Wednesday 11 April 2012

Read about S. Ravi Shankar's ‘Theradi Theru, Triplicane (Car Street)’ II (2011)

‘Theradi Theru, Triplicane (Car Street)’ II (2011) by S. Ravi Shankar
Pen and ink on paper
22 x 29 inches

Looking at this wonderful pen and ink drawing by the once-etcher S. Ravi Shankar, we are truly transported. What at first glance looks like an image of an ancient Hindu ceremony out in the villages of India, is actually located visually and textually by the artist. First by the three floor buildings in the far background, confining the foreground action, no landscape to be seen, and secondly by the title ‘Theradi Theru’ meaning ‘Car Street’, a particular street in Triplicane a highly built up area of Chennai in Tamil Nadu. Rather than this being placed ambiguously in the past, ambiguous in location and content, Shankar actually gives us rather a lot of information. The street is called ‘Car Street’ because ‘car’ in Tamil translates as chariot and this street is known for Hindu chariot seen in the background. It is still known today for this feature and for this Hindu processional ceremony. We know this is a recent memory recorded on paper as into the arm of the enigmatic priest in the foreground, Shankar writes that this is a good friend of his. Indeed in other past works Shankar has chosen this friend turned Hindu priest as a main subject. I know from discussion with Shankar that this friend is of particular interest to the artist as he was a very different character and personality when he was young and today has changed into this very pious and transformed figure. We see Shankar’s interest in the duality that our lives can finally show, sometimes an unbelievable dichotomy. For me what is most interesting about this work is the drama that Shankar builds around this main character. There is a real sense that his friend is now a man of the people, a leader of faith, and more literally a directional force for the procession that day. Sound is provided by the drummer boy-priest to his side, other worshipping eyes stare forward from behind him whilst others look to the deities in the chariot in all their glory. It is of course the priest in the foreground who really captures our attention. His seeing eyes raised to the heavens, above us the viewer, the work is filled by his spirituality and the meaningfulness of his role. Do we sense the artist’s envy of his friend’s position? Can an artist ever lead like this?

RAVI SHANKAR: BACK TO HIS CHILDHOOD solo show opens Friday 20th April 2012, 6-8.30pm. To attend or find out more email                
For more works by S. Ravi Shankar, click here.          

Read about 'I'm thrust... Back to my Childhood' IV (2011) by S. Ravi Shankar

‘I’m thrust… Back to my childhood’ IV (2011) by S. Ravi Shankar
Pen and ink on paper
22 x 29 inches

In this 2011 pen and ink drawing on paper, S. Ravi Shankar shows new diversity in his interest in the conceptual meanings of surface. For the first time that I have seen, surface is used to investigate time and movement. When I spoke to Shankar about this work, he described his memory as a child of standing outside a favourite teashop in his area, effectively killing time and watching the world go by. The teashop owner would shout at him to move on and he instead would take on an even lazier (and in India also disrespectful, particularly toward those senior) pose of one leg cocked up against the other and hands behind the head, as if he had the time for sunbathing. In this work Shankar captures both poses at the same time, the more recent pose being the one more finished, darker in tone and lifted forward with white outline. The previous pose appears to sit behind this pose, leaving a remaining surface imprint like a head would on a cushion. Where past pressure or energy is exerted by the boy, on the extremities of the body, the hands and feet, the drawing is darker gradually becoming lighter and blended in more and more with the surroundings as it reaches the rest of the body which is in ‘the present’. It is as if we the viewer are collecting past experiences as well as more recent/present experience from the image or that the artist is implying that the real world absorbs all happenings. Or perhaps that all past experiences have a relationship to events that follow. This idea in turn is given even deeper meanins when one notes the similarities of parts of both poses to the image of Christ on the cross, an image of past sacrifice for future forgiveness. We can see that Shankar, a Hindu himself, is aware of the connotations of this pose as he writes stigmata into the back of the outstretched hands and accentuates the crossbar of the counter behind the boy and deliberately places a vertical edge subtly behind the child creating a crucifix-like symmetry.  

S. RAVI SHANKAR: BACK TO HIS CHILDHOOD opens at The Noble Sage Art Gallery, London on Friday 20th April 2012, 6-8.30pm. To find out more or RSVP to attend, email  

For more works by S. Ravi Shankar, click here.     

Thursday 5 April 2012

Read about two works by S. Ravi Shankar in his coming exhibition titled 'BACK TO HIS CHILDHOOD' @ The Noble Sage Art Gallery

S. Ravi Shankar is certainly one of the most popular and impactful artists in The Noble Sage collection. His 2010 solo exhibition was just as celebrated as his two previous showings at The Noble Sage Art Gallery in 2007 and 2009, both selling well globally as well as to London buyers. This continued appreciation has much to do with the conceptual meanings and visual vocabulary behind Shankar’s work expanding and self-elaborating, giving audiences (consciously or unconsciously) reasons to go back again over the material: both within the show during a visit or in terms of a second and third visit to the exhibition, or else go over areas again during the one viewing of a single piece, or in some cases even buying more and more work to get a better grasp on Shankar’s art and its meaning. The complexity of Shankar’s visions are becoming increasingly cryptic, layered and cross-referential. As a patron, dealer and collector of Shankar’s pen and ink drawings for six years, I am starting to see that this artist demands viewers to use nothing less than an investigative eye to get the most from his work. We must constantly piece together clues on the surface and between surface levels. The process is often much like trying to complete three monochrome, half-complete jigsaw puzzles whilst they are laid on top of each other and all at the very same time. And then seeing how the images emerging relate to other similar puzzles nearby…. Not easy.

This exhibition made up of eight new works and a selection of other older works by the artist, together transports us to Shankar’s childhood, a place now rather familiar to us from his oeuvre over the last five years. This time however, we are given a deeper picture of specific moments from his past: being carried by his father as a child, standing next to his mother for a family picture, his schooldays as a kid etc. Images begin with Shankar’s photographic recollection of moments from his childhood. Rarely does he move to look for actual photographs. He only needs to consult his own mental filing system to find the image he wants to remember on paper. These images become the template for his exploration of that moment in pen: its relationship to him today, its meaning for him at that moment in his past, its meaning for others in the image, his relationship with others in the image then and now etc. Although on the surface ‘I’m thrust… back to my childhood’ I (2012) depicts a fairly realistic grouping of the artist and his siblings around their mother, we note on further inspection that this work explores the psychology of his family in relation to the artist. The artist as a child in the front of the group seems the subject of restraint – his mother’s hand pulling him back from the shoulder (perhaps roughly) and his sister lying a hand firmly on him, perhaps to control him. His brother, Bhavani, who sadly passed away recently, holds onto his mother’s arm needfully. 

Shankar himself looks out at us whilst the others all look to our right. Those who have followed Shankar’s progression in the gallery will recognise the Siamese two-facedness the artist uses to describe himself in his works. Here we see it again, adding more tension to the work and marking him out as different from his family, adding another level to the prohibition put upon him. This work stands out as it shows the artist pitching his memory of the real (which he understands as subject to error, manipulation and artistic license) with the photographic memory of the real –seen in the drawn collage of photographs in the background, entirely unrealistic as it did not exist but implying that those photographs were real things that happened but in actual fact they were all made up from memory too by the artist. This is combined with the semi-‘trompe l’oeil’ idea that these could be photographs at all. They are of course drawings of photographs. The juxtaposition is a clear proposal for us to explore the subjectivity of history and memory and the exacerbation of this dilemma when it comes to the artist and the artwork.              

This idea is explored further still in ‘I’m thrust… back to my childhood’ VI (2012) with this seemingly moving image of Shankar as a child in his father’s arms. The work draws us in with its reality first and foremost. We are lulled in by the execution of the father’s very Tamil-looking sarong and his classic white vest, his thick, big black spectacle frames and the closeness of the father’s hug of his child to his face and body. We project warmth and affection into their relationship. It is only later that our eye lifts from the couple and moves to its compositional partner, the background that makes up half the total image. What we view immediately contrasts with the father and son depiction. A menagerie of macabre objects take us by surprise as they are so incongruous with South India and, more particularly, the South India described to the left. A strange winged eye (perhaps symbolic of the ‘evil eye’ of others’ jealousy and envy is embroidered into one shelf. It seems to not sit but hover somehow on the shelf, unlike the Tamil Nadu rural religious carving to its left and the two faced jar above and the sleeping cat below. Indeed this cat is quite different from the bizarrely still feline on the higher shelf which looks stuffed in comparison. To the left of this taxidermic creature a hand comes loose eerily from the wall and extends around the shelf’s interior partition. Our eye moves upwards and we see two jars: one holding a small human sunk under liquid, the other triplet babies still in their womb, also in liquid. Whatever sentimentality and nostalgia was created on the left of the image is shattered by the right side. In truth both sides seem in themselves believable but when put next to each other become unbelievable. Yet this is the reality that the artist depicts for us, one that he asks us to trust in.

We realise that the knitting of these two divergent realities is very clever indeed. The sleeping cat, in its sentimental cuteness, we take to be out of step with its surroundings on the right side of the work. It should be on the left perhaps… Likewise, Shankar sows in a major item into the left side of the work that in many ways is better suited to the other side. This is the puppet/bag/purse/toy item that hangs from the father’s arm. I asked Shankar about this item as it is so prominent in the piece. I asked whether it was a toy from his childhood or else a bag of some sort? The artist surprised me with the answer that this ‘thing’ was completely made up. He has never owned, seen or thought of this ‘thing’ before. It came to him as he was making the drawing and in essence related to the slanderous thing him and his friends called a teacher once upon a time when he was a child. It was obviously awful as he would not even repeat it to me even now, decades on. He had added it into the work on instinct as it related to him then, even though it was not as literal as its surroundings, and rather than hide it, he had made it prominent. So obvious that one doesn’t notice it or else makes automatic allowances for it that it is a toy, a purse or else that it has some South Indian association that we would not understand. Far from it. Only the artist could tell you what this item is. Shankar shows us how even when our belief is strong that we know what we are looking at, we do not. He meshes the real and the unreal, and transparently over this he merges the noticeable unreal with the unnoticeably real. Again we are reminded of my earlier jigsaw puzzles analogy. It is no surprise that Ravi Shankar’s work demands many eyes, many visits, many viewings each visit, many conversations and many purchases to extend those viewings over many years and between many works simultaneously.

For more works by S. Ravi Shankar, click here

To find out more about S. Ravi Shankar's new solo show at The Noble Sage contact the gallery on    
For more works by S. Ravi

Thursday 15 March 2012

Read about Tasaduq Sohail's 'Untitled' (nude woman and man) (1982) @ The Noble Sage

'Untitled' (Nude woman and man) (1982) byTasaduq Sohail
Watercolour and ink on paper
6.5 x 8.5 inches

Here is a stunning little watercolour and ink on paper by the senior Pakistani artist Tasaduq Sohail. I love this work as these two figures are drawn so sensitively. We get a sense of their frail nature, of their shyness being naked. It is as if they have been stripped and forced to walk naked. The woman shyly covers her stomach with one arm and with the other attempts to cover up her genitalia. Her old eyes tell us of her fear. Is it fear of us or of her partner in the image, an old balding, bearded man with an uncontrollable erection and a wandering hand. He appears more at ease with his nudity but even he seems to look at us with eyes that tell of the inevitability of his lecherousness, like his lust is part of him that he cannot rid himself of, even if he wanted to. Sohail re-envisions Adam and Eve as a pair of OAPs, pathetic, frail, fearful and laid bare.

For more works byTasaduq Sohail, click here.

Read about Senior Pakistani Artist, Tasaduq Sohail's 'Untitled' (undated) @ The Noble Sage

'Untitled' (undated) byTasaduq Sohail
Oil on Board
18 x 14 inches

This is an oil on board painting by the 82 year old artist Tasaduq Sohail from Pakistan. Though undated one would imagine this dates from the late 70s to the early 80s as the set of work of which this was part all dated from this period, owned by an ex-girlfriend of Sohail from his time in London. I remember seeing this oil uncovered before me and knowing immediately this would one day be a spotlight work at a retrospective of the artist at say the Tate Britian or the National Gallery. His work already resides in the Victoria and Albert Museum so maybe it will be there that it is shown.

What are we looking at? We are seeing a classic multi-image work bySohail. Nine different scenarios in the same pictorial space reminding us of the kind of multi-narrative religious pieces created in the Renaissance and earlier. Here Sohail divides these scenes evenly in the space through squares of different oil colour. Into these base colours, applied roughly and unpreciously to the board, he adds new colour highlighting areas over others. These areas come to suggest imagery to the artist, which he describes by rubbing/removing paint with a rag or indeed by drawing with the reverse pointed end of the brush. The final piece is unlike anything we have seen before. A messy foray of colours, held in nine boxes that bleed into each other irreugularly and unpredictably. Is the artist implying by this that all these episodes are happening simultaneously? It is hard to tell. Why have them on the same board where they interrupt and distract from each other? Is there an order that we should read them?

None of the works appear connected to each other apart from the overarching theme of the abuse and the subjugation of women. The centre box shows a Mullah being relieved by a woman whilst a pregnant woman looks on. To the left of this box a woman displays her naked wares whilst four bearded men inspect her body lecherously. It is a classic Bathsheba scene. In the top right box a couple stand to a side whilst a naked woman is in conversation with a seated man. Are they her pimps selling her off? Or are they happy parents giving their naked daughter to a man? The woman looks pleased for the episode to be happening either way. In the bottom left hand box a man gropes a woman as she rides a horse. Is he a tutor taking advantage of his position of pwer? Woman are nearly always shown naked, whatever the scenario, the object of men's sickly imagination. Sohail's work is very much concerned today as it was in the 1970s with the position of women in his home country. In works such as this he is releasing people from sexual repression yet pointing the finger accusatively at men who abuse or take advantage of women in Pakistan.  

For more works byTasaduq Sohail, click here.         

Wednesday 29 February 2012

Read about: Jagath Weerasinghe's 'Shiva' II (2007) @ The Noble Sage

‘Shiva’ II (2007) by Jagath Weerasinghe
Acrylic on canvas
30 x 24 inches
Let me wax lyrical for a moment about this wonderful piece in the collection by Jagath Weerasinghe. Titled ‘Shiva’ and painted in 2007, this work is clearly a depiction of the classical Hindu image of ‘Shiva Nataraja’, Lord Shiva dancing within a ring of fire symbolic of the cosmic and eternal cycle of life and death, that that allows to the world to carry on as it does. It is a classical image that I am very used to personally having seen it in my local temple in Archway since I was a small boy. It also played a large part in the tours I used to give at The Barber Institute of Fine Arts (@BarberInstitute) where they had a striking bronze Nataraja on the way up the stairs. Although the dance of all dances is depicted in this classical Hindu image, one that can literally change/end the world if it ends, the depiction brings some relief when one stands before it. Personally I feel time slow down as I see these many arms and legs raised mid-flow. We feel at peace looking at it. Such feelings are turned on their head when one looks at the charged image of Weerasinghe’s Nataraja. One notes first that it is only the lower half of the deity (and some of the arms) that is depicted and the ring of fire around the figure is also lost as is the character of ‘Apasmarapurusha’ from beneath the stamp of Shiva’s right foot, a character symbolic of sloth, confusion and forgetfulness. Concentration is given by Weerasinghe to the legs, the limbs that create and destroy with its dance. Looking at the work, one cannot help but relate the violence of the technique and the moody, depressive choice of colour to this corporeal focus. Few artists would take a brush doused in black paint to the blank canvas like Weerasinghe bravely does. The very nature of the colour is destructive to other colours as much as it is to the canvas. The colour is so deafening that one can very rarely see colours below it or above it. It is such a claustrophobic and overwhelming colour that one might not even notice colours next to it when it is put down, let alone the original colour of the canvas. In this way, Weerasinghe is rebellious, flying in the face of convention, seemingly uncaring and undeterrable. His technique matches his choice in colour. It is violent and aggressive. One is reminded by Francis Bacon at points perhaps. The movements of blackness depict the fervour of the dance. It is not something as uniquely peaceful (though paradoxically dynamic) as we are used to in the classical form. This Shiva’s dance seems frenetic and unstoppable, perhaps out of control, involving the whole body in convulsion. We the audience are not given peace, time is not slowed down for us, if anything we become aware of the angst, confusion, rush and disarray of life around us. It is clear that Weerasinghe is attempting to face us with a harsh reality, a bitter truth. Being an artist hailing from Sri Lanka one can tell that this work (part of a series of Shivas created the artist) is certainly highly political in meaning. On the one hand one wonders if the painting of the work was a cathartic experience for the artist, allowing him to take out his aggression at the status quo. Or else, whether it is a dark wish for things to start again, by any means necessary. 
For more works by Jagath Weerasinghe, click here.          

Friday 24 February 2012

Read about this work: 'Untitled' (2007) by T. Athiveerapandian

‘Untitled’ (2007) by T. Athiveerapandian

Acrylic on canvas

43 x 45 inches


I wanted to jot down some of my thoughts in relation to this dramatic new canvas by T. Athiveerapandian that just entered the collection. I say it is new but it is a 2007 canvas that I acquired from a very good friend of mine who in turn bought them from some other dealers. It has enjoyed a great journey before arriving at The Noble Sage. I am so glad it is with me now as there is no better place for it to be appreciated and no audience more discerning than that of The Noble Sage to critique an Athiveerapandian canvas. This is our 43rd canvas of my Chennai artist Athiveerapandian to grace our walls. That means that our audiences have literally seen more of the evolution of this painter than anyone on the planet! And what an artist to follow. From recognisable close-up images of flowers and petals and such in 2006 to this: what can only be described as the abstract opera of nature – powerful, rich and deftly orchestrated for a sublime effect. There are three wonderful 2012 canvases soon to be framed which show his development from 2007 but it has to be said that 2007 was a good year for Athiveerapandian. It was the biggest leap forward for his abstraction. With our regular patronage, the artist was able to free himself in his art from the hold of figuration and branch out into nearly pure colour with lessening relationship to its starting points in nature. We can still see the abstract renderings of foliage in green central in the canvas, and the top right of the canvas feels like a wave caught mid-ebb. Indeed, the red reminds me of the heat ofchennai and the yellow the hot sun. But this for all sense and purposes is an abstract canvas where the artist is revelling in his new expressive freedom. I wish you could see this every day like I do. It makes me wish I could paint abstracts, have this kind of mastery. The canvas must really look limitless to Athiveerapandian when it is empty of paint. It must be so silent to make it sing as he does. Jana Manuelpillai

For more works by T. Athiveerapandian, click here.          

Read about Manisha Raju's 'Pandit II' (2007)


Pandit II (2007) by Manisha Raju
Pastel on paper
17 x 12 inches
It is in fact rare that I take pastel works into the gallery. In fact apart from Sri Lankan artist, Anoma, who is really a mixed media artist who utilises soft and hard pastels when appropriate, Manisha Raju was the first artist to work in this medium that I brought into the collection. There is no real reason why this medium has been passed over. Indeed the only work I have up on the wall by me is a pastel work. I think if anything I have been waiting for just the right artist that would add to the collection and have a mastery over this difficult medium. Manisha Raju’s stunning pastel paintings on paper were exactly that. She shows a soft, delicate technique that makes the most of the medium as well as the subject matter, adding an imaginary halo around the religious characters she chooses. Pandit II (2007) is s a lovely piece by all accounts. A simple head and shoulders profile portrait, Raju is able to mirror this holy man’s honourable and religious character in her idealisation of form. His skin is blemishless, silky smooth: no pastel mark is decipherable so the final image has the feeling of something so perfect it defies the creative power of an artist. It makes me think of Da Vinci and Botticelli in this way. The arch of the eyebrow, seemingly plucked and sculpted, echoes the curve of the closed eye, long and sublimely elegant like the beautiful chin. The nose points slightly upwards and the lips are full, red and purt. Even the ear, most awkward of facial attributes, is smoothed out to appear as perfectly proportioned as the swan neck below it. We know this is a ‘pandit’, a Hindu priest, not only from the title but by the shaved head and bob of hair at the back and the holy string across one shoulder. Perhaps there is a hint given also by the earring… or perhaps I am imagining it. The colour in his lips, the rouge of his cheeks, and the red ruby in his ear, all appears to resonate outward around his profile. His form is brought forward by Raju with darkened shading around the head, a reverse halo one might say. It is as if this priest is so good and pure that no circle of light is necessary. I wanted Raju in the collection as she took great advantage of the pastel medium to tell of the inner beauty of the soul and the external beauty that comes of the elevated, educated and religious mind. There was no one in the gallery’s collection that did this so eloquently. Jana Manuelpillai

To view more works by Manisha Raju in the collection, click: