Profile : Mallikarjun Katke /The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance / Sushma Sabnis
Artist Mallikarjun Katke revs up the Zen state of motorcycle riding within his multilayered works and addresses the issue of loneliness plaguing today’s world, observes Sushma Sabnis
It is often believed that everything and everyone exists in pairs as nature has a tendency to balance everything. The bards have written intensely romantic poems and plays which stress the presence of a tailor-made-for-you partner in the world, without whom one would lead an incomplete life. Most of us have been bombarded by the omnipresence of the Hallmark / Archie’s greeting card marketing units who seem to have patented the ‘soulmate’ word. Even in today’s times many continue their search for their ‘twin flame’ untiringly. Artist Mallikarjun Katke in his reticent demeanor confesses of his search for his significant other through his multilayered works.
“I would like to belong to someone someday. It is not something filmy, but loneliness can get to you, everybody needs a partner, an anchor to go back home to my paintings portray this sentiment,” he smiles.
Mallikarjun employs different routes for his search for this elusive other, for example in his earlier works he painted the canvases with human torsos. Each of these human torsos has their hearts ripped out of their bodies, held in their hand being offered to the viewer. These deep and intense works bring out a stark portrait of the isolated human in today’s times. In today’s digital world, communication has been taken over by gizmos which in effect discourage human interactions. There are more social networking sites on the internet and less societies. These stark changes effect Mallikarjun as an artist who believes in the time tested rule of human bonds, as he hails from a large family.
In some of Mallikarjun’s works, the concept of twin hearts beating as one comes into play as he places two hearts in a torso. Finding a complement in another human, a resonance in another being is very important to the artist and this gets reflected in the work Untitled Dreams.
In another work from the same series, he places the heart on a male torso, which stands in a desert like scenario, as ants explore the body part. In this work, the artist brings about the notion of the goodness of the heart, the food, the sustenance of the soul itself which is at once attractive and at once disturbing.
From prehistoric times, one becomes aware that while the humankind mated with their own, a separate and unique relationship developed simultaneously between the human and animals / beasts. This bond could be seen later in domestication of animals as a part of the family unit which contributed to enhancing the quality of the human life. Over time, these relationships changed and animals were replaced with machines which in essence became the extensions of the human being. Movement, speed, strength, flight etc were rare possibilities and using machines these actions could be easily achieved. Here the elevation of a mere dependability to a Zen state of existence happened when the inanimate and the animate become one prospering entity.
In his fairly recent works, Mallikarjun traces the roots of such Zen like states from within himself to the outer realms of existence. His work where the human form becomes one with the food they consume, a constant conversation with the self about right and wrong in the work ‘Mental sense of right and wrong’ can be seen. Mallikarjun also subtly points out the gentle drift from a bond with a living entity to forming a genuine bond with a non-living mechanical entity albeit both are equally fruitful to the human soul.
In a rare moment he says “For me the Royal Enfield Bullet, had been a dream since childhood. It is my friend and companion for a few years now. I have been alone with my thoughts for some time and it made me realize that my dream of having a Bullet has been fulfilled and that in itself has given me hope. Travel and movement has changed my view completely about feeling isolated.”
One sees a stark self-realization happening in the artist’s works in recent times as he deftly brings into focus long lost narratives of social associations and places them alongside human-machine synergies. While he evolves as an artist he also talks about his own movement from being a desolate single man in today’s world to finding a ‘companion’ in an inspiring machine, his Bullet.
One is reminded of the respect the members of the Parsi community anoint upon their vehicles. Vehicles are not just inanimate objects ‘used’ for making travel easy, they are beings with different purpose than humans. Mallikarjun seems to reflect these sentiments about his motorbike.
In the works of Mallikarjun Katke the human forms are without a face or head. The very act of making a faceless form renders the thought it embodies, universal. In his earlier works the artist used to paint on a single smooth canvas plane, but over the years one sees his need to ‘strip’ the canvas off its plain mask like visage. In some of his early works he creates these barricade-like planks or strips using colour, giving a unique depth to the work. In his fairly recent works one sees the artist break the actual skin of the canvas into strips and then rejoining them as assemblages with separate wood backing to paint upon. This appears to be the artist trying to build something on a conscious level as well as a subconscious level. The very act of building a work of art bit by bit resonates with him trying to build his own life part by part, however unpredictable the pieces may be.
This layering is raw, open and in some places the wounds on the wood show through the canvas or paint layers. One sees the spirit of the artist through these scars he chooses to bare to the viewer. Artist Mallikarjun Katke takes pride in the journeys that he has experienced in his life, however lonesome. He looks up, smiles and revs up his Bullet once more, in search of that elusive other.