The Vadodara-based artist–whose work is on display at David Zwirner in London–tells us about painting from memory and how inspiration is found in daily moments that resonate with him emotionally
“I start with an emotion that makes me want to paint,” says Mahesh Baliga, the Vadodara-based contemporary artist whose first overseas solo exhibition opens today in London at David Zwirner, the blue-chip art gallery. The show, titled Drawn to remember, features 40 casein tempera works, on view for the first time at the gallery’s Upper Room. Debuting at the powerhouse art space, which is headquartered in New York but is also present in London, Paris and Hong Kong, is a major accolade for 40-year-old Baliga. After all, this is a gallery that represents artistic heavyweights such as Yayoi Kusama, Donald Judd and Carol Bove among a fleet of others.
Baliga, who typically depicts small-scale works featuring familiar yet imaginative impressions of daily life in India, has steadily gained a stealth following since he began exhibiting in 2007. (Full disclosure: I have a work by the artist.) As Cristina Vere Nicoll, director at Zwirner in London explains, “The small scale of the paintings creates a singular sense of intimacy that really draws the viewer. While the day-to-day is depicted, it’s the surreal interventions, the dreamlike interludes and Mahesh’s remarkable sense of colour and composition that make these paintings so captivating.” The only Indian artist to have previously had a solo show in the Upper Room was the pioneering modernist Benode Behari Mukherjee (1904-1980).
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE DETAILS
Baliga, a soft-spoken, measured man, seeks inspiration from daily life, and is constantly thinking about how all that he observes can become a painting. He describes the works being shown in London as based on memories that have been triggered by pain. Why pain? “If I am not able to paint something out of desire, then that itself is a type of pain,” he says. “The other is the pain of what is happening in my surroundings which affect me, where I can’t do anything to help.” Referencing the Covid-19 pandemic, during which he lost a dear friend, Baliga painted images based on his memory of interactions, notes from conversations, turning the emotion of helplessness into imagery. “When I paint from memory, I put my emotion based on the image captured in my mind,” he says.