by Shujaat Mirza
In his recent solo show “Unknown Planet” held at Hutheesing Gallery we get to see the textured, almost sculptural paintings of Rohit Zaveri, the Surat-based veteran artist who completed his Masters in Painting, from MSU School of Fine Arts, Baroda. Created in diverse sizes on polystyrene, he scales up the works to expand and meet the needs of expression or scales them down to meet the nearness of the imagined forms. Some of them seem like imperial murals, majestic and uncanny, while others seem to flow unrestrained as they explore the elemental diversity of the universe and the farthest depths of the as-yet-uncharted, unexplored space. In the works we see traces of ourselves, composed as we are of cosmic matter, with the awareness that in turn these are as much constituted by us as embodiments that carry forward these stories.
The works on display are sort of a coming together of the diverse strands of his life voyage as well, from assisting KG Subramanyan in his murals, to workshops with Akbar Padamsee, to taking a hiatus from art and running an advertising agency where he executed turnkey public art projects as well as branding and conception for companies. The amalgam of creativity with a learning on the go has held him in good stead to absorb diverse influences and these learnings can be seen to have reached their apogee in this exhibition. We used the word apogee because it defines the farthest point in the orbit of a satellite from the earth and this exhibition too is a leap into that space of the unexplored and unexplained. It has taken eighteen months to bring these works out to the world.
Rohit Zaveri uses industrial grade thermocol and treats it with a chemical process that extends the life of the final, completed work of art, making it a lightweight extension of a heavy subject matter. The childlike excitement at this ripe age is testimony to the inner child being alive within him, as he looks the part of an artist who lives for art round the clock, as he interacts with fellow artists, TV crews, kids, visiting students and friends, once in a while pulling a seat outside in a safe corner to catch a smoke. Ever interested in explaining his work in detail, he energetically explains the finer nuances of his works, which to my mind do not need any special orientation and can be randomly enjoyed and imagined as standalone objects of colourful adoration. He seems a picture of frantic devotion to the moment, surrounded by a force field of unfettered energy, as it were.
There is a native gaze in the way he chooses to embellish his craft with the sequential layers of his life journey. We see shades of the meandering river Tapi flowing across the spine of his hometown Surat in one of the rare works where we perhaps see an apparitive figure bestriding the fiery sun as it shines over a river that runs underneath.
The fascination which the elements of nature hold for him is reflected in this work.
His works portray a never-ending need to depict each aspect of the larger world beyond our limited visual range that defies easy explanation, as can be seen in this work that captures the depths of a dark matter of some uninhabited planet with his inner eye.
The technique he applies to his works is both fascinating and innovative. He uses sturdy, industrial grade thermocol sheets that can withstand wear and tear and yet are easily malleable, of up to 90 kg/cubic metre density and of variable thickness that can go up to many centimetres, and if required, he superimposes layer upon layer to get the necessary depth or projection. He prepares the base by using a blow torch to get the specific effects through controlled burning, using sculptural chisels and hammers, to get the necessary curvatures to impart a three-dimensional shape, and then applies a few coats of resin to harden the surface. Thereafter he prepares to paint over it like on a canvas and finally applies a coat of fibreglass clear resin to enhance its durability and make it washable as well.
He goes through this punishing regimen of penance meticulously, bringing to life the visions he has had in his metaphysical states. Nothing is left to randomness as he recreates the exactness of what he has captured in his mind's eye, crafting a replica of the imagined scene on the given material, while simultaneously, imparting it an all-weather permanence. The works seem fragile owing to their lightweight and tactile flexibility and yet they are strong and durable enough to withstand exposure to the environment. As he says this craftsmanship is a sum total of fifty-four years of an almost devoted tapasya and immersion.
His journey is a virtual tangle of different aspects of bhaav and abhaav, pratyaksh and apratyaksh, of what can be instantly perceived to what can only be received, the dualities and diversities become one indivisible union that is imagined in the notion of the ever-creating and regenerating universe – rich and spreading out across aeons that we can only fathom fleetingly and capture only a faint imprint or a partial reflection of. Hence the need to work continuously and indefatigably, since the quest is larger than life itself and bigger than the ordinary questions that govern our day-to-day existence and defies our mundane handed-down lexical logic of language.
There are figurative stylizations that remind us of the strokes of JS Swaminathan in a few works, while in others you can feel an urge towards liminal, spiritual motifs that was the hallmark of SH Raza and Sohan Qadri. In most of the abstract images that he creates, through manipulating of the surface by clever indentations of texture, Zaveri tries to approximate and mimic the barren and craterous terrain of unknown planets from his spiritual forays; in other works he inhabits them with rivers, suns, and light sources emanating from other frontiers and we feel transported on a time-travelling mission to a place that has no known parallel or reference to our lived and perceived reality. This keen observation and documentation of an inner eye's rendezvous is reminiscent of the concept of being haazir and naazir, i.e. of being in an enviable position to be present in each perception, and gain some attribution about the meaning of art, through this enchanting vigil.
In these exhibited works, the state of trance and possession is a state of grappling and coming to terms with the divine force as manifested in creation that is infinite and endless. They capture some of that infinity in finite shapes and resolve a dire need to express the dance of life that is what creation is, which Lord Shiva's Tandava so very well explicates in the cyclical unfolding of the beginning of time and space and its end. This journey takes us to the far reaches of space, giving us a close-up view of the inexorable, unfathomable logic of life juxtaposed against the immensity of an ever-unfolding universe. It perhaps also bridges the gap between art and natural sciences by merging the realities of both in a way that significantly enhances the underlying underpinning that seeks to see the world as connected and not fragmented by our outlooks.
All the works are of the series, Unknown Planet, and share the same title.
(All images courtesy of Shujaat Mirza and the artist, Rohit Zaveri)
Shujaat Mirza is an intrepid art aficionado, curator and critic, with a passion for
multidisciplinary art. His primary area of interest is art at the intersection of visual aesthetics and verbal semantics. He is also a poet and writer and his work has been published online as well as in literary magazines.