by Aakshat Sinha
“Somehow, most of my paintings are associated with memories, some faint, some profound, during different phases of my life.” – Anjaneyulu G
Anjaneyulu G’s latest show of hyper-realistic paintings of commonplace, oft-mundane objects of rural origins titled ‘Museum of Memories’ opened at the Art Alive Gallery in New Delhi. The quaint space in the posh locality of Panchsheel Park in South Delhi is the venue for the display of the artist's large and medium-sized paintings, created over the last two to three years.
Most of the paintings were created using oil on canvas while for the other canvases both oil and acrylic colours have been used. The artist fully exploits the possibilities of both the mediums. The objects depicted gain tranquil existence on the canvas, with sharp shadows in flat colour falling on again a flat, monochromatic wall or surface. The softness of the mediums used helps the artist build up the reflections and textures, accentuating the materiality of the objects in a hyper-realistic manner – stroke by stroke, layer by layer. Hyper-realism as an art style over the centuries and the multiple "isms" in the evolution of art had lost its relevance and fancy to the emerging abstract and conceptual art styles. However, art practices in recent years have shown a significant uptick in the use of hyper-realism as a form of artistic expression. It is a tedious process but helps connect better with a wider audience and not limited to an elite niche. Once it is easier to understand the subject of the artwork, the viewer can make their own inferences about why that subject was chosen and its significance to better understand and connect with the artwork.
Born in 1976, Anjaneyulu G belongs to a small village in the Nalgonda district in Telangana and currently resides and works in Hyderabad. A widely showcased artist across most of the major Indian cities, he has exhibited internationally as well in New York and Dubai. His works have been frequently exhibited at the India Art Fair, which have always drawn a lot of attention by the visitors and media.
What is it that captivates the attention of the person standing in front of his paintings with seemingly mundane objects from an almost forgotten past and era?
To begin with, as can be seen from the images, what comes out sharply is the perfection of the lines and contours and complete mastery of the medium and the tools the artist puts to best use. The simplicity of the art subjects makes it easy for anyone to relate with them. Once this connection is made, the viewer can move onto deciphering the purpose of depicting the particular object. Everyday objects, which could be a tea kettle, lantern, tape-recorder, gun, or even a thorny branch, find their place in the painting. Their monochrome shadows give the only semblance of a connection to any surface; for otherwise they would seem to hang in limbo in space.
Untitled, 48 inches x 48 inches, Oil and acrylic on canvas, 2020
Untitled, 54 inches x 40 inches, Oil on canvas, 2021
The primary emotion that his paintings trigger, apart from the fascination of how well the artist captures the object – its contours, its materiality through the realistic depiction of its texture, the reflective ability of its surface and the volume of the space that it seems to inhabit – is nostalgia. The objects are commonplace from a period long gone like the lantern or lamp, which existed almost everywhere (and still do in remote areas), mostly in rural settings but quite often in cities as well. They trigger memories long forgotten or pushed behind the façade of our fast-moving urban lives that has become accustomed to the blinding light of LEDs rather than the soft and calming ambient light of the lanterns and lamps lit by kerosene or oil. The kerosene lamps of the old were a treat when we were youngsters. We didn’t regard the daily lighting and subsequent cleaning as a chore, rather an activity that we looked forward to and to be asked to do either of the two activities gave us a sense of responsibility.
Lantern, 48 inches x 36 inches, Oil on canvas, 2019
Anjaneyulu G explains it best,
“During my childhood and adolescence, kerosene lamps were the sources of light for the poor while lanterns were for those who were well-off. There used to be an elaborate ritual of cleaning the glass chimneys with fine granular limestone powder before the sun went down. The soot stained rags needed to be carefully touched up with white limestone powder and carefully rinsed out as it were. Hard rubbing would leave fine scratches and eventually block out most of the light. So, it was work for an expert - not just those looking out for something to do. Here, I am talking not about lanterns; just about the small kerosene fed lamps that you could carry into dark rooms to illuminate your way. Lanterns were for hanging from long hooks dangling from the ceiling. Somehow most of them would be in blue, blue-green or plain green. I tried to locate a lantern with a fluted edge chimney, but the search was futile. So I had to settle for one with just a plain top edge. Lanterns and the saga of great men who read under their dim lights and reached great heights was the stuff of school lesson legends. All in all, I enjoyed the struggle involved in locating a lantern that just suited my purpose and was interesting to execute. The warm soft glow of these lamps and lanterns is something I miss while I have to shade my eyes from the painfully bright cold blue lights from the fluorescent lamps and the cold impersonal glare of cold blue LEDs. Sometimes I really wonder if chiaroscuro would actually have been possible if the great masters were forced to work under these cold steel blue lamps that seem to be taking over our whole visible spectrum.”
Chiaroscuro was a lighting method used by the Renaissance and Baroque masters like Caravaggio, Rembrandt and Leonardo Da Vinci, who used shadows and a single light source to create depth and drama in their paintings. Still life scenes, for instance, were painted in dark rooms lit by a single window while the faces in the portraits were illuminated with a golden, candle-lit glow. The results were dramatic and atmospheric. Mostly used for oil paintings, many artists continue even today to implement the chiaroscuro technique, despite how challenging and time-consuming it is to achieve the desired effect. Anjaneyulu G’s paintings use a single light source, making the shadows sharp and distinct, and the objects, the centre of attention.
Tape Recorder, 72 inches x 94 inches, Oil on linen, 2020
The tape-recorder is painted with half of it as complete with the external casing on, while the left half is an exposed landscape of circuits, transistors and electric supply. This work is quite close to Anjaneyulu’s heart and it is also reflected in his own statement here as he reminisces about music and its impact on him: “Music has always been an important part of my life. The very first time I listened to music was in a transistor during my childhood. The profound impact of music on my mind gave birth to the artist in me many a times. The classic cassette player and tape recorder changed the way the world saw music.”
Anjaneyulu G working on Tape-recorder
Looking at the painting, I wonder if it was just the engineer in me who saw the cross-sectional drawing of a solid object that laid bare what is hidden within. The painting also made me realize how the artist uses the actual title of the object in the painting in some rare cases like Tape-recorder, Lantern or Gun; otherwise, generally, the title used is ‘Untitled’. Is it because the object has greater significance for the artist or is there nothing special about naming it and it’s just a placeholder?
Thumma Kampa, 54 inches x 54 inches, Oil on linen, 2018
One of his works that really caught my eye is ‘Thumma Kampa’ which is an oil painting done on linen of a thorny branch from the genus Prosopis. The work was made in 2018 and I remember seeing it then, probably at the India Art Fair. The image had stayed with me and when I walked into the gallery and saw it hanging on the wall, I couldn’t walk away from it without an extended halt. This work in particular among all his paintings, epitomizing the relationship of a viewer with an artwork. The other works in his oeuvre are objects of utility and have in one form or the other been seen or used by most (most Indians at least) in person or maybe in a film.
The brown thorny branch with the stark white background and the harsh grey shadow makes for ‘a’ narrative, which was inspired by the artist’s childhood but which triggers memories in the viewer’s mind which might not have had any connection with the initial instigator for the work. One can feel the piercing sharpness of the thorns on the skin and I could feel it even in my throat. Maybe it triggered a memory of a parched throat on a hot sunny day out in the open with no shade.
This later reminded me of my belief that the journey of an artwork has at least two paths: one, where the artists enjoy as they create the works themselves, and the second, which can have differing paths of each individual viewer to access the artworks. Even the same viewer can see different connections when looking at such works at different times. It is illuminating though to read the artist’s thoughts regarding this painting in his own words, “The thorns growing to a length of an inch and a half bleach to a brilliant ash white as they dry. They are sharp, painful and you hope you never step on one. For those of us who never knew footwear, these were thorns that you instinctively looked out for. Never ever step on them. But we were adventurous and we were not afraid of its sting. They used to form the axle of our pinwheels made out of old newspapers and old school notebooks. My mother would warn me, ‘Keep off those damned things. They are poison.’ They are incredibly useful to rural folks. They provide an almost impenetrable barrier fence. They prevent your domestic animals from straying out of enclosure. . . . Ever since the time I wanted to grow up and become an artist, I had wanted to paint a stark, sharp, painful piece of this thorny threat. But it seems that the simplest things are not so simple at all. I realized this difficulty of finding a simple solution in my search for the just the ‘right’ thorny branch. I spent a considerable amount of time going around the vanishing rural areas until I found a branch that seemed almost right. That almost nailed it and I found this seemingly simple subject a very interesting and fairly tough subject to capture on canvas.”