Titled ‘Drawn to Remember’, the exhibition explores the pain of the pandemic, while showing glimmers of hope, healing and rebirth of a new world
By Gautami Reddy
Flowering Self, 2022. Photo: Courtesy of David Zwirner.
In Mahesh Baliga’s paintings, his inner and outer worlds collide. As the title of his solo exhibition at David Zwirner in London suggests, every canvas is ‘Drawn to Remember.’ Details of daily life spent in lockdown in Vadodara merge with those of his childhood, spent in the lush green of Mangalore’s Mudbidri in the Western Ghats. The mind is never only in the present, but constantly coloured by the past and visions of the future. “My paintings remind me why I remember something while looking at something else,” he explains.
Visitors, 2022. Photo: Courtesy of David Zwirner.
A tall and melting sundae appears in a painting called Gudbad, meaning confusion, an ode to the famous ice cream joint of the same name in Mangalore, while the humble banana and papaya fruit trees become the subject of his vibrant still-life works. Animals too are seen going through various emotional states of their own, from a mother and child elephant who seem cozy and comfortable indoors in a painting titled Safe Place, to domestic animals such as buffaloes and goats who seem to be stuck in their routines.
Prayer, 2022. Photo: Courtesy of David Zwirner.
Human figures––not to forget the artist himself––enter the frame in other paintings. His late mother is seen in Prayer, and his dear friend and art critic Aveek Sen who passed away in the pandemic is remembered in another painting, in which he is found cutting his nails. For Baliga, their loss has left a void. In Coffin Maker, one of the only three large canvases on display among smaller ones, the artist paints himself into the scene, looking sad, gloomy and thoughtless. And yet, with death comes the hope of a creative and spiritual renewal. In works such as the Flowering Self and Poet With Ink on His Pocket, there is a spillage of life.
Poet With Ink on His Pocket, 2022. Photo: Courtesy of David Zwirner.
The titles of his artworks add another layer of meaning. From one-word statements such as Help, Fountain, Transfer, Walk and Visitors, to more symbolic titles such as The Abandoned Dancing Floor,Trees Whisper to Each Other Whether They Want Roots, or Painters Who Talk to Butterflies, Baliga’s words carry personal and universal meanings at the same time. “Words are like salt, you see, to be used in the right amount. Excess salt could spoil the dish!” he says.
The presentation in the gallery’s ‘Upper Room’ somewhat resembles Baliga’s solo at Project 88 in Mumbai in 2020, with several of his “lap-sized” paintings hung as a series to suggest the highs and lows that have been depicted within its frames. If you step back and look, it may even seem like a written piece of music or poetry, which have, in fact, had a profound influence on Baliga.