SADHUS – Excerpts from texts
Portraits of Sadhus find a central place in the current compilation, each face captured in a distinct moment of emotional introspection. The exploration of spirituality and its manifestation in animate and inanimate entities, spaces and places has been a recurring preoccupation with Sharma. A recent series of work is dedicated entirely to portraits of Sadhus- spiritual seekers who give up earthly comforts for an esoteric understanding of life’s purpose. They are anonymous and yet recognizable; they have individual features and yet represent their entire community. Their faces, lined with wrinkles and coated with sacred powders – saffron, vermillion, sandal, lime – crowned with straggling matted hair, reflect wisdom, experience and controlled sentiment. Indian religious tradition reveres these ascetics who seek to transcend the physical world and meditate on the wellbeing and balance of the universe. Followers of different sects pursue varied processes and rituals aimed towards a mystic release. Many are wanderers, journeying on an eternal pilgrimage and drawn always to ancient centres of sacred energy.
They are symbols of silence and introspection in a world of conflict and tension. Their presence sustains the belief that sacred spaces can offer something beyond the mechanical grind of everyday life.
Simultaneous to his exploration of the subject, Viveek Sharma has also been intuitively responding to the technique of pointillism. It is a device based on the science of optics, in which conglomerations of multi-coloured dots provide a mingling of shades, and allow a different tone to dominate in varied light. In this case the larger than life images disintegrate in close view; each dot has its place, each line its direction, each brushstroke has value that contributes to the whole. Symbolically, the identity of the Sadhus merge within their environment as they pass through the ephemeral world.
Throughout the subcontinent, the essence of spirituality is entwined within living culture and ritual – festivals, food heritage, life ceremonies and religious events are community reminders of symbiotic relationships between humankind and nature. The public spectacle and innate drama of religious ritual while seeming divorced from urban environments, nevertheless exists parallel to every technological advancement and contemporary structure deemed essential in today’s world. In this constant interspersing of the divine with the mundane, one naturally encounters evocative and picturesque moments. It requires the heightened awareness of an artistic temperament, and an intrinsic creative capacity to abstract the truth of these moments and present it to a wider audience. Each painting brings with it an experience of time slowing down and opening out, stimulating responses and contemplation.
The painting “The Existential Shell” is a densely worked composition, with a dominant figure representing the austere form of Shiva rising out of the waters in the midst of groups of ritual bathers, who symbolically cleanse their sins away. The muted hues cast a light on the figure and highlight the message of renewal that he shares through the blast of his horn, the saffron of its curvilinear shape rhythmically repeated in a waving flag tied to his symbol, Trishul. It is an evocative image; the waters embrace all people as equals, the artist included. There are undercurrents of thought established by the imagery, some pertaining to questions of belonging, real and metaphorical territories, and physical and mental negotiation with myth and memory. The diptych canvas demands a combination of close, intense looks and overall glances; the viewer is led easily through shifts in scale, time and space
as the narrative unfolds in different sections, concurrently and without fragmentation.
The diptych is a device frequently utilized by the artist in his simultaneous narratives interpreting events and incidents separated within history or geography. In “Remains Forever” the architectural view of the Buddhist rock cut monument extends into the distance suffused in a corridor of light. The solitary figure in the hushed atmosphere, induces a human element, something that a viewer can hold onto and follow. Offset by the portrait of a holy seer to the left, the sense of isolation and inwardness transforms into one of meditation and mystery. Sharma’s impressions are captured to the finest detail, each pattern of the carved rock is tangible in texture and volume. He skilfully builds an atmosphere, jerking memory and provoking thought, inducing the viewers mind into processing sensual responses other than that of sight.
For Sharma, the act of painting is an act of faith. The brush is his tool in the meditative practice of realising the fullness of an image. Layer by layer, the forms emerge from the canvas, becoming voluminous characters. They are anonymous – sadhus, women and men ubiquitous with the idea of spiritual seeking. Their multi-hued skins, lined with wrinkles and coated with sacred powders, crowned with straggling matted hair, reflect wisdom, thought and emotion. Each face in itself becomes part of an intricate biological topography. The graded pointillism allows for the freshness of form; an ever fluctuating pattern of colour touching the eye’s retina. It is a device that allows a different tone to dominate in varied light. The larger than life images disintegrate in close view; each dot has its place, each line its direction, each brushstroke has value that contributes to the whole. The backgrounds are kept neutral and not identified with a specific space or place, however they reflect nuances of pilgrimages in India that most often require the devotee to take a cleansing dip (theertha). The ‘skins’, real and masked, become metaphors for emotional states and take on the artist’s philosophic commentary on humanity – touching upon revelation, concealment, desire, faith and surrender. There is a complex combination of elements that provides an atmosphere for each painting – balanced detailing of textures, studied light and shade on volume, exacting colour palettes and an overall evocation of streams of consciousness that attempt to surpass dimensions of reality.