Telling the Story of a Blur …
The less there is to look at, the more important it is that we look at it closely and carefully. This is critical to abstract art. Small differences make all the difference.
― Kirk Varnedoe, Pictures of Nothing: Abstract Art Since Pollock
Indian art, and especially Indian contemporary art, is predominantly narrative, obsessed with figure and representation. Though the contemporary Indian mind is not unfamiliar with abstract concepts, both philosophical and spiritual, it still fumbles and stumbles when confronted with abstraction as a way of expression in the plastic and performing arts. So when Pranav Shah, the self-taught painter who only explores the abstract, tells me that his art teacher in school, encouraged his inclination to play with colors rather than draw a balloon-seller or children-flying-kites, I am seriously and pleasantly surprised.
Pranav Shah taught himself painting. An interior designer by formal training, his boyhood passion for painting went into a bit of a slumber as he finished college and got into the rigmarole of regular living. In 2005, the passion re-surfaced. Pranav began painting, honing his skills with repeated practice to understand the techniques that would get him the textural, color and tonal effects exactly the way he wanted. His interest lay only in exploring abstraction, of that he now sure. He therefore began painting shadows, watery reflections, water itself, the changing skies – these subjects allowed him to understand the complexities associated with making an abstract work, of becoming aware of what lifts the painting up, what works and what doesn’t. There were not too many contemporary Indian painters who were working in the abstract form to offer a guiding light. But fortunately by then the Internet had opened limitless possibilities for the viewer to see paintings of the excellent and acclaimed abstract painters of the western world, including sometimes even videos of them at work. Amongst these, Pranav saw the paintings of the German abstractionist Gerhard Richter in 2006 and was totally fascinated. It was as if he had found a ‘painter-mate’, a long-distance mentor who ‘spoke’ to him and ‘guided’ him metaphorically through the sheer variety of Richter’s own paintings, and the ways in which the artist can express himself. (Pranav finally experienced Richter in original when he saw his works in a Museum at Munich in 2011 and at the MoMA in New York in 2015.)
Pranav’s office in the historic, seaside Surat city in western India overlooks the Tapi river, that flows into the Arabian Sea. The office offers a three-way view of the river, with trees and farmlands along its banks. The river flows wide and steadily through the year but can go rough and wild during the monsoon months if the rainfall has been heavy, and slow and sluggish as the summer intensifies. “It is this river that is my inspiration, my reference,” explains Pranav. “It is also my rejuvenation – if ever I feel bored with the work or feel that my work is getting repetitive, I only have to concentrate on this beautiful river for a few minutes and it reveals to me so many extraordinary ways in which I can express the abstract – the way the sunlight hits the water at different times of the day, the patterns formed as leaves and dry branches flow along with the water, the changing color of the water as the sky is reflected in it especially at sundown, the fishermen’s boats quiet and steady on the water or gently rowed, the shimmering reflections of the bank-side trees in the river, and the dancing patterns on the water formed as the rain comes splattering down.” Yes, as one looks at Pranav’s works, the presence of this Tapi river is large and impressive.
Pranav is most comfortable with oil painting as the medium. He creates works on both canvas and paper. Oil allows him to manipulate and play with the color palette creating the kind of patterns and effects he aspires to. Blues, greens and greys dominate, sometimes with a dramatic blur of scarlet to heighten the effect. He is also able to work in large and medium-sized formats and match them effectively to the mood he wants to evoke. In 2012, he presented his work at the Cymroza Gallery in Mumbai, his first solo. Since then, there has been no looking back. He works hard and regularly, working at an average of one show every year. He has had shows in Ahmedabad, Mumbai and Baroda.
Taking his work to New York is a bold step and it is a strong statement about his faith in himself and his ability to paint.