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Catalogue article - Exhibition of Drawings 1994

In a drawing of 1990, Confession, Sudhir Patwordhan potrays a moment from married life that most of us would be familiar with. The man looks distraught and guilty, sick in body and soul. The woman , somewhat turned away from him, carries the weight of the moment in the defeated curve of her trunk. We know nothing of what preceded the moment, and nothing of what followed.

This almost retrospective show of Patwardhan's drawings could take its title from that drawing. The confessions we read are exquisitely poised, telling us neither too much nor too little. Also, the word 'confession' con be used to characterise the show in more than one sense. We come away with the knowledge that for many artists drawing, by its very nature, is confessional activity. It has to do with the flash level at which graphic work strikes sparks in an artist's psyche. More about this later.

The most elementary confessions are those relating to a person's own body. From birth till death this baggage of sensations is with us, and perhaps most of us know nothing as intimately as we know this hangeron. One big slice of the present show has to do with Patwardhan's struggle to get a grip on his creature self, even if he titles his drawings as variously as Family, or Actor, or Sisters, or Worker. In keeping with the spirit of Confession, it is the moment of optimal awkwardness that has been nabbed and recorded, the ways to and from it remain in the shadow land of the artist's private life.

The awkward feeling is transmuted into visual imagery as a bad fit. The bodies seem not to correspond accurately to the skin that covers them, so that the latter hangs redundant. But even a relatively straight drawing like legs, which is classical in its observation and execution, becomes strange through the particularly uncomfortable placing of the crossed arms and legs.

Doesn't Patwardhan like his body ? Do most of us have reservations about our own carcass ? How have we grown to the size and shape we are ? Are we tumours ? From this point on it is an easy descent to further exploratory depths with drawings like New Growth and Tumour. While  presenting us with extra bumps and protuberances, they actually hint at the union of two bodies, and at a possibly cancerous conception. The Hermaphrodite drawings, an extreme expression of inner scarring, challenge the flimsy foundations of our sexual identity.

The show has evidence of a complementary movement towards Normality. 1 use the upper case 'N' because this is Potwordhan's major theme, as anyone who has followed his work over the years would know. His effort has been to assert the importance of lucidity, of transparent commonplace living. Some of the strongest, clearest charcoal and pencil lines in this show have been reserved for themes like resting couples, sleeping figures or for two friends chatting in the depths of an autorickshaw. These too are confessions, because they complete the statement of his credo. Along with the landscapes, and the more classical plant and body images, and the drawings that touch upon social concerns, they reveal the range of his sympathies. They catch a note of poignancy, even of nobility, from the acknowledgment of everything that has been seen to threaten their unguarded existence.

There is nothing to an art exhibition if there isn't joy in it. joy here is in the variety of the graphic work - lines that are thick , thin, sinuous, ascetic, regular, or scraggly, serving the needs of each.specific drawing. And something singular underlies all of this: clarity, an openness like that of down.

1 come away from the viewing , my eyes blinking with rich impressions of block, white and grey; cool, lime, and slate, mineral representatives of the draughtsman's art. They are emblematic of the bare remains of life maturing deep inside the earth over centuries. No wonder a painter will put away colour, and grab at these bones and spicuies to record his most intimate jottings.


Gieve Patel

Bombay October 1994.

copyright 1999 sudhir patwardhan