I have known Madhuri Bhaduri for more than three decades. During the formative decades of the 80’s and 90’s, Madhuri had exhibited at the Cymroza Art Gallery and later in 2007 she contributed her work for the Cancer Patients Aid Association fund- raising exhibition. Madhuri’s artistic inclinations and aptitudes were evident from the beginning when she had her first solo exhibition in 1986 in Pune. This was followed in the subsequent years by other successful exhibitions. Though Madhuri grew up as an ardent badminton player, she successfully also earned her degree in Economics, and later completed her Masters of Art in Painting from SNDT, Mumbai.
Madhuri feels that her artistic expressions brought her closer to God. When she paints, her calm serenity is reflected in the manifest ways that she applies her brush strokes. However her depictions of Lord Ganesha in bright reds and oranges, in different shapes and sizes, portraying his varied moods and avatars, are at times a bold departure in her medium.
Her repertoire encompasses the phases of inspiration she has obtained over three decades of her professional career. Madhuri rightly says “My paintings are reflective of what one is thinking and not just what one is seeing”.
Madhuri’s canvasses bring out the beauty of her work in every possible hue, tone and shade. She speaks with her brush and formulates her many experimentations on space, flora and fauna, figures including nude studies, landscapes and seascapes, rooftops, and abstract elements to a well-rounded presentation. She focuses for hours with her favourite medium which is oil, and her canvasses are swathes of colour, line and figure, defining either light, water, shadow, or sun, moon, and clouds, starting from the centre and spreading evenly over the surface. Image 2 -landscapeMadhuri’s prolific travels have helped her paintings become the substance of dreams and memories. Dr Pheroza J. Godrej
Grandiloquent and Spirited Reverberations:
The mode of harnessing single forms to plural functions has been the hallmark of Madhuri Bhaduri’s work and is visible here in the present show as well. The practice takes her away from the tragic paradigm of urban life which is dominated by a sense of lack and loss. Though the metaphor of illusion is basic to this body of work, the compulsiveness of the little gesture out of which they are made lends them a private, even reclusive character, and the push of this compulsion against the narrow range of overall effect is what gives Madhuri’s paintings their sway. It is refreshing to come upon such deep enduring paintings in the ‘up to the minute’ climate of the present. And yet, her work has never been nostalgic hymns to an existential epoch rather her aim has been to inhabit, and share with the viewer, a pictorial space that is ever-renewed to the rumbling of her soul. It helps her to undergo some changes deep inside her and ripen by solitude extended by a repertoire of that resonates with Madhuri’s multi-layered images and abstract forms mostly done in oil on canvas. She is a reliable and clear sighted guide to that exploration of our innermost mind as well. The impact is immense. The golden wing of the butterfly can become the very device that yokes together a fabulous heaven and the desire for a grave. In a pictorial world that is vivid rich in colour and detail, her imaginative and extraordinary narrative outpourings continue to reverberate with a certain magic realism, arresting the viewer in thrall. People can do sense of embedded architecture and hidden compartments, of the paintings inviting access to spaces which they simultaneously obstruct leaving the viewer with the feeling of standing before a sealed door or window, from which only echoes of paint, seeping around the edges suggesting the drama unfolding inside. Here one feels oneself unbearably intercepted by forces buffeting one’s every nerve, imagines the gravity of one’s self to be multiplied and riding on a wave carried away into exhilaration and release: pain and serenity become indistinguishable. In her work the apparent end lies close to the apparent beginning- so close in fact, or in apparent fact, that they are almost indistinguishable. For many abstract artists, gesture is no longer embedded in the same pictorial and referential structures from which it drew its original authority. Rather than being the basis for a dynamic compositional system or a clearly labeled marker of the psyche, it has become increasingly autonomous.
The scale of her work reinforces this effect for it establishes a context for beings, with somewhat larger than human dimensions. The ensemble is invested with portentous ceremonial spirit; one that generates emotions which can easily be recognized but less easily named. It is this quality that suggests that the ensemble may be devoted to profane, instinctual mysteries. She resists the risky conceptual ambiguities. The important fact is that they do not consign the abstract markers to immobility but it is a long line of flight that she creates physicality of colour regimes because we are tracing the real and composing a plane of consistency, not simply imaging or dreaming. In the present series, faring that she might become too adept at this language and so sacrifice that sense of unlaboured freshness which has characterized her work so far to questions of refinement and candour. The whole process of her work represents a physical engagement with technical aspect and the psychological meditative aspect which always elevates and eventually gives a feeling of catharsis, purification of soul. The base coat is applied after the primer coat. This coat contains the visual properties of color and effects, and is usually the one referred to as the paint. “….the shadow of process always falls on the work as it becomes a presence in the world….. the grid or schema is the processual prehistory of the art practice- an origin of sorts-that is then repeated and transformed in the work itself, that is somewhat bringing the work’s conceptual past into its more graphic, performative present”(- Homi.J Bhabha).
Her involvement in light illusory space, dreamy moods create the illusion of looking through a kind that is illuminated from beyond by diffused sunlight. If Madhuri celebrates weightlessness articulated in terms of a picture-script in her acrylics, she voices gravity in somber paintings suffused with a dark palette. In the far distance, the sky dissolve into a dusky haze tinted with yellow, orange and grey behind the skyscrapers and high-rises. The urban space gets transmuted into light leading to an almost spiritual sublimation. To the high-rises, then, we turn, to the sky and light, for clues to the meaning of these works. However, by now, the tiny rustics and the diaphanous space create a mood that is passive, trustful and melancholy- they begin to speak of relinquishment, of escape lacking any exuberant painterly iridescence. There is a degree of impressionistic naturalism about this especially in the depiction of light, but what is more strongly projected is an otherworldly numinous quality.
Like the earlier paintings they are what they are, but the questions they raise refer to an ethical position or the relationship between the artist, object and viewer but the sensations one had of it. The quality of density they exclude is intense. She mainly does small to medium sized works to arrive at a fuller expression. Her painted spaces are mainly large to relatively small formats, working with closer to the surface with a sense of intimacy in small and a sense of distance and space – these abstracts are like relics, a record of activity that took place in past, her practice is also a trace that provokes an immediate response pointing to the future. Some of the works have a sense of monumentality and markers used instinctively to stimulate the surface.
It is fitting that her language is implicit in its evolutionary path often evokes and on several occasions actually realizes the potentials of a meditative enclosure and are replete with images of a static eternity that substitutes the external one translating feeling and emotions into a visual language- the implacable absolute of otherness. These qualities, beyond words are the source of their distinction, their intimacy, inwardly generated and not imposed. Within these painted spaces there is intense application of mind, a narration, nuances; obviously, the energy made visible reaches a certain grandeur, and one has to watch closely the expressive visual modulation of the colour grid into which are woven interlocking planes which are so fragile that they may go unnoticed. When the images are interned in certain realm and are not before us recall a connect that stay with us; the interaction between repetition and recollection has already become a part of our sensual memory. It is necessary for her that her act follows an internal spontaneous spirituality and becomes meditative. The various constituents of the paintings are overtly acknowledged accompanied with a cool literalism. The components here are distilled and then examined as all these fascinate and for us the exhibition posits the viewer between the roles of spectator and participant, author and reader, singular and plural.Madhuri Bhaduri (PAINTINGS) Nanak Ganguly – Curator’s NOTE
There are many constants in Madhuri Bhaduri’s recent sculptures; her ‘assemblages’ if we may term it have become a systemic interplay of found objects, memory, movement and drawing. These elements and their rules of combination are deployed to make a work specifically in tune with total ambience of its tropes, from which it takes its affective cue. The constants are indicative of her structural concerns and their expressive development. Many of her sculptures have human associations and are made to relate to literary proportions. This is not simply a form but a ‘thing’ which breathes and lives its own existence. Far from suggesting purity and benignity, her work is both mysterious and threatening as in her sculptures done earlier which are stark and direct, a space which appears impenetrable or perhaps a container whose contents are concealed with mind’s activities. It is both contemplative and confrontational, a subtle combination of two characteristics found separately in them. In a society whose structure seems to be increasingly moving increasingly towards a position of equilibrium in one’s relationship with his or her environment the artist might well perform as a creator of randomness in order to trigger creative behaviour
She says “Assemblage as we might term can be computed as putting your thought together and expressing them in the form of a more tangible creation. It was hard for me to let go off my used brushes paint tubes with their coloured knobs palette knives, dividers compasses etc. easels a representation in a smaller format. They had finished their life for all but for me I want them to live on.” She has depended on motifs, normally a figure and sought to subvert our representational reading of the figure by dislocating or unbending it by investing abstract forms with human presence and significance as in the colored hippies of Hrishikesh curiously using at times surprisingly conventional modeling. “Later I got interested in a group of these three hippies like nomads who had these absolutely crazy and exciting hairdos with amazingly done faces. They left a memory I could not erase and had to create it to get it out of my system. Thus the three coloured hippies took birth..” Cultural memory proves crucial to her and enables to function during periods of anxiety, torment and pensiveness, the works speak calmly in virtue of a different stance, an authentic attitude, such is her confidence in her vision. The motifs are fought for by the surface and apparent depth when it is not stimulated into services by devices or activities designed for a purpose. Her readings and contemplations must surely make way into these works surreptitiously.
Madhuri’s constructs do have a significance- take her ‘ Shankha’ for example, the significance lies in the fact that they exist in the realm of fiction. That they are fictions is axiomatic for it prevents a reading of the constructs in terms of a mimetic relationship of the external world. Even the used cans of colour and the earthen black works offer a romantic escape from the present. It is what they look like, and not some underlying meaning nor their potential to generate reverie. That is crucial. She insists in her practice on affirming the rift between the actual and the fictional. There is a flow of wit, creativity and passion that had gone into the making of these assemblages and a story of intellectual courage. Her art speak from the depth of the soul and reaches out to all of those who dare to share in the drama. The poise is remarkable, what these accomplish is a discreet, satisfying mélange. She is wary of an earlier experience “… I revisited my clown of 1998..i was at that time experimenting with the human form and its emotional connect with me..The clown’s amazing philosophy of smiling in spite of being sad and trying to entertain around was something I really admired..This attracted me to study and paint a series for a couple of years..and now once again I wanted to take the clown further through my work.” These demand an attention from us to divulge their secrets , as her figures stare at us, whittled down to the minimum, is what we are left with as signifying mark of man or woman. It is also a beautiful and complex form in itself, and it’s essential that we recognize this. With the simplest of means and the clearest of vision, Madhuri’s creativity provides us with touchstones to revitalize our relation to humanity and to ourselves
In a remembered land
I have before me a painting that dates back to the start of Madhuri Bhaduri’s art practice. It is a work of some confidence, if not yet of substance, a fictional portrait of a Rajasthani woman – somewhat romantic and naïve, even perhaps decorative. It does not serve the artist I now know well – in fact, it does so poorly – but is important to talk about anyway. The blue palette of the painting is illusory, as is its idea borrowed from an ideal mooted by the Bengal School as an Indian trope, the corruption of which led to its demise a whole century ago. But the sentiment has persisted to this age, this idea of bucolic landscapes and beautiful women and noble men in a stylized setting.
What is important about the painting, though, is its choice of color even though it ill-suits it, but which allows us a glimpse of the bold palette the artist will continue to employ almost to the point of elimination of everything else. Certainly, the figurative form central to that painting has now disappeared. No longer does she paint within the restraints of a genre – even the term abstract is a misnomer in her case. There is no longer a narrative in her work, the artist preferring the stark reality of colors. In the long chasm that divides the early work and her recent paintings is an artist’s journey of vindication and self-discovery. Like other painters before her who have undertaken the same passage, she has opted to eliminate the convention of form for that which is internalized, walking a lonely path by choice. Abstract art, however notional that idea, is an act of courage, but it is also the most sublime – a surrender of the senses before the capacity to move the viewer solely on the basis of colour, harmony, movement and imagination. It is a rare skill, and only an artist foolish – or foolhardy – enough would attempt it.
Whether or not they have teachers, mentors or patrons, artists will tell you that theirs is a lonely profession – if to so address a career in art is not to insult it. Within the confines of a studio, cut off from a living world outside, an artist draws on memory and recollections, relies on philosophy and experience. Life outside is disorienting, debilitating; within, any chaos is of one’s own making, a retreat nevertheless from the absurdity of governance and regulations. Here, the artist creates and critiques, is observer and commenter, can work or hibernate. Art has survived beyond history, when all mankind had cared for but history. History passes on just as art lives on. Great kings are no more, their struggles long forgotten, yet art survives – in temples and churches, in humble homes and formidable forts, in excavations of long-ago civilisations doomed to folly.
Do artists long for such loftiness? It would take infinite wisdom not to yearn for longevity, yet artists are chroniclers of their times, choosing their own methods to recount stories around them, whether of the past or present. Some are drawn to the narrative of the social and the political, others more simply to beauty. The art of the aesthetic is a primal impulse, and it is of this that Madhuri can claim to be a devotee. Her journey from those early figurative works to her impressionistic canvases has been an eventful one, and each is probably the sum, or a part, of her life’s experiences, complete, yet incomplete.
Madhuri’s works suggest her acute observation of light. Everything else – even color – must needs be secondary to it. That light can be bright, harsh, incandescent; it can be dappled, shaded, shadowy; it can be alluring and seductive or mischievous and playful. Its relationship with color is almost transient. On the surface, they might appear joyful, but a closer look discloses hints of poignancy and destiny. They are, like the wrinkles of age, or the scars of time, worn gracefully, weathered a little, magical as only life can be. In Madhuri’s paintings, they are her markers of time
Reflections of time
The rain has been incessant. Outside, puddles have formed. The streets are wet. Leaves have rained down, released from their stems – a bruised autumnal crush of gold. Fallen petals swirl past into an eddy before emptying into a drain. A child’s paper boat is trapped between twigs. A wet jacaranda is a blur of indigo, mauve flowers scattered atop their own image, creating a mis-en-scene. Water hyacinths congregate in an offering of shadows. Everywhere, reality is heightened, distorted, enchanting.
A sliver of moon, a glimmer of lights, buildings shimmering into a suggestion of lines – is that the sky or merely a whisper of it? Those dancing colors, do they have feelings? Can blue be warm, orange cold? Is that a streetlight forming an orb or the sun enveloped in an overcast halo of clouds? Radiant lights sway on the damp surface, are aglow. Smudged footprints cut a path that is soon swallowed up, as ephemeral as our memories.
The rain as a trope has been a favourite with the luminaries of the creative world. Amateur photographers have used it as a medium; artists have been drawn to its possibilities; writers, lovers, filmmakers, everyone, it seems, has manipulated its nuances. From its savage drumming in torrential downpours to its refreshing cadence, it has been a part of cultural lore, the smell of wet earth associated with nostalgia, longing and long-ago childhoods.
What form do these evanescent, ephemeral moods take? Are they real or merely a guise for a reflection of reality that we long for, but which remains, inescapably, beyond our reach? Can we capture these magical moments, envelope them in our memory, the better to recollect them, like William Wordsworth, in remembered solitude?
These and similar responses and questions form the rubric for most artists. Madhuri Bhaduri, if she is troubled by them, does not show it. Her response is a spiritual communion with color. Not for her overcast skies of doom, the filth and grime of our urban settlements in which rain is an unwelcome visitor, not the joyous celebration of poets, the evocative expression of artists. Quick as lightening, her palette seizes the moment, each fleeting shadow and experience captured on canvas. Perhaps there is much to be thankful for, for the mirror she holds up is one of childhood and innocence, youth and tenderness, fulfillment and love – not the jaded appetite of the ancient and abused. Like the colors, so the reflections, hence the memories – they swirl into an enactment of a faded remembrance. Sounds emerge, gentle, joyful, contended, a lost language of pleasure. Where did we lose this, this candor and openness, to receive and to give? Where did happiness go?
These, then, are the artist’s notes to herself. For, once upon a time, there was bliss in the pitter-patter of rain, and in its footsteps followed mirth and gaiety. In the parched subcontinent, the monsoon turns into a celebration. Madhuri is less concerned with the sowing and harvesting, the tumescent rivers and gurgling streams, the floods and breached embankments. Hers is a gentle contentment, a nourishing of the soul that reflects not the rain but its passing, when the gloam on external surfaces is but a passing too, a transition that will be marked when the damp has gone and dryness returns, causing a loss of magic, when enchantment will be no more, and memory will cease again.
Hers is not the romantic painting of the rain itself but the savoring of its aftermath. Her brush draws upon the theatre of nature’s many transgressions. It looks to lakes and ponds where the lengthening shadows deepen into mysteries. Are there magical habitations here? Or – delicious thought! – are they not reflections at all but the glimpse of underwater worlds, their surface scarred by a rippled murmur, revealing a glimpse of that below which is hidden? That mysterious, magical underwater holds no terrors. The colors are bright. Orbs of light dance lightly over the surface, creating ripples of movement. Tree branches form a camouflage on the surface through which streaks of color peep through. Somewhere in the distance, the sun is setting in a streak of crimson, a flight of birds has created a pergola, tree stumps break surface, lily pads float past like giant trays, leaving a clear stream down which the moon traipses. The stars twinkle too – not in the sky but in a parallel world somewhere beneath our feet – real, unreal.
Madhuri’s success lies in capturing the water’s surface – now calm, now restless – whether by village stream or city pond. So might the sea be, so a fishbowl left carelessly out on a terrace, transforming it into a netherworld of possibility. What might these reflections be? Of this, the artist provides no hint, for her interest is not in the lived reality of our mundane lives but in the alternate probabilities they offer us. She returns to them almost obsessively, hoarding them in her recollections, a wave of her brush sprinkling fairy dust across the surface like tiny jeweled notes that dissolve in the water.
Like an enchantress, Madhuri gathers up a dominant tone for each separate painting. Nature drapes herself lightly in the colors of her painter, no one similar to the other. These impossible iterations are like tools in Madhuri’s hands – lyrical blues, placid aquamarines, flaming oranges, jungle greens, inky cyan’s and charcoal blacks – each bursting with the familiarity of life. They stretch over her entire canvas, seemingly spilling beyond them, a world that cannot be contained in the mere surface of a canvas. Beyond its confines, they float then, like the water they imagine, casting their dappled shadows in a reflection of her imagination – and yours. Fleeting seconds frozen into a tableau of infinite possibilities, forever.
The lived experience of landscapes
Any artist’s relationship with the landscape around her is inescapable – nature, beyond all, is the perfect teacher. The golden rays of the rising sun, the gilding of monsoonal clouds, a moon drowning in the river; light filtering through a forest, a deserted path lined by wild flowers, a trail cutting through a meadow; a hollow in a valley with a village cuddled in its crook, a cottage on a cliff, buildings sluicing the air in a city. A photograph might capture that reality, but who can evoke its essence but an artist?
Madhuri’s landscapes are impressionistic, if one is forced to give them an identity. Much more than that, they are her response to the sky and earth and everything in between, a language of relationships and color imbued with a range of emotions that change by the hour, almost as though the light in them changes with the passing day and encroaching night. Her fascination with the arboreal runs deep. More than most, though, Madhuri’s landscapes are, if not waterscapes, at least an ode to water. Glints of water bodies – whether lake, river or sea – are a constant reminder in her paintings about this enduring captivation. As an artistic device, it serves her well in reflecting the sky back, allowing the possibility of light to play a game of hide and seek. In these secluded inhabitations, her muse – like her spirit – soars free. The inspiration comes from her extensive travels within the country and outside, but the particular is absent from these paintings, making them, again, the sum of her memories, of remembered places – a sleeping village here, a distant boat bobbing in the water there.
But she is no mere tourist, mapping her footprints across a constantly shrinking world. Hers is a play of relationships, the physical melting into the emotional through her use of colors that meld just as seamlessly. The horizon plays an important part in these, almost a foreground to the painting, though it, in fact, forms a panoramic background. This is her grand theatre of life where the everyday plays out, made subservient by the might of nature. For what can surpass that we see around us, brought up intimate and close by the artist? No moment of ecstasy, let alone tragedy, can surpass the magnificence of the world that surrounds us.
If the exclusion of form marks these landscapes, it is her distinctive use of color that charts a unique territory. The use of a single pigment in each is passionately saturated with feeling. Madhuri’s unique ability is to dominate the characteristics of each colour, so that blue, or green, can be as vivid as crimson, or scarlet, that red, or yellow, as placid as aquamarine. In dissolving the perceived distinction between colours, she manages to imbue them with her artistic personality, setting up a bond between herself and the viewer which is at least as intimate as the folds of the hills on the land from which they rise – tethered, inescapable, resolute.
From the rooftops, in
Consigned forever as an outsider, the artist must be content to remain a voyeur, someone who only peeps in briefly to glimpse other people’s lives in the unfolding panorama of their existence. No wonder artists are drawn to doors and windows – and, sometimes, as in Madhuri’s case, to rooftops.
As a painterly ploy, it is a device Madhuri uses in her landscapes to get even closer to her subject, allowing an interplay of roofs glimpsed from a height – as, sometimes, you and I imagine them like pieces in a tapestry, or jigsaws in a puzzle, from an aircraft. Like a patchwork quilt built by loving hands, a repository to ancient memories, to warmth and homecoming, these cross-patches of color allow her abstraction full play. Layered geometrically, they hint at her art undertaking another journey, but Madhuri remains conscious enough to rein herself from the pure abstract to the impressionistic form of which she is a painter.
At the start of this essay, I had dared suggest that Madhuri had shorn off the figurative of her early practice almost entirely from her oeuvre. Yet, here is proof that the figurative has remained – even if in the form of an absence. For these rooftops are her response to the narrative that is an important aspect of her painting. Here are her stories, gathered from her travels, lived as experiences, shared as confidences. While the physical form might still be absent, it remains here, in these paintings, more tangible than her early figuration.
What goes on under these roofs? What loves? And betrayals? Little triumphs and heartbreaking sorrows? Lives lived and gained, losses measured and stored? Resolutions and manipulations? Life – and death? The particular success of these paintings is in the possibilities and hopes, the give-and-take of daily existence that she hints at, leaving it to the viewer to decipher at will. For, then, each story becomes a canvas of a myriad possibilities, each response dictated by one’s own life’s occurrence. No more must the artist struggle to provide a resolution, leaving it to the viewer to judge on his own basis. So little said, so much unsaid…
In her series of rooftops, Madhuri has approached the subject in two ways. In one, she merely creates planes of patches to represent the context; in others, she has literally walked the road, firmly holding the viewer’s hand as she guides him up the street, to the very door of the rooftop that conceals it. What lies beyond is left to our imagination. Perhaps a boudoir or maybe a school. Is this a fishermen’s village, or the vegetable market? A bus shelter or an artistic commune? What lives pass under those roofs?
And then, a thought… Is there, perhaps, a figure in blue, a Rajasthani veil, a countenanced gaze, arising from the memories of a long-ago artist whose journey to this point has been sure and long? The urge to lift the roof and look under is irresistible, the strength to stay outside and beyond, wise. The viewer, who, like the artist, opts for the latter, would gain from such a tryst. There are many translators out there, while those who prefer to leave it to our imaginations are rare. Madhuri, thankfully, remains one of those few.
Enthusiastic and ebullient, Madhuri Bhaduri has many facets to her personality. Early in life she imbibed an intuitive feel for music from her mother — a renowned vocalist of Indian Classical Music — and a love for sports from her father who qualified as a badminton player for national tournaments. Madhuri herself, excelled in badminton and represented Maharashtra at national level championships.
From childhood she learnt the value of discipline, to focus on the task at hand, to improvise and to strategize, and above all to accept the highs and lows that occur in life.As a result, Madhuri has always attempted to move forward, navigating around obstacles towards new vistas, exploring ideas and acquiring new skills.
After graduating in economics, she studied French, took a course in Hotel Management and formally enrolled for a master’s degree in art. Her first exhibition of paintings in 1986 was a moment of self-realisation : she knew that she wanted to become a painter for it empowered her search for self-expression.
As a painter, Madhuri has traversed different trajectories: the representational, the abstract, and often a combination of both.She has experimented with landscapes and figurative compositions.While her figurative works tend towards stylization, her landscapes display a preoccupation with colour and its varied nuances. In her early works she was intrigued by the effects of light and shade: of sunlight filtering through foliage, the shadow patterns on a group of buildings on a street, or the shimmering expanse of the ocean as it stretches towards the horizon.
Gradually, however, her paintings evinced a move from that which was recognizable to that which was intangible and amorphous. The paintings became the substance of dreams and memories. These works, textured and many layered, find rhythms in the different densities of colours : translucent yellows and whites juxtaposed against brooding browns, moody blues and exultant reds. They evoke a nostalgia for places that dwell in one’s imagination.
Madhuri’s prolific talent has found expression in sculpture by craftingscrap metal into utilitarian and decorative objects. She finds alternating between the two dimensionality of painting and the three dimensionality of sculpture to be both refreshing and rewarding.
For Madhuri, her work in art has been a constant process of assimilation and introspection.Aliberating experience, it has served as a perennial source of energy that has revitalized and rejuvenated her. With time, it has brought self-awareness and become a form of meditation. Says Madhuri “I feel closest to God when I paint.”Saryu Doshi Ph.D
- Impressions: Beyond the surface
Art is about perspective. Through it we all see the world in different ways, which is a testament both to the complex nature of the world and the complex nature of seeing. The domain of art is the space that falls between recording an image with the eyes and interpreting it; between seeing how things appear to be in the world; and seeing how things really might be. Artists inhabit that space; abstract artists aim to occupy it in ways that are not quite obvious. Madhuri Bhaduri, an abstract artist, lives in just such a floating world.
It was 25 years ago that Madhuri embarked on the journey to arrive at her vision of the world. When she began, she focused on the tangible. Landscapes and portraits and other familiar things rendered well. With time, her perspectives changed and her style evolved to incorporate an imagined, fantastical imagery portraying village belles and rural romanticism. The colors and forms she used morphed outside the immediately apparent.
Today, her pursuit is beyond the obvious and sensory. She searches for what is beneath the surface of everyday things, the textures and lines of commonplace objects like rooftops or fabric, the vicissitudes of seas and boats, ancient places of visit like temples and ruins, or pure abstractions like memories, aspirations and hope.
In her work, the mundane and the overlooked take on a new life. On a two-dimensional surface, Madhuri shows us visions we would not otherwise see. It is at the behest of an artist’s acute sensitivities and an ability to enhance a visual experience that mundane and everyday occurrences receive a fresh perspective.
Some of the canvases in fiery reds and crimsons burst in celebration and cheer. There are others in white, greys and greens that are more serene, quiet and contemplative. Yet others are passionate and darker like those where the colour black plays a dominant role. The gamut of imagery she may be inspired by stretches from the dark corners of a mountainous caves, the rising sun, edifices, to the bright clear skies, clouds, waterfalls, hills, houses, waterbeds and so on. The inspiring imagery comes from her memory. The subject’s physicality is not important to her. What interests her is the feel of the subject, the fundamental form, the colours that give it a fullness and life. Likewise, while interpreting these observations she focuses on the treatment of the subject rather than its photographic exactness. For instance, she may attempt to depict the lightness of the clouds rather than its recognisable shape.
Madhuri engages with the concept of space. She creates spaces and explores how things shape space and vice versa. Perception is interpretation of space and time. It is not absolute. The circumstances, the time and the vantage point shape perception. Images collected consciously or subconsciously stack up in our memories. Our imagination is made of those series of images. An intuitive artist knows how to discerningly present some of those pictures to the viewers.
Madhuri’s collection of images result in deftly painted joyous, contemplative, reflective reviews of what touches her five senses. The experiences meld into one another and the memories overlap to create an endless series of rich scenes. This collection of paintings is like going on a drive on a steep winding path up lush hills or snow-capped mountains and stopping by to explore nooks and corners. In these compositions you will see what looks like mounds and flatbeds, essence of bright sunlight, a stormy evening on the sea, a placid green field or a rugged mountain. There is an anticipation of encountering a blissful moment and the mystery of finding some hidden truths. Hope every viewer of her works embarks on this journey.
Jasmine Shah Varma is a Mumbai based art writer and an independent curator.Jasmine Shah Varma. 2011
- SHINING THROUGH THE DUSK : Nature Unbound
Madhuri Bhaduri has been painting for over two decades – a variety of panoramic landscapes that gift you nourishment for contemplation and fulsome pleasures as well– those that are lofty and grounded in meditations on the grandeur and permutation of colour. Spectators can take-off on these voyages or simply admire the diligent techniques of oil painting, the deftness of the artist as she extracts winsome eye-pleasing texture.
More than the mystique of the natural landscape loom – complete with classic division of earth and sky – Madhuri is finding newer notes of celebration in her abundant formulae of hues. Every fresh series can be viewed as a lexical accumulation of passionate choices. The capacious belief in the radiant earth can draw out faith, hope and charity from the spectator and induce a calm mind. An idea she pursues above all other spiritualisms – symmetrical, so commodious and puissant that it has drawn wide audiences to her work; those who appreciate the kaleidoscope-like manner of representation of single and monolithic intellection.
That we live amidst harsh circumstances, in a decade where fear is the key,puts into question the fragile propositions of pacifism that emerge from her gushed-out, exuberant canvas.
It is however, a point of argument by artists like Madhuri practicing the fine art of rhetoric and build up a kind of staying power with abstract modes that biomorphic forces need to be conjured and reiterated for containing and holding together disruption in every sense. There are no cries and clashes in her imagery; only a plenitude of sportive flicks and gashes proportioning the essentially voluptuous colour curricula she spells out explicitly.
Indeed, we see her terms of contentment placed in controlled abandonment directly, in full focus.
The need for the gaze into a utopian distance is necessary and compulsive. It is the condition of consciousness which Madhuri guides viewers into with verve, a psychological refuge space, a visually textured space meant for obsessive re-visitations.
Meditations on the distant, semi-real, out-there junctions of the elsewhere, provide a thinking place, the place of exile and certainly, a place of escape. Madhuri’s compositional design is anchored on a temporal order, a terrain of faceted emotions.
Any discourse, the engaged viewer might want to find, depends on the reading of the closely knit tectonics unfurled by this artist. The reading of slow mountainous geological movements, the shoring up of jewel blocks of pigments, their palatable mixing and the sheer amplitude induced by the picture, make for a symphony – pleasant for onlookers of every shade. Instinctual expression and a fulgent universe of colour courtships generate a wellspring of delight; a communion with nature desired universally is at the core of the statement being made here.
The major exhibitions, all these years, have consistently featured the land mass tableau, marked with motifs and referents. It is forged as an indigenous mind-space, a reaching out to a homeland.
This existential condition is a condition we are born with and displacement, wanting to belong is a journey sans a terminus. A sense of belongingness is sought here, as much as it is sought by several personae in the art practice sphere. To what extent, depth and truthfulness it is pursued can be a yardstick for the seeker, the one who asks questions.
Can one read interrogation in Madhuri’s crystalline zones, of pathos tinted, ductile pleasure realms?
The triangular flag, the temple, the boat and dwelling, the intense segments of cobalt, bronze and yellow, the worked-up ultramarines and viridian, the flaky white songs and a bunch of serenading cadmium reds and oranges – are means of enflamed articulation, embedded, judiciously in the phantasm-like, geomorphology that affirms the utopia that Madhuri seeks.
It is the safest destination for an artist today. She would sublimate pain and conflict, deifying the terrestrial metaphor for tranquility because it is the way, she knows best. Wringing meaning from natural phenomena, finding symbols and stoking ideas from the brilliant cornucopia of abyss, pass, snow stack, sea and horizon are not as relevant as the surface and its inchoate concerns of discharging vibrancy.
Instead the richness of oil colours and their application imbues a sense of luxury to natural materials that are identified in the unpolluted ecosystem of the artist. Mineral, water, ice, light and air are deposits before our eyes, placed frontally, in romantically ordained harmonies of the heaving earth meeting the aakaash, or the river, here or in Ladakh or Greece; the mountainside plunging into the huddled plains, beatific in their solitude.
In her desire for immediacy in her depiction of the shifting relationships of the solid tones and microtones of colour should we say that Madhuri is striving, not for neutrality or equilibrium, but for sheer adornment of the senses?Roshan Shahani December. 2008
- Illumination of a Universe
Where the abstract and concrete collude, a fusion of their allusions of land, sky, water and the transcendent self, herein lies Madhuri’s search for a dynamic dialogue with the cosmic spectrum. The metaphors are intrinsically personal; but as a receiver of the gift, her creativity conjures forth a timeless reflection and passionate embrace of prana (life force and spirit).
Freely handling paint with mature strength, yet disarming flexibility, these compositions reflect a quest to liberate the self. Her magic mountains and colour fields catapult vision into space, with “the heart to conceive, the understanding to direct, and the hand to execute”. (Junius, 1740-1818) On an endless journey, without worry, Madhuri relentlessly probes and challenges boundaries. Colour, light and shadows, mysteries of nature’s genius, guide her work, begun with strokes, with paint, only then to dissolve into a realm of infinite distance. Such subtle cubism delineates the concrete both in its emotional embrace and contextual awareness.
A vibrant symphony of colour, radiant ragas of energy pluck at one’s strings…. harmoniously strumming through Madhuri’s agile swathes of colour…crimson and vermilion, cobalt and cerulean, lapis and teal, malachite and pearl. Shimmers of opalescent hue denote a terrain, a barely visible sky; tinges of temple towers foster an awakening within the viewer. Whites gleam through the use of impasto; blacks reflect the hues of monochrome, the magic of midnight, and their peripheries gleam with gold.
Through a rich appreciation of traditional symbolism and the modernist spirit, Madhuri captures light with a brush. Lyrical imagery generates diverse, interconnected forms, just as an inner journey culls forth the fugues of nature: the ever-syncopating sky, the wind through space, flowing of water perceptions of the distant, changing with time.
Her veils drop to reveal chromatics, as the clouds move on. Elevated by an elegant consciousness, one is soothed, excited, and stirred when viewing her paintings. Whether ice cool hues, prismatic terrains, or such primordial horizons that challenge the imagination. Madhuri provokes the limits of the mind, tackles the limits of two-dimension, explores panoramas and transforms them into a universe.– Elizabeth Rogers Art Historian, Museum Curator & Writer. August 2005
- Towards What Has Never Been Done
The art of Madhuri Phalnikar Bhaduri, who has been exhibiting for the last twenty years, is both profoundly Indian and profoundly modern. This should not surprise us for while India was a colony of Britain, it had its own ancient culture that was older than that of its colonizing power. And like all ancient cultures that survive, it had the capacity to borrow from others without losing its own perspective.
Nor was it slow in picking up new ideas it found worth emulating. In Indian art too we came to a liberated modern aesthetic outlook fairly early in its history. In an article entitled ‘The Aesthetics of Young India’ in the January 1922 issue of the lavishly produced art journal of the Indian Society of Oriental Art, ‘Rupam,’ the art critic Benoy Sarkar, rejecting representational and decorative art, wrote:
“The creations of mass in space are problems in themselves. And a ‘message’ is immanent in each problem, in each contour, in each coexistence of forms, in each treatment of colour… we do not have to wander away from these lines, surfaces, curves and densities in order to discover the ‘ideals’ of the maker. The ideals are right there, speaking to my eyes.”
Just ten years earlier, Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger, among the founders of the cubist movement, had noted how “a painting carries within itself its raison d’etre. You may take it with impunity from a church to a drawing room, from a museum to a study. Essentially independent, necessarily complete, it need not immediately satisfy the mind: on the contrary, it should lead it, little by little, toward the imaginative depths where burns the light of organization. It does not harmonize with this or that ensemble, it harmonizes with the totality of things, with the universe: it is an organism”.
While both Sarkar and Gleizes and Metzinger express a clean break with the concept of art as a mere instrument of the literary or political establishment, announcing the liberation of aesthetics from religion, visual glorification and decoration, beyond that their vision is very different. Where the European founders of cubism seek an inner organization as the essence of artistic expression, Sarkar looks for ideals that are emotionally perceived by the artist and the viewer.
The reason for this was obvious. Two types of changes were taking place in the world. On the one hand, the world empires were discredited and weakened both by the struggles between themselves as well as between them and the conquered. On the other, a new world of social equals had emerged in the former Czarist empire as the soviet Union. Elsewhere, the doors to the process of decolonization were opened even though the imperial centres continued to remain untouched. So we get a universal vision but from two perspectives. Both of them are modern, but both are different.
This difference expresses itself in art as well. When cubist experiments emerged in both Europe and India, European cubism was sculptural and explored volume, while Indian cubism was prismatic and colour-based. This is not surprising as India is a country with sharp contrasts of light and shade, as well as of a myriad of colours. So Indian abstract expressionism is naturally rooted in colour rather than inform. But even that is not sufficient as a framework to explain an artist’s work.
More than one element enters into the work of every artist. So from this angle each artist is unique. In the work of Madhuri while one can see colour as the liberating element; but her earliest works are clearly landscapes, although the colours in them express the artist’s internal organization of hues. The sky is not necessarily blue, or even yellow. It can be crimson. Still, in these works of hers we can see domes, high rise buildings, the sea with hulls of streamers, even rocks with clothes drying on them when the tide has ebbed away into a distance. These works have the formal structure apart from that of colour alone. It reminds one of the work of artists like Ram Kumar. But her range of colour is more varied.
She has also produced a series of works that are very different. These works of hers reflect her training as an economist. They veer towards the minimal, rather like the art of our most admired abstractionist, V.S. Gaitonde. Here the ‘landscape’ is irrelevant to the interplay of colours that dictate the forms they take in a process of self-organization in two dimensional space. The organization of colour in space emerges as a free flowing activity, bringing with it a sense of liberation not only from representation but also from formal organization, allowing for a spontaneous emergence of organisms that have a life of their own. They may look like other works but they have never been created before nor will they be created again. And if they are, they will be fakes.
This was the dream of the Gutai artists of post-war Japan: to create something that had never been created before. And they had the never before/never again experience of Hiroshima to propel them into that space. In India, the process of our gaining independence was more complex and contradictory. But both the Gutai artists and Madhuri share a peculiarly Asian concern with the interrelation of matter with the spirit of felt reality with its emotional component. This distinguishes modernist concerns in Europe from those of Asia even though they share a common universal agenda. Their works may look alike, but they cannot be reduced to each other. This element of a distinct and different perspective in the production of Western and Eastern expressionism is also essential to the understanding of Madhuri’s palette of colours and their organization. That we can measure her success within this framework assures us her work is serious and worth the attention it has got so far.– Suneet Chopra Art Critic & Writer. New Delhi. July 2005
- SEKHAR SESHAN
1. A national level Badminton player, a graduate in Economics; diploma in French and Hotel Management…So many paths down which you could’ve travelled. How did brush strokes take over every possible form of self expression?
Ans: Well, I was always in love with the medium. Choosing art was more an organic outcome than a conscious decision. Competitive Badminton during college days compelled me to do an honours degree in Economics at the Fergusson College in 1978. Fortunately, I was surrounded by influences where my passion could triumph and I went on to complete my masters in Art and painting in 1988 from S.N.D.T, Mumbai. By that time I had already successfully exhibited at a show in 1986 which was very well received. Everything else just fell away.2. Your paintings often offer a glimpse of nature shrouded in the most vibrant hues…what draws you to this abstraction again and again?
Ans: A blade of grass outside my window, a shred of imagination brought back from my travels, anything that lingers and grows in my consciousness becomes the theme of my work. Right from my early years, I have always been intrigued and inspired by nature, The freshness of colours, myriad textures, movements, forms and complexities never cease to surprise me. I think I respond more easily to nature than anything else.3. Please elaborate upon your style.
Ans: Although I experiment in all mediums, oil is a favourite… for about 35 years I have been exploring its versatility. It can work like dry charcoal, transparent water colour or even heavy impasto, all the while lending richness, luminosity to every texture, every mood. Oil offers me the luxury to express myself, layer upon transparent layer, until I get the desired effect of symbolic forms …a representation of my elements of the subject. Brushes, knives, spatula, pieces of cloth, threads – all become my tools in search of the desired texture, the right effect. The choice of colours is spontaneous. I do not let preconceived ideas impose too much on the painting. Each work is a free flow of imagination, emotion, often catching even me unawares. This process of discovery is what keeps me and my creativity alive.4. Who has been your most steadfast companion in your journey as an artist?
Ans: My mother was a classical singer on the A.I.R. for almost fifty years. During my formative years, it was she who discovered my inclination towards art and encouraged me to hold on to that magic beyond the mundane. My parents always supported me in my pursuit of art. I took it forward from there and nurtured it to maturity.5. What is your mind space when you stand in front of the easel?
Ans: Each painting is a highly intense experience. It often is a release of a lot of pent up emotions in the recesses of the artists mind. The challenge would be to know if your energy is in tune with your thoughts…to become one with the canvass till it contains all that you have been trying to release. What excites me throughout is the process of creation in painting… I do not know of any other thrill that matches the one I feel when I see a creation in my mind unfolding into a successful work of art.6. You began with detailing of nature, meandered to the figurative, and have returned to an abstraction of nature. Why this transgression?
Ans: In the early eighties I was inspired by impressionist painters…my favourites being Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Clee. i started my journey into art with canvasses spanning fields, fauna, foliage, seascapes, landscapes and other elements…nature being the driving force. During my masters degree I had gone through studies in human forms and was keen to experiment…figurative series of tribal folks, nudes and clowns teemed out of my brush for almost a decade. In 2000, nature beckoned again, although this time, I was reaching out beyond mere form. I guess, as you mature, so does your art. The eye had moved from micro detailing to a more encompassing wide angled lens. It was then that I started my abstraction, commencing with a series – ONCE A SUDDEN SEA. Since then I have evoked landscapes, seascapes, elements of nature; dissolving them in strong hues to convey my deepest responses.7. What energy does your workplace or studio bring to your art? How does a confined space inspire such panoramic work?
Ans: I think everyone has that place they go to when they wish to find their zen. For me, that is my studio. my personal studio space offers me endless uninterrupted hours and a specific type of natural lighting to suit my work. Besides, I have a whole lot of art material at an arm’s stretch. Canvasses in varying sizes, innumerable shades of colour, my brushes, knives all feel comfortable in my studio making it so much easier for me to pick up from where I’d left. I used to paint as I travelled till 2000, when I finally bought myself this space. My studio, apart from being the place where I work, is one where I can claim everything to be mine. Everything is handpicked or even hand made by me and for me. It is the place where I become myself to the core.8. What is that one indispensable tool in painting that you cannot do without?
Ans: INSPIRATION is the most indispensible tool….I am a moody person where my art goes, letting my inner self guide my work. No spill over of moods in day to day life though, which I approach in relaxed casualness.9. What made you choose scrap metal in sculpting?
Ans: A fellow artist friend, Vijay Shinde, introduced me to this form of art. I bought my first studio in 1999, and my ever-keen eye fell upon a very inviting wall on the terrace which, I thought, could only feel complete with a tall sculpture. He agreed to do a 30 feet tall mural in scrap metal acrylic and fibre. As I assisted him with this sculpture I started getting a hang of this medium. I started loving it as it allowed me to make, break and remake things, which is so Newtonian just like nature. The fact that I get to work in three dimensions also intrigues me. I have always loved to experiment and explore new mediums as it is a good break away from painting.10. What is your driving force? How important is recognition in the whole scheme of things?
Ans: My driving force? An uncontrollable urge to create and express myself in some art form. Art and sport have made me who I am. Art is a solitary profession and an extremely personal journey. Yes, Recognition is important if it lends weight and respect to your effort. To see my work being appreciated is a very gratifying thing, in all honesty. But Rather than recognition, I prefer response as a great motivator. I try to self express through my work and create a language of my own through the strokes, forms and colours unlike any other. It is certainly rewarding to see my work elicit similar sentiments amongst the viewers. This truly inspires and motivates me to go on.11. What is Madhuri when she is not a painter?
Ans: I’m never not a painter. But yes, it is also very fulfilling to be a mother to my son Saurabh who is now a strapping 24 year old and a professional golfer. I am addicted to my workouts, thanks to my accent on sports in the years of growing up. Travel, music, films and being with a few close friends complete my life.12. When someone walks into your show, what do you hope for them to grasp or enjoy about each painting?
Ans: I paint with the hope of taking an observer on a voyage. They can enjoy it as a sensual experience like a quiet walk in the woods or can get highly intrigued and try and get into the mind of the painter, to feel how I abandoned myself in the process of its creation. I can hope that the work of art interests and arrests the viewers attention. What to grasp or what to interpret, however, I completely leave it to the observer. I can only tell you that every stroke has a purpose. But if I take you through it bit by bit, I would be stripping it off its meaning.
Each show also allows me to get on the other side of the canvass,,, to view my work as a finished piece, internal yet external to me. It allows me to introspect deeply my own work.13. 35 years, 90 shows, 20 countries, infinite opportunities…. What next?
Ans: I am a person who likes to live in the moment, taking life as it comes. I prefer to be spontaneous. Every canvas for me is a new experience. I imagine it like scaling a mountain. I start with the end in mind but when I get to a peak, I realize that it is only a new beginning. I move on to scale further…