Wells   Clouds   Skulls
  Gieve Patel
  3  - 5 February, 2011


G i e v e   P a t e l 

Wells   Clouds   Skulls

Nancy Adajania in conversation with Gieve Patel on February 5, 2011 | 6:30 pm at The Guild, Mumbai


The Guild is proud to present the preview of Wells   Clouds   Skulls at The Guild, Mumbai. The exhibition is the preview of the show which is scheduled to open on May 5, 2011 at Bose Pacia, New York.


Gieve Patel presents large, monumental versions of his on-going series of paintings Looking into a Well. These works are evocations of the splendour of the physical world, while at the same time suggestive of  explorations of the complex inner world of the human psyche. Patel's drawings of clouds give us a vision that challenge our notions of artistic form. As he points out clouds are always in the process of forming and dissolving, and since both these activities happen congruently we are witness to a world of endless instability.


The charcoal drawings of skulls are formally inventive, and are free from the macabre. The artist shows here both involvement and a detached vision, in equal measure. The drawings seem to be presented without an obvious context, there not being even a base line suggesting a resting surface for the skulls. This lends the skulls a feeling of an existence in a philosophical and contemplative space. The three themes of this show seem to embrace the three worlds of our fleeting existence. Subtle connections seem to weave back and forth between them as the viewer views this body of work.


David Shulman, the distinguished Indologist and linguist, says of Patel's Wells:       


"And then the harder moment comes. It can take your breath away. Sooner or later, if you keep coming back to the painting, you can't help but feel that it is looking at you. In some canvases, in fact, the well looks uncannily like a huge, convex eye staring at you from some nearby vantage point (Looking into a well: inverted banana fronds, 1991;Looking into a well: A spray of blossoms, 2010). We know of such experiences: Rilke wrote a famous poem about them, "The Archaic Torso of Apollo," ending with the words: "There is no point/ that does not see you. You must change your life." Many great works of art convey precisely this demand on the viewer. You are being observed, as if by a living being that inhabits the space of the canvas, which is anything but flat, just as the mirror is never two-dimensional.  It's now a different kind of mirror that we have before us: not simply an infinite, generative reservoir, a plenitude of being, but an active, seeing mirror which just happens to have taken you in. Here the act of generating forms is already past; textures and shapes already exist, as if imprinted by the world on the eye that is staring at the world.


The vertigo we were feeling before gives way to an eerie sense that we are not alone. But whose eye is it? And how does it happen that there are also spaces, objects, realities outside the eye? You were looking down into the well, and now you discover that the well calmly examines you, knowing you to be both inside and outside it. In the light of that scrutiny, subtle shades capture your attention—magenta, dusty green, airy blue; they move lightly through the domain of the well, unstable, not quite at home. They move you.


In A Spray of Blossoms the well itself is strangely disembodied, ethereal, as if floating in space, not rooted in the earth. Never was a well so enchanting and so unwell-like. By now the depth is all surface—a metaphysical resolution of our problem. No wonder Gieve paints wells on such huge canvases; he needs room for all that once-vertical space. This well seems to have preserved some uncluttered, un-imaged patches, like any good mirror: if you look into the mirror, you will see, here and there, apart from your own reflection and the background images, the reflecting surface itself. Indeed, the longer one looks at Gieve's wells, the more free surface becomes apparent, as if the truly compelling business of seeing were somehow taking place there, where no image comes into focus and where the well can see you best."

(Excerp from David Shulman's essay,On Wells and Clouds, 2010)


Gieve Patel is a well-known painter and writer. His paintings are in public and private collections in India and in other countries, including the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi; Bharat Bhavan, Bhopal; the Jehangir Nicholson Collection, Mumbai; the Museum of Modern Art, Menton, France; the Peabody Essex Museum, Massachusetts, USA. He has participated in a large number of important group shows, which include Six who Declined to show at the Trienalle, New Delhi, 1978; Contemporary Indian Art, Royal Academy of Art, London, 1982; The Times of India -- Timeless Art, Mumbai, 1989; Crossing Generations: Diverge, Mumbai, 2003. In 2008, his paintings were an important part of the show Gateway Bombay, mounted by the Peabody Essex Museum, USA. Currently his work is included in theWorld Economic Forum show of contemporary Indian art, presented by Osians at Davos, Switzerland. 

Patel's poems have been widely published, and his plays have been published and performed. He is an occasional writer on contemporary Indian Art.

Patel is a recipient of Woodrow Wilson and Rockefeller Fellowships in the USA.


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