by Alaka Sahani | February 05 2012
When artist Sharmistha Ray’s friends were planning a trip to Jaipur some months ago, she was hesitant to join them. However, once she was in the north Indian city, steeped in history and culture, her mind was imbued with its character. Even after she returned to her adopted city of Mumbai, Ray found it hard to shake off this influence. Eventually, she found an outlet for it through art. Her painting, titled There are No Fixed Points, is dominated by the colour pink that famously happens to be this city’s signature hue.
As one steps into the spacious Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke in Colaba, this painting is first to appear when one looks to the left. In the gallery hosting Ray’s first solo exhibition, hidden geographies, until February 18, There are No Fixed Points stands out for its very unusual colour palette. But it’s certainly not the only one to represent the memories of landscapes stored in the deepest corners of Ray’s mind and their dominance in her work. In her depiction of the Golden Temple too, a dazzling golden tone dominates the painting that undoubtedly is inspired by the subject.
The show brings out the artist’s impressions and memories of places that she has lived in or explored so far. “I was born in Kolkata and lived in Kuwait before moving with my family to the US in 1997. Since 2006, I have made Mumbai my home as I accepted the directorship of Bodhi Art and Hauser & Wirth,” says Ray. However, with Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke expressing interest in her art and offering to host her first solo show, she has decided to turn into a full-time painter.
An artist digging into her memories to showcase her art is not new. But what stands out in Hidden Geographies is Ray’s use of colours and form. The gallery is filled with large canvases featuring very bold colours. “I have been experimenting with such a colour palette for some time now,” says Ray. For nearly five years now, she has been working on small abstractions which are her “studies”. Some of these studies are as small as one square foot. They have been her field for experimentation before her ideas are translated on bigger canvases. Even though they help her decide on colours and patterns, they don’t get replicated on the big canvases as her “selection of colours is mainly intuitive”.
Ray started working on the show a year ago. She rented a huge studio space at a warehouse off P D’Mello Road in February 2011 as, by her own admission, she wanted to “scale up” her paintings and “make them bigger”.
Ray’s size of work, in some way, also represents the grand ideas that she wanted to convey through her paintings. For instance, Till Death Do Us Part depicts “the idea of twin soul” with the almost identical colour palette and pattern.
This exhibition is a remarkable departure from her earlier works in terms of colour. “Earlier, I used a lot of subdued colours. Now, I love using bold and rich colours.” In the age of multimedia art, abstract painting — which had received a boost from the likes of artists SH Raza and VS Gaitonde — has a handful of practitioners in India. Ray, however, wants to focus on abstract art and she wants to make her next series of paintings even bigger. That means she is currently in search of a studio space which can accommodate her huge canvases.