All things to all people: Sanjeeva Rao Guthi’s watercolours are in equal parts provocative and comforting
It's one thing to note that most of Sanjeeva Rao Guthi’s works are untitled, a note that perhaps lends into the title of his ongoing solo show, Unpredictable Probabilities.
That said, in the profusion of elements and details in each of his paintings — most of them of watercolours on acid-free paper — the artist from Kurnool, now based in Bengaluru, really opens up a world of possibilities — and you’re never quite sure what to expect next, from his incredibly elaborate works.
“Sanjeeva draws from his observations of political and social events to create paintings that speak of the power struggles that characterise contemporary life,” says a note on the show, from the hosts at Apparao Galleries, Chennai.
In essence, for the most part, Sanjeeva’s paintings seem like larger-than-life, and tongue-in-cheek depictions of a great circus of democracy.
Case in point: a series of works in two parts, based on the Indian 1,000 Rupee currency note, where the artist layers the official design with elements of balloons and athletes, seemingly midway through a marathon.
The race is always on in Sanjeeva’s works, and much of the images in his new works draw from his earlier pieces that portrayed Mahatma Gandhi’s iconic ‘Three Monkeys’ against a backdrop of currency notes.
“Reddy blurs the line between the ‘real’ and the ‘virtual’ using both actual currency notes as well as photographically painted currency notes,” observes the curatorial note from the gallery.
“The artist thus draws an analogy that just as the line between the ‘real’ and the ‘simulated’ is grey, similarly the gap between the ‘moral’ and the ‘corrupt’ in contemporary society is grey,” adds the note.
To be sure, Sanjeeva, who studied at the Andhra University and is a National Award-winning artist, creates evocative pictures of entangled existences — “a life where we are part of a large consumerist financial network, yet remaining emotionally isolated.”
Chaos, energy, power
The artist has, over the years, been exploring the way power operates in contemporary society. In his early works, Sanjeeva extensively employed imagery of vehicles, especially the scooter, in a way of depicting the journey of life, and the move from a rural to urban environment.
In his new works, Sanjeeva takes to the motif and potent image of the chair. “Tall and precarious arrangements of stacked-up chairs were used to connote the impermanence of power, while the violence associated with power struggles were euphemistically conveyed through tailed creatures,” notes the gallery’s curatorial note.
His newer works are also a shade more daring than before, as the artist tends towards ‘more overt socio-political critique’, even introducing images of politicians against a background of teeming masses.
In Sanjeeva’s paintings, the crux is in the interaction between the individual and the collective. At times, these assemblages also turn absurd, as he positions political leaders alongside animals and people, while retaining an innocent, youthful sense of irreverence.
Thankfully, Sanjeeva isn’t entirely taken in by visuals of disorder and lawlessness, and he does manage to construct his frames with an overall balance, and aesthetic sense of artistic appeal — even as places himself in the creations as both an observer as well as a participant in the power play of society.
“The chaos and energy of Sanjeeva’s works weave a picture of today’s anarchic environment. At the same time, it refers to a sense of collective energy that is the redeeming power of man and holds a glimmer of hope for the future,” offers the curatorial note.
For a positive message, that’s the best you can expect from the existentialist stable of Sanjeeva Rao Guthi.
Unpredictable Probabilities is on display at Apparao Galleries, Nungambakkam until 5 January 2020. Apparao Galleries is also hosting Particularly Fragile by Manita Singh at The Leela Galleria until December 30.
— Jaideep Sen