Plowing the Dark
Freud said that the uncanny is the only feeling which is more powerfully experienced in art than in life. The uncanny is not merely the mysterious, but the un-settlingly familiar; that which is evocative of dread, horror but also tugs on ineffable bonds of empathy. We cannot look away.
As a contemporary experience, the uncanny is evinced by artists as diverse as Gregor Scheider, Mone Hatoum, Marko Maetamm and Shona. And Shilpa herself is an uncanny figure- a pharmacy graduate, who became an artist quite by accident some 18 years back. Unschooled, free of pedagogy, she started to paint.
Solitary, pale figures bathed in a bluish light. Her work is primarily figurative, in the expressionistic mode. Violent distortion, exaggeration of the features, emotionally charged, a visceral shock. Her forte is portraits. She has painted hundreds and hundreds of head studies. Tortured faces. Pre-historic and post-apocalyptic at once. Gothic. Her line strong, jagged fierce strokes, her brush laden with molten earth hues, the knife’s lashings carving out the face. The early works are painted in heavy impasto, giving the impression of solid state, like relief sculpture. Decrepit, pouched, shabby, sad lumps of ordinariness. Characters with black rimmed eyes pecking through a grey carapace: the impotent stuffed suit, the deathly phantasms who drift between- all pick at the psychic scars left behind by political agendas and life itself. In tune with dark insecure times. Yet not contingent on any political conviction. And terribly familiar.
Like her portraits, Shilpa’s landscapes are pitted, pocked, bombed out craters in ash grays, bleak and dark. The sea scapes are flanks of rock and foliage made out of transparent hatchings of orange and green laid to shimmer on the white of the paper. Dappled heat and radiant hues, pump through the cobalt blue of the sky. However, the swell seems to drag in something perilous. Unsettling. Beneath the apparent calm runs the thread of menace, estrangement. A silence aligned to the always enigmatic force of imminent annihilation.
Recall ’The Horror! The Horror!’ from Heart of Darkness, Eliot’s Wasteland and more recently, David Wallace-Wells’ warning, «It is worse, much worse, then you think.»
‘Dystopian’, is the flavor of the century in the arts and literature. But Shilpa’s work not only exposes the fissures of contemporary life and the displacement inherent to the experience of the uncanny, it also returns you to the vulnerability of the human situation. Her Christ, for instance, is no pale spindly, slack- bellied Galiean charismatic. Nor a powerful alumnus of the classical gymnasium. But a man- crucified.
In plowing the uncertain and unknown, ’Uncanny Realms’, so named by gallery owner and curator Sonny Singh, exults in the zeitgeist of our age.