REVIEW: Santosh Rathod / At the Precipice of Happening / Sushma Sabnis
As human beings we compartmentalise emotions as it is supposed to help understand and deal with them better. The world opens up a space outside of our inner realms which is replete with social, political and cultural stimuli, potent enough to stir, subdue or even dismantle our inner realms. However, it is imperative that a constant dialogue and balance be achieved between these two realms if one has to survive and be creative. Such a balance is what artist Santosh Rathod tries to regain and maintain through his abstract works.
Santosh Rathod’s solo show concluded at the Jehangir Art gallery, Mumbai recently. What one sees in the new suite of works displayed by the artist is a continued, serious engagement with geometric abstraction. The lines, if any, are merely a suggestion and the works appear to be solid blocks of paint layered on the canvas surface of varying intensities. When one looks at these square and rectangular and sometimes non-geometrical opaque fields of paint, one is faintly reminded of the works of artist Piet Mondrian’s early abstractions. Mondrian’s work aimed to simplify and create art in the purest possibility, rejecting natural forms, colours and contours as seen in his later works rendered in austere primary colour compositions with black white and grey and with the criss cross of deliberately asymmetrical horizontal and vertical lines. This concept later influenced many movements and isms in thought about architecture, design and art.
Santosh’s began with serious figurative works in his student years and later on a distinct departure from figuration to absolute abstraction could be seen developing over the years in his works. There are small elements of figurations as symbolic forms and markers which he uses as a balance mechanism to counter the absoluteness of a block of a single colour. Though at first glance it is quite easy to assume that the artist has been influenced by Mondrian and Rothko, in his works there are a few clear differences as far as form, colour and composition is concerned. Santosh’s works are not completely devoid of known forms as in Mondrian’s later works. The palette varies from primary colours to secondary and tertiary colours. There is no attempt to strictly draw the criss cross horizontal or vertical out lines in black delineating the dominance of the primary colours or even of white grey and black. Santosh is not too strict about boundaries, as his colours spill over sometimes into the white alleys between the dominating solid paint. This is indicative of a need to go beyond a line or limitation, unlike Mondrian’s need to stay within the lines. The work stands at a precipice as if it is evolving and yet to reach somewhere and it could possibly move even in a direction totally opposite to that of Mondrian’s or Rothko’s abstraction.
If one were to believe that the renowned artists set out in the search for a true, pure artistic expression, devoid of any associations from nature or other sources, the purest form would have to come from within the artist’s own inner realm. Hence the work would have to lean towards ‘abstraction’, as its components were yet to be defined in normal parlance. How does one convey a feeling like hunger, for instance, depicting food or a hungry child or any such imagery would only be a ‘portrayal’ not hunger itself. This is where Santosh brings in his understanding of emotion or a feeling. His abstractions express an emotion, with the use of a colour. He even goes to the extent of rejecting the assumed or associative meanings of specific colours and anoints them with his own meaning. Hence, the works seem not to adhere to the works of the Western stalwarts of abstraction as it would seem at first glance. In his latest works, one would notice the obvious absence of the colour red. Here the logic seems to be very personal and untold in the works. Santosh in this suite of works restricts the palette to yellow, blue and dark green, along with black and white.
What this does to the entire visual of the works is breaks the space of the display into various components. The sizes of the works vary according to the directive of the artist as there are small black and white works lines up on one wall, and seem to be forming a consortium of sorts, while the the yellow based or blue and green based works all form separate units in the display. This would seem to be the necessity to classify and articulate each emotion that the artist went through at that particular time. While associative meanings of colours help to learn the state of mind of the artist, or person in general, such associations too seem superficial and inept to explain the true nature and reason of the colours employed on the canvases. This mystery remains intact in Santosh’s works.
Santosh’s works depict the state of the mind of people today. The blocks of colour as seen in varying degrees of depth, are ideas and ideals, either being thwarted as obsolete or shrouded under the more dominant ideology of the times. These blocks of paint talk of an unrest within, concealed, yet simmering slowly, enough not to be ignored as dormant or even extinct. The pacifying strokes of plain solid colours, veil from the viewer, a truth whose time is yet to come. One can see many shades of unrest in the works, but there is underlying hope too. It is a matter of time and tide to change before the truth emerges pure and pristine, the artist seems to assure, and emerge it will.