Maximising the Minimal, the ongoing show at Mumbai’s Tao Art Gallery, features artworks by 18 Indian painters, both young and old, who found inspiration in the understated charm of minimalism, an American art movement from the 1960s, writes Bhumika Popli.
Like most abstract forms, minimalism frees the artist of the obligation to depict the world as they see it. As a style, it is all about simplicity, both in form and content. “What you see is what you see,” as the American minimalist Frank Philip Stella once said.
Although minimalism is not as popular in the art world today as it once was, contemporary painters, both in India and elsewhere, continue to subscribe to its creative principles of economy and subtlety. The 18 artists participating in Maximising the Minimal, an ongoing exhibition at Mumbai’s Tao Art Gallery, have taken a similar approach.
“I believe, when I can convey something in a subtle way, why do I need to raise my voice for that? The sentence would still be effective even if said softly. I approach my paintings in a similar way. I don’t feel the need of filling the entire canvas,” says Seema Ghurayya, a Bhopal-based artist, who is part of the exhibition. Her four works, all oil-on-paper, depict geometric shapes against a white background, done in a classic minimalist manner.
In fact, white-on-white is one of Ghurayya’s favourite painting genres. Her white-on-white-renderings are reminiscent of a 1918 painting by the Russian artist Kazimir Malevich, who used the concept of abstraction minimally. Titled Suprematist Composition: White on White, Malevich’s oil-on-canvas looks like a square superimposed on another square.
Ghurayya’s work also relates to acclaimed artist Nasreen Mohamedi. Of Mohamedi, Ghurayya says, “She also said a lot by just a few words on the canvas.”
Surprisingly, we don’t find Mohamedi’s work in this exhibition, even though she is considered one of the pioneers of minimalism in Indian art. Sanjana Shah, the curator of the show and the owner of Tao Art Gallery, says, “We wanted to have a good mix of both young and experienced artist. But Mohamedi was a last minute suggestion by my mother, who is also an artist. That is why we couldn’t include her work.”
The show features two artworks by Dashrath Patel—collages on wood—and one by Sayed Haider Raza. Titled The Third Eye, Raza’s acrylic painting is a rare black-and-grey minimalist piece he composed in 2008.
Through this exhibition, Shah wants to revive the memory of minimalism as a global art movement. She says, “In India, minimalism never became as popular as it was in America. I don’t think there have been many shows in Bombay on minimalism recently. The idea for this particular show is to bring to the fore those Indian artists whose styles have been essentially minimalistic in character. We picked and chose artists whose works we thought would fit into this theme. We wanted to show the personal styles of these artists, a lot of whom, such as Sandip More, Anwar and Ravi Mandlik, use minimalism to convey their thoughts through their art.”
Ravi Mandlik, an artist from Bombay, made a studied shift from realism to minimalist abstraction. “During 1981-84, in India it was thought that a painting could be called a painting only if it is abstract in its nature. I didn’t know the style. In my earlier days, I was purely a realist painter. I learned abstract art by looking at works by Ram Kumar and V.S. Gaitonde. I could relate to them,” Mandlik told Guardian 20.
Mandlik has contributed three of his artworks, all acrylic-on-canvas, to this exhibition, and the texture of his paintings resembles paint flaking off a wall. He says, “My works are inspired by the five elements in nature. I try to paint energy created by those elements.”
Maximising the Minimal reminds us of an art movement that began in the 1960s, but which continues inspire and influence contemporary artists after all these years.
‘Maximising the Minimal’ at Mumbai’s Tao Art Gallery is on view till 22 July