Artist Speak: Insight into Formed Resonance, an exhibition by Shakti Maira
There are two directions artists can take in their work. Most establish a distinctive, easily recognizable style, and then remain in that groove. Others, like me, don’t. My work done over a period of time, when brought together, may look more like a group show. The freedom to strike out in new directions is a truer expression of my creativity, which could be described as ‘formed resonance’. I make whatever forms resonate with my changing concerns and evolving passions. My materials and styles move with, and respond to, my life journey.
Two years ago, on a walk in Dalhousie, a half-burnt log caught my eye. It was black, mysterious and oddly powerful. In the fading evening light, it evoked the goddess Kali. I dragged it back and thus began a new body of work: wood carvings.
It was a time in my life when I needed to do slow, hard, rhythmic work. Without the help of power tools, I set about carving pieces of wood using a saw, a mallet, chisels, rasps, files, sandpaper, and ultimately, fire. I tried to let the form come from the wood. What emerged were several versions of the Kali presence, some half-man/half-woman forms, heads that have a primal African-Indian tribal energy. And a few others –some abstracts, and my signature sadhus.
I found a kinship between carving wood and drawing. Both entail making marks on surfaces. In one case, the drawing is additive, while in the other it is subtractive. Both ask the artist to be minimal, in the sense that drawing is at its best when it is simple, pure, free, and wood wants to be altered only within its nature, circumscribed by its hardness, grains and knots. Different woods, like different kinds of paper and drawing materials, have their own personalities and behaviours. So I bring together in this exhibition these three-dimensional and two-dimensional works that are created through marks and strokes to make palpable the importance of drawing in art making.
There are four groups of drawings in this show. A set of ‘Figure Drawings’ that I largely did in New Hampshire, USA; a small suite of ink drawings and paintings titled ‘Mother India and Her Sons’ that I did one winter in my loft studio when the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid tensions were roiling in India, saddened by what India’s sons were doing to a pluralistic nation(I share this for the first time, as it seems relevant today); a few charcoal drawings that celebrate music and singing, and lastly, a recent group of drawings that I call ‘The Origin of Form’.
I round this collection off with a set of heads from ‘The Sangha’ that was exhibited here in 2012, and four groupings of ‘The Sufis’, which play on the idea of our inherent multiplicity and oneness.
This exhibition is a celebration of art made in an intimate engagement between the artist’s mind and hands. This allows the sensibility, experience and skill of the artist to create and manifest directly. These days, handmade art is being pushed back by conceptualism, installations and the use of computers and 3-D printers. Am I alone in feeling that this is resulting in the loss of precious qualities, like the integration of our sensory, emotional and intellectual capacities, and the simple (or even profound) experiences of beauty that can come through the arts?
About the artist
Shakti Maira is an artist, sculptor and printmaker. He has had 29 one-person shows, the first of which was in 1973 in Mumbai. Since then, his work has been exhibited in solo and group shows in Boston, Paris, New York, Washington, D.C., Manchester, Concord, Henniker, Hollis, Acton, Portland, Newport, Portsmouth, Santa Fe, Cambridge, Rotterdam, Colombo, Bangalore, Chennai, Mumbai and New Delhi. His work is in the National Gallery ofModern Art in India, and in private collections around the world.
Shakti has been engaged in children’s education and development through art, and has conducted numerous workshops in schools in the US and India. In 2005 he helped organize the ‘Learning through the Arts in Asia’ symposium in New Delhi, and was invited by UNESCO to formulate the Asian Vision of Arts in Education: Learning through the Arts.
He has written extensively on art, aesthetics, education and culture. In 2006, his book Towards Ananda: Rethinking Indian Art and Aesthetics was published by Penguin/Viking, which has developed a following around the world for pulling art out of its modern confusions and reconnecting it with everyday life and living. His new book, The Promise of Beauty and Why it Matters (HarperCollins, 2017) pivots around a series of conversations with eighteen eminent thinkers on the difficult, enthralling notion of beauty.
Shakti is a public speaker on contemporary issues in aesthetics, beauty, art and culture in India and abroad. He was invited to speak on art and aesthetics at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2011. He was co-organizer of an international conference, ‘The End of Art and The Promise of Beauty’ in New Delhi, in February 2012.