Review: Tanmoy Samanta – The Shadow Trapper’s Almanac / Sushma Sabnis
Artist Tanmoy Samanta presented his unique works in paper in a show titled, ‘The Shadow Trapper’s Almanac’ at the Tarq gallery in Mumbai. The show is a blend of the said and the unsaid nuances of time, the witness, observes Sushma Sabnis.
One walks into the premises of Dhanraj Mahal, Mumbai and is completely taken by the drop in temperature as compared to the rest of the world outside with its welcoming greenery. The gallery Tarq tucked away in this ‘Hobbits’ Shire’ like realm, hosts the first Mumbai solo of the works of an equally enigmatic artist, Tanmoy Samanta, titled ‘The Shadow Trapper’s Almanac’
At the onset, the works appear dreamy, having a floating effervescent quality to them. One is instantly reminded of a Tagore-ian palette seen in some of the works.This apparently is brought about by the numerous techniques which go into the actual making of the works. In several interviews, Tanmoy reiterates the process of creating his works. One can discern that the process involves an ample amount of foresight and an acute imagination to be able to predict the actual outcome of it, apart from the skill of masterfully pasting wafer thin layers after layers of coloured rice paper. The grainy texture of the paper itself is dowsed in an unpredictability and mystery which it boasts when it chooses to get sharply tinted in certain areas while some portions remain defiantly unstained.
Tanmoy uses multiple layers of rice paper, steadily building up the work with gouache colours which move from darker shades towards the lighter ones. With each layer of visually mixing, the translucence and the light/shadow play, form a visual symphony unlike any other layered works. Subtle reminders of early layers peep through the dense foliage of layers, like sunlight on a forest floor. An image of shadow puppets would come to mind, especially at the brief moment when the puppeteer moves the puppet to face another direction or remove it from the back- lit screen. The sharpness of the contours blurs for about a second and then resurfaces, and that one second could be a short moment of semi-cognition; the form present yet unrecognizable, evokes a momentary loss in the viewer and also a sudden hope for its return. Tanmoy’s works blend, capture and present these fluid moments in his works. The illusion of depth is brought about on a two dimensional plane, intertwined with the indicative thought behind the work.
Tanmoy chooses complementary colours to set off the subtle division of space on the pictorial surface. Colours demarcate the areas of interest and bring about distinct shapes. One could align the conscious build up of layers as the artist’s metaphor for the past of the object that dominates the composition. Every object that Tanmoy’s works address have been called ‘everyday objects,’ ‘mundane objects’; however, they are seen exalted with the artist’s interpretation and energy. When one looks at a cupboard or a closed Almirah with a mirror, as in the works ‘Legacy’ and ‘Still Life’, one could see that the objects in these closed spaces (a bony spine of a long lost species, a silhouette of a defunct airplane, broken down remnants of an industrial complex) have a past, ie, were once anointed with value but today stand solitary, as triggers of lost memory, being witnessed by time. In a way, Tanmoy brings in time as the sole reliable witness for everything. The single most powerful game player and a ruthless undefeated rival. The only witness who has seen the changes of landscapes and faces of humanity. The irony lies in the titles of these works. Similar to these paintings in thought are the works titled, ‘A portrait of the artist as a young man’ and ‘The hunter’. Both the works depict a time in the past, as in the case of the self portrait, one could see a head with stalks protruding with dials of wrist watches as eyes. The dials without ‘hands’ to inform the time keep the mystery of the work intact. This work also talks about change in the artist as a person who has seen change in his own life time. Here the artist embodies time itself by being a witness.
In some of the paintings, Tanmoy chooses to give the form sharp serrated edges, as in the works ‘The Cutting Machine’ and ‘Chimera’ reminiscent of wood cutting machines used in factories or a mythological fire breathing animal. While the works seem to be simple depiction of one such edge, the metaphor of greed and destruction follows unsaid. An environmental exploitation undertone surfaces subtly along with the quiet acceptance of inevitability.
There are a few works in the suite which deal directly with the face of time, like the works titled ‘The Time Hive’, ‘The Eye’ and ‘The Time Keeper’s Manual’. While two of these are paintings, the third is a set of four books made from rice paper forming the entire work.Tanmoy uses the dials of old wrist watches as symbols of Time. The missing hands on the face of the dial itself is a statement about the bygones. The artist places these circular dials, some still retaining their golden shine while others dulled with age, in strategic positions on the pictorial surface to form either parts of the composition or the main focus itself. In the two paintings, the dials are parts of the works. In ‘The Time Hive’ a bee hive like form holds together a few dials laid loosely within it. A few broken down edifices of factories and homes emerge at a distance merging with the hive at times. The work ‘The Eye’ depicts a human eye with its iris and pupil made entirely of dials. One is reminded of the all seeing eye of the sun-god Ra in Egyptian art. Tanmoy portrays the watchful gaze of Time through this work, where nothing goes unscrutinized and nothing is left untouched by Time.
In the set of eleven works, titled, ‘Random Birds’, one sees the ornithologist emerge from within the artist. Silhouettes of birds like hoopoes, ducks, cranes, kingfishers find residence in these works. Held together with a single watercolour palette, these works bring out the movement of the avian protagonists. The artist probably intends to capture the sense of freedom and stability through these works.
Tanmoy’s works familiarize the abstract, while playing outside strict conventional structures and shapes with a unique strength in his compositions. Broadly minimalistic in style, the works stand out for their haunting narrative quality and their innate ability to build bridges between the visible and the implied, quietly blending within the works.
The show is on view till 9th January 2015.
Images: Courtesy Tarq Gallery, Mumbai