Profile : Shrinivas Mehetre / A Spoke in the Wheel of Progress / Sushma Sabnis
Artist Shrinivas Mehetre watches the dizzily spinning wheels of progress and attempts to refocus on a few environmental issues closer to home through his print works, writes Sushma Sabnis
The metropolis is a machine which runs on a set of perfectly synchronized wheels, at times non-aligning wheels that also miraculously work to perfection. As we witness the reckless polluting of the atmosphere by green house gases, these over worked wheels keep this machine running, while making the environment inhabitable. Deathly particles get suspended in air and smog creeps into people’s breath and lives, making it a permanent feature of a metropolis. Can one change anything to reduce these aftereffects of greed and recklessness?
It has been suggested that polluting vehicles could be taken off the roads, encourage use of public transport, the odd-even formula tested in Delhi seems to be the latest attempt in decongesting roads and reducing the level of pollution, walking and the return of the humble bicycle. This two wheeler mode of transport has changed many a lives even before its motor fitted cousin showed up. There is a certain amount of nostalgia and romance associated with a bicycle, as made evident by the film industry. Artist Shrinivas Mehetre tries to recapture the lost essence of the bicycle as he relates to its simplicity and sees it as a creative animated form.
The artist, born and brought up in the Latur district in Maharashtra, is familiar with long distances. Distances between villages and towns, to fetch potable water, across arid plains which grind human endurance to dust. Shrinivas has taken the element of a cycle as his muse for the earlier works as the artist believes that was his only companion in those difficult times, while being the only inexpensive mode of transportation.
Shrinivas works in the printmaking medium. Three things inform the print works of the artist, one, the logic behind the techniques of printmaking which creates a language of expression, two, the simple rugged life he has lived, and three, his intense interest in mechanical objects. It appears that his world revolves around some complex network of machinery in an almost ‘Transformers’ kind of way. For Shrinivas the bicycle or cycle is not just a two wheel contraption with pedals. He sees the form break and reform, bend and turn and twist in an animated exaggerated elasticity. Perhaps he correlates the elasticity with the way a mode of transport was perceived in the yesteryears. The cycle was the transport for people going from one place to the other, the ones who brought necessities back home, delivered letters and post, the news bearers, and more. And today, only in countries like India were the colonial mindset lingers around the use of bicycles is seen to be a part of social slumming. Advanced countries and aspiring countries have adopted this ‘intelligent’ mode of conveyance which is energy efficient and non-polluting at once.
It is said that the life is in the journey not in the destination, and this is evident in the artist’s works titled, ‘Life of Journey’, ‘Journey’ and ‘Cry of bicycle’. In these woodcut- on- canvas works, the artist emphasizes the immediate correlation of a journey and a means of transport. Though this is quite a familiar concept, the way in which it has been rendered is worthy of notice. He places the white guide lines of a highway, like tracks of a railway on which the fragile looking cycle toddles along. The deliberate twists and turns test the flexibility of the machine and the one who wields it. In an almost philosophical note the work metaphorizes adaptability to a situation and getting through it in life.
In his later works, the artist displays a hint of assertion as colour is introduced into the serigraphy and etching on paper works. Taking the metaphor of the cycle to various levels, the lines get bolder, the backgrounds more pronounced and shape of the cycle is distorted to display angst, struggle and triumphs in his works. The stark anatomy of the cycle gets celebrated and displayed as if it were raw open wounds. One could be faintly reminded of nuances of cubism in these works, as the angles redefine the planes in the pictorial space.
While the focus is on the ubiquitous bicycle, the works at some point close in towards the intricate parts of the subject. There is a certain sincerity in these depictions in etchings on paper, where the close up of parts of a cycle are seen, for example a seat of the cycle, the mirror, the handle and the chain. The seat is the place from where the control generates as the person occupies it. The balance of the body and the two wheels lies in this triangular patch of rexine. The maneuvering of the subject is seen quite clearly as the artist zooms in and out of the muse.
In another etching work, the artist likens the seat to that of a human face with eyes and an expression. The triptych displays various stages of the seat’s usage. Like a human face which grows in character with time, the cycle face seems to form its own watermarks of use and abuse. At one time the face looks peaceful and at another it is barely present, leaving mere remnants of an existence. The artist brings in an allegory of human life itself in these works of temporality and transitions.
In another, the cycle ‘face’ is bound by barbed wire. The woodcut is a vibrantly coloured work with a background texture made by footsteps like forms. When the speech or expression of an individual is curtailed for various reasons, the law itself seems like the barbed wire fencing around the mind. The words are censored along with the thoughts and imagination. This work talks of limiting an individual through the control of power and money that govern the world today.
In some of the works, the artist has explored the idea of textures which play an important role in the prints. Textures could give a two dimensional print, its much needed depth. The prints could dive into perspectives and open up spaces on the paper which are mirrored in the artist’s mind.
While explorations of the humble bicycle have led the artist to look around his own surroundings and derive the essences from there, a much later series of the artist explores the equally rare object found in villages and drought zones of the world, the waterskin or animal hide water bags. This object though is crucial for the survival in many places in the world, in a village which is continuously facing famines and droughts for years, the life giver and life saver animal skin water bag is a blessing. It means that people can travel without dehydrating in the scorching heat of the land. In a world creating tons of plastic every year which creates health issues due to the leaching of carcinogens into the drinking water from the plastic, the waterskin bag seems like an organic option.
Here is an artist who creates metaphors using the bicycle, the waterskin bags, all of which are environment friendly also they are related to travel, either by actual transporting or helping during a transportation. In subtle ways the artist talks about a human life, the journey which is nurtured and supported by people, experiences and goals.
Shrinivas Mehetre’s mind never rests, it travels to unseen realms within and outside of himself, collect various objects, now deemed redundant, and brings them into focus for the viewer to give its due respect. Few could have predicted the sorry state of the environment today and the return of the humble bicycles in an era of high end BMWs or bullet trains. Progress is a machine which runs on wheels with spokes of humanity, it is up to the humankind to decide the rate at which these wheels rotate, not the other way around.