Atul Dodiya’s solo exhibition in Delhi features his new collection of watercolours

A handpicked part of this work, 135 to be precise, is on display at the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA) in Delhi as an exhibition titled Walking With the Waves

author_img Rewati Rau Published :  10th April 2022 11:00 PM   |   Published :   |  10th April 2022 11:00 PM

Atul Dodiya

The uncertain months of 2020 and 2021 meant different things to different artists. But contemplation and the surprise of impermanence were common themes reflected in the subsequent work of many. Art is a retelling of memory and emotion that makes a statement. Atul Dodiya spent those sequestered months at work with lines and colours, as Bollywood songs from the 1940s to 60s played on Radio Ceylon. It was the music of his childhood.

Only now, in the age of nuances and metaphors did he pay real attention to the classics of bygone, legendary composers. It was to the tunes of greats like Salil Chowdhury, Madan Mohan, and OP Nayyar that Dodiya produced 366 watercolours just in a year starting March 2020.

A handpicked part of this work, 135 to be precise, is on display at the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA) in Delhi as an exhibition titled Walking With the Waves. It also marks the reopening of KNMA for visitors after a gap of a year. In many ways, it is also a peek into the artist’s state of mind during the initial lockdown days.

Be it the painting of Saint Francis that he made on March 22, 2020 or of a man digging his own grave, they show the inevitability of solitude and the will of resilience.

An artist’s playground is their subconscious.  Recalls Dodiya, “During those days, I used to just sketch lines –– a stretched-out arm here, the back of a person there. Finally, after a month of this, I noticed they were solitary figures, a lone woman, a child in the wilderness, a landscape and doing nothing, merely talking to a tree, plant or looking at clouds. They are simple paintings. Then we could not go out, so Nature entered my work. It reflected an inner need of mine––the need for a pure space,” says the artist.

Coming after a gap of a tumultuous year during the pandemic, Dodiya’s show is perhaps an apt beginning for KNMA where the cycle is nearing another completion.

Says curator Roobina Karode, “The unusual phase during the last two years made many artists dwell in an unreal world. They were deprived of natural and social comforts. Our last cluster of on-site exhibitions in 2020 explored abstraction as their creative idiom. This time we return to the ‘human figure’ and its solitary struggle to be one with nature and in worlds yet unimagined.”

Dodiya’s isolated figures seem to speak to the viewer as if telling the story of the past viral catastrophe. Water and waves are reappearing motifs in many of his paintings as do fishermen. One painting has Christ crucified. Another has a harp.

“A painting showing the dead bodies on a riverbank was influenced by a news report and photographs of corpses thrown into the Ganges. Some works were influenced by the sight of migrants’ long walks home. That’s why not all the paintings are joyful. Contemplation on life and nature is reflected sometimes gloomily in each lonely figure,” says Dodiya.

It is obvious from the exhibition that the 63-year-old artist has been deeply influenced by the pandemic. The current body of paintings at KNMA is very different from his usual body of work. Even the paper is not of the usual 300 gsm thickness. 

“When the lockdown was announced, I picked up some working pads and watercolours from my studio and brought them home. That’s the reason some of these paintings are done on the kind of paper that’s used mainly for sketching,” reveals the artist. Has his perception become prefatory? Is it why this show’s emphasis on simplicity of style and imagery? 

“I don’t feel like putting any load on them in terms of my ideas. I was completely away from ideas, concepts, art history, popular culture, references and Mumbai, too,” says  Dodiya, who together with his wife Anju are a power couple of Indian art, like Jayshree Burman and Paresh Maity, and Subodh Gupta and Bharti Kher.   

Dodiya’s last solo show in Delhi, Stammer in The Shade, was held two years back at Vadehra Art Gallery. The talk of the town was his 13-mini non-operational shutters as well as 30 paintings including landscapes. 

In an interview back then, the artist had said, “I’m particularly a figurative painter but in this work, you’ll see some landscapes. They create an abstraction and show how time changes. Landscapes are kind of a kaleidoscope since they look different at different times of the day.” Dodiya is right. The landscape of the Indian mind indeed has changed, since March 2020.

Also on display 
KNMA is also paying homage to artist K Ramanujam, an exceptional figure of Indian modernism with an exhibition K Ramanujam: Into the Moonlight Parade showcasing rare drawings and paintings of the artist including his awe-inspiring 13-foot panorama My Dream World (1973).

KNMA, Saket; Till June 30