25 Years of The Guild

A. Ramachandran I Akbar Padamsee I Altaf I Amit Ambalal I Anupam Sud I Baiju Parthan I
Dilip Ranade I G. R. Iranna I Gieve Patel I Gigi Scaria I Gulammohammed Sheikh I
Jyoti Bhatt I K. G. Subramanyan I K. Laxma Goud I K. P. Reji I Krishen Khanna I
N. N. Rimzon I Nagji Patel I Navjot Altaf I Pooja Iranna I Prajakta Potnis I Rajkumar I
Rakhi Peswani I Ram Rahman I Rashmimala I Ravi Agarwal I Riyas Komu I
Sathyanand Mohan I Shadi Ghadirian I Shantibai I Shibu Natesan I Sudhir Patwardhan I
Sumedh Rajendran I T. V. Santhosh I Vidya Kamat I Vivan Sundaram I Zakkir Hussain

Preview: 19 August 2022

On view until 25 August 2022

CCA Galleries
Bikaner House
Pandara Road, New Delhi


Sathyanand Mohan




The three artists who have been brought together in this section titled Afterimages — Baiju Parthan, T.V. Santhosh and Shibu Natesan — are all figures who were instrumental in re-orienting painting away from the largely narrative focus that it had had until then in India, towards the question of an ontology of the image itself. They were among a number of artists in the 1990s who grappled with the novel representational challenges posed by photography as well as the electronic and the digital image, in the context of a life-world increasingly saturated with media images. They sought to do this by critically addressing the image in its contexts of circulation and dissemination, and by translating the processing artifacts of digital transmission and their idiosyncrasies of resolution and noise into the privileged medium of painting. Nancy Adajania refers to these aesthetic concerns collectively as ‘Mediatic Realism’, and situates it in the historical context of the increasing mediatization of the life-world in the 1990s, at a time when the global telecommunications industries established a dominant presence on the Indian subcontinent for the first time. In Afterimages, I identify correlations and divergences among the work of these three artists, and examine their current practice in the light of this history.

Shibu Natesan’s work from the 1990s constitutes one of the earliest attempts in the country to steer painting towards a consideration of the questions opened up by the mediated image in the twentieth century, with photography in particular playing a prominent role in his oeuvre. Natesan’s practice can be understood in relation to a long history of painting in the twentieth century which sought to respond to the ruptures brought about by photography (and later cinema and the electronic and digital image), and the severing of the mimetic function that it primarily had until then. However, over the last decade or so, Natesan’s work has come full circle, and has gravitated towards a painterly approach where the emphasis is on a more direct, unmediated relationship to the referent, which he accomplishes by making the lost art of painting from life (plein air) a central component of his practice. Coupled with the alla prima (or wet on wet) technique which requires that the artist finish the work in a single sitting, Natesan’s paintings may be understood as a performative staging of the phenomenological apprehension of what Merleau-Ponty called the “flesh of the world”, which necessitates this particular technique and the relatively modest scale of the work. In the telegraphic economy of the language of painterly gesture which Natesan employs, he registers this phenomenological grasping of the fleeting contingency of the world in its immediacy. At the same time, these works are already mediated by the history of painting itself, which is reflexively indicated in them in the attention given to the space of the studio and the objects in it, which make up an inventory of the everyday working life of an artist, such as easels, stretchers, palettes, canvases, books. Natesan’s work comprises a return to a genre which has had a central (if largely forgotten) history, and which sought to turn painting away from the problems of mimesis towards the question of the embodied apperception of our being in the world.

T.V. Santhosh’s enduring preoccupation in his work is, as he puts it, the complex riddle that is History, and our predilection for “so much hatred, chaos and violence.” Until recently, his paintings were largely defined by an engagement with the interpellative effects of the electronic image in everyday life, due to the increasing presence of televisual media in particular in our lives since the last few decades. His paintings attempted to critically address the distance between the reality of endemic social and political violence and its reification in the circuits of electronic mediation, through a process in which he literally inverted image-fragments derived from the technosphere so that its relationship to the referent was further attenuated. Such interventions force the viewer to engage in the hermeneutic labor of deciphering the image, through which a critical relationship to it is re-established. In more recent work, he has returned to the allegorical mode that he had explored early in his career in drawings, watercolors and sculptures. The paintings exhibited here might be seen as a synthesis of these two distinct aspects of his practice. While found imagery was the source of earlier work, in the paintings exhibited here, Santhosh makes use of staged photographs in order to anchor a visual idiom that makes extensive use of iconographic symbolism in the verisimilitude that photography makes possible. The works expand upon his abiding concern with the spiraling cycles of violence and war which have marked human history for almost as long as it has been in existence, and which continues into the present. In the paintings exhibited here, Santhosh amplifies these considerations through the use of text printed on scrolls, which tangle and unfurl against a background of motifs derived from nature. He thereby situates the interlinked chains of violence and death which, in his opinion, constitute history — here allegorically represented through the death rites of a figure in a gas mask as well as the ticking counter set to its ominous countdown — against the cyclical processes of decay and regeneration in the natural world. This ambiguous figuring of the relationship between History and Nature gives these paintings their unsettling power.

Baiju Parthan’s work is also distinguished by a longstanding interest in the creative possibilities of allegory as an artistic device. Like T.V. Santhosh and Shibu Natesan, Parthan’s work has been devoted to a patient excavation of the hyper-mediated landscape that we find ourselves in today, as well as the ways in which it reframes normative assumptions about knowledge, experience and consciousness. An engagement with the many dimensions of the Virtual — as an aesthetic corollary of digital media, but also in its philosophical sense, as a metaphysical correlate of the Real — has long been central to Parthan’s practice. One direction that this concern takes in his oeuvre, is in terms of a querying of the invisible architectures which underlie and shape sense perception and bodily affect, and their interactions through which the manifest world is experienced and comprehended. We could say that Parthan conceives of the picture plane itself as a virtual field, as a space of teeming potentiality where these occulted forms and their interactions can be explored or posited in a playful manner. To do this, he draws upon a wide range of source material — from images and tropes circulating in the landscape of digital communication and interaction, to pictorial elements drawn from mathematics, art history, tarot and semantics. In Twin Paradox for example, Parthan cites medieval illuminated manuscripts, alchemical diagrams, as well as the engravings of William Blake in order to stage an imagined encounter with the technological singularity, i.e. the moment when artificial intelligence will gain sentience. The twin paradox is a thought experiment in special relativity which imagines the interlinked fate of a pair of twins; the twin that travels to a distant star system upon returning discovers that the twin who had stayed behind has aged more. The twins here represent the antinomies within which we all live today, and represent the confrontation (as well as symbiotic coexistence) between natural processes on the one hand, and the iterative algorithmic logics of machine intelligence, on the other. Parthan’s use of the Fool / Trickster archetype from the major arcana of the Tarot is used here to invoke a metaphorical representation of, in his words, “the approaching singularity where human intelligence will have to confront its twin, the more than equal Artificial Intelligence.”

Sathyanand Mohan
Srishti-Manipal Institute of Art, Design and Technology

© Author and The Guild



Shibu Natesan


Artist's Studio, Trivandrum, Attingal,
2020, Oil on panel, 12 x 10 inches
Artist's Studio,
Oil on panel, 7 x 6 inches
Oil on panel, 14 x 19 inches

Music System Artist's Home,
Oil on panel, 11.75 x 9.4 inches
Oil on panel, 9.4 x 7 inches
Terrace Artist's Home, Attingal Kerala,

2019, Oil on panel, 7 x 9.5 inches

Artist's Studio, Attingal,
Oil on panel, 7 x 5 inches
Oil on panel, 22 x 13 inches
Gate - 8 Artist's Home,
Oil on panel, 14 x 19 inches

Oil on panel, 12 x 9.6 inches
Paint Tins,
Oil on panel, 12 x 10 inches
Oil on panel, 11.8 x 9.5 inches

T. V. Santhosh                  

The Protagonist and his Empty Rat Trap - II,
2022, oil on canvas, 72 x 96 inches (diptych)
Jumbled Monologue - II,
2022, oil on canvas, 48 x 36 inches


Baiju Parthan