjects at arm's length, heightening their sense of alienation almost as if in deference to their individual autonomy, leads, as the artist says, "to a sense of distance... This gives me breathing space... things are equidistant from me, united in texture out there on the surface of the canvas. That is their world".
These worlds are never hermetic however, and the painter provides us with various entry points : the semi- psychological registers of his charged spaces that draw us into "Artist and ModeV' for instance - an autobiographical journey towards self discovery, where Patwardhan paints his protagonist self from the imagination and not the mirror, meanwhile dividing his model into a doppelganger split personality to play out conflicts between feelings. Or the lure of broken open spaces in "The Keralite:'a clear homage to Leger with its sharply demarcated areas within which his images are given graphic and equal significance with space powerfully realized through unmodulated colour relationships.
There are worlds as well which enable Patwardhan's return to his "full bodied" figure after a gap of several years. Worlds where his subject is the Other, and where the drama of everyday life is shot through with the play of essential relationships between individual and family, and the individual and society. The painter's brush becomes broad and rich in these, yet economical enough - much like his range of colours -to model his forms into basic solid volumes. And though his inwardly gazing men and women with faces carved like woodcuts, strike us at first as impassive and then as stoic as they struggle to survive the deluge of monsoon floods (which in fact laid waste the painter's home and neighbourhood last year), they are revealed upon closer inspection to be deeply vulnerable, violated by their own fortitude.
Many of the ideas discussed above find a cumulative if somewhat oblique effect in "Pokharan", a monumental canvas in which the efforts of Patwardhan's small in situ landscapes of the last three years coalesce. And like all his large works this too is compositionally complex. So much so that in its imperatives of organization and structure, and in its Cezannesque .1 reconciliations of truth and motif and of depths of natural appearance with the flatness of the pictureplane", it probably overtakes "Memory, Double-Page" Whadaki), considered by many as his landmark painting. By juggling and tip-tilting perspectives in order to weave varied views with their different planes, ground elevations, strata, sites, conditions of light and times of day in deceptively effortless transtemporal crossovers, Patwardhan achieves another of his tightrope acts in taking advantage of all the tensions that arise from the different emphasis of illusions and technique while avoiding recourse to optical distortion.
In the end if we have to decide what excatly gives this varied collection cohesion, it is neither style nor class-specific ideology nor what some would simplistically term an assimilation of facts or a compilation of actualities. It is sensibility, which in the words of British art critic Peter Fuller * "is charecterized by a rejection of the publicly organized modes of seeing and of representing, and is hence thrown back on a pervasive sense of privacy, of isolated intimacy. It also involves a longing for a way of seeing and of working in the midst of the small change of everyday life, which is imbued with a living affective, evaluative and aesthetic component".
At the same time in the case of Patwardhan it is imbued with a certain sense of optimism as well. The artist as always holds a mirror to a slightly altered world where through the industrial smokestacks of his strangely contemporary scenery a wooded copse can invariably be glimpsed, and where his figurative realism becomes a narrative affirmation of life's capacity for nurturing growth and change.
* (From an essay in his book ---Imagesof God - The Consolation of Lost Illusions")
copyright 1999 sudhir patwardhan