Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Tyeb Mehta -- overhyped? (try Prosenjit Roy)

I posted on Tyeb Mehta a few months ago, after it came out that a painting of his had sold for $1.58 million at Christie's in New York.

Somini Sengupta has a thorough profile of Mehta in the Times this week, which is pretty well worth reading for the insight it gives on what Mehta is after with his myth-based gestural paintings. (Also helpful is Sonia Faleiro's nice profile of him, which appeared in Tehelka in June.)

And I came across a recent first-person testimonial by Mehta in the Times of India, where he talks about his active (if non-devout) relationship to his Shia Islamic heritage.

I know much more about Mehta after reading these pieces -- and he seems like a fascinating person -- but I'm still on the fence as to whether I actually like his paintings or not. The images just seem somehow flat to me (have a look at the Times' slideshow and tell me what you think...)

While the shapes Mehta produces are dramatic, they seem more like drawings than paintings: they are flat and descriptive even when the images involve violence, suffering, or mutilation. (Sengupta mentions the traumatic effect of communal violence on Mehta's thinking...) The monstrous, misshapen bodies in his paintings ought to provoke visceral horror, but that's not what happens for this blogger at least.

Contrast his work to that of another contemporary painter, Prosenjit Roy. Roy has some paintings on Jalsaghar, and more on his own homepage. Alongside whimsical paintings like "The Sleepy Scratch" is the more serious "Artist on a mend," a painting about depression which, I would argue, has a painterly joke in it all the same:

(Do you get the joke? Hint: It's on you.)

But Roy's most ambitious painting might be The Order of Things, which he hasn't posted in full color -- perhaps to protect it from Internet leechers (**blogger coughs nervously**). It looks like a surrealist take on the philosophical arguments of Michel Foucault...


Ruchira Paul said...

Okay Amardeep, it's now exactly a week since I have returned to the painting here at least once a day to try and figure out the "joke". And I don't get it. Can you please shed some light on the humorous angle?

4:09 PM  
Amardeep said...


Let me see... The painter is disheveled, out of shape, and dressed in his old 'around the house' clothes. He's working in a dark, dingy room with a very small source of light (and no 'view': nothing there to paint).

And there's a shapely woman standing behind him who might well be his model. She's looking at him (as are we viewers). But he's not looking at her; rather, he's looking only at the canvas. Either as a political point, or out of pure self-involved, depressed, absent-mindedness, he's not looking at anything at all, except his white canvas.

What can you paint if you're not looking?

The joke is on the viewer because it's we who end up noticing the woman's form and 'objectifying' her (as the painter, in traditional European art would), not the painter.

Make sense?

9:36 AM  
Ruchira Paul said...

He may not be painting her though. And to me he looks as if he is either quite intent or under duress - not indifferent as you thought.

It is interesting that you automatically took the curvaceous woman to be the model of the artist. I thought of her more as the "jailor" who might be commanding the artist's creativity for her own satisfaction. Somewhat reminiscent of Stephen King's "Misery" where a popular author (James Caan in the movie) is taken hostage by an obsessive fan (Kathy Bates) so that he can write just for her.

Oh well .. eye of the beholder, I guess.

3:36 PM  

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