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Reduction: Letting Go

by Aakshat Sinha

“The creation (music) is not our own. In our daily riyaaz, we become the patra (eligible/receiver/vessel) for the flow of divinity.”

Ustaad Mohi Baha’uddin Dagar, the Rudra Veena Maestro, shared this nugget of wisdom in a chance conversation with the artist Rahul Inamdar. It speaks about how their practice as musicians, by becoming an instrument of the divine, allows brilliance to come into being (through the music). The meeting with Ustaadji and his wife Pelva Naik, a Dhrupad vocalist, took place at Dhrupad, the gurukul school located at Palaspe, near Panvel in New Mumbai. For Rahul Inamdar, it triggered the realization what surrender could mean and how he could bring it into his practice.

A crossover artist, with an MBA and an engineering degree after 10 years of work experience in innovation and brand management with firms like Marico and Godrej, Rahul gave up his lucrative career as a corporate consultant and moved to the canvas in 2007. A self-taught artist, he works with oil on canvas, sometimes building thick layers of oil colour on primed canvas with brushes, rollers, and even rolling pins while using charcoal for lines and textures. During his last solo show Ellipsis at Gallery Threshold, held in August-September 2019, he mentioned in his artist’s note that “While my art is never pre-meditated, it is never an accident. I would say it is mined from the subconscious mind that is not fully conscious and yet not unconscious. It comes within the purview of intuition.”

In his own poetic words:

In the moment

Life happens in the moment. So does my work.

No past, no plans. No memories, no thoughts.

Just the canvas, and me.

The moment suggests the colours.

The charcoal crumbs. The feel. The force.

It tells me what to make. and when to stop.

Surrender to the moment, is my art.

– Rahul Inamdar

In his previous show he added that he wanted to create art that “goes beyond suggestion, depiction or memory, and can exist purely, for itself. Like space, time, sound or light, art can deliver a fundamental interminable experience, which could move the viewer, more than once. A lot of preparation takes place in the background, to achieve transparency, intensity, silence and music in my work. I read across disciplines, consume music, architecture, science philosophy – I believe it nourishes me, and the work. The core of my practice is in forgetting.”

It is obvious that the basic fundamentals for creating pure abstracts were already a part of Rahul’s artistic practice and preparation. The recent period of isolation, linked with the epiphany that he reached after his conversation with Ustaad Mohi Baha’uddin Dagar has only helped him to ‘reduce’ his presence and role in the trinity of art – colour (medium), surface (canvas) and himself (the creator, for whom when in the state of flow, the work seems to come from a place that seems beyond oneself).

The show titled Reduction opened at Gallery Threshold, New Delhi, on 11 August 2021 and is on display till 2 September 2021. Rahul made a special trip to Delhi from Mumbai for a gallery walkthrough to be in conversation with the Delhi-based curator and art critic Georgina Maddox on 21 August. Although the downpour just before the start of the walkthrough restricted the number of people who made it, the conversation happened and was even cast live on Instagram by the gallery. In this video clipping I made during the walkthrough, one can get a brief understanding of how Rahul approached the change in his art practice and how he prepares for it on a daily basis.

Rahul spoke honestly of his move from a cushy corporate job to a full-fledged art practice after having tried to juggle both worlds for some time. He maintained eye contact with everyone when sharing things that can be termed ‘operational’, for the lack of a better word, but he would switch to a self-reflective mode with half-closed eyes each time when he spoke about his actual lived experiences, including the handling of his works during creation. His attempt now is to start with a limited palette, with colours that allow him use a high level of transparency, and to allow the flow and absorption of the pigment diluted with loads of oil (linseed and turpentine) on the unprimed side of the linen canvas. The unprimed state does little to resist the flow of the liquid and organically allows for the unhindered spread of the moving stain. Rahul makes minimal attempt to control this process barring a few nudges and tilts of the canvas. The form, line and mixing of colours are given free rein to evolve with just the medium and the surface having their own moment of jugalbandi. Rahul plays a silent dual role – the instigator of the journey as also the gatekeeper who decides when to stop. The decision when to stop is “intuitive and something one knows only when it happens . . . you just can’t do any more, for the work won’t let you.”

“Like a gentler version of Pollock, Rahul Inamdar becomes an alchemist of formless gradients that he tilts and nudges on the canvas. His work does not tidily fit into any genres but it engages with a minimalist approach as he attempts to touch deeper emotions of his subconscious mind.” says Georgina Maddox.

During the walkthrough Rahul shared more about his preparation which can take even days together, before he starts his work. He reads or listens to music in his studio, to free completely his mind, thereby reducing any planned motivation, conscious or otherwise, that could influence the work. He has always listened to the music and compositions of Max Richter and continues to do so even today. Max’s recording, Sleep, is eight-hours long – the equivalent of a night’s rest – and is available on YouTube and other platforms. “It’s an eight-hour lullaby . . . my personal lullaby for a frenetic world . . . manifesto for a slower pace of existence” – Max Richter

It would have been wonderful if the music that Rahul listened to had been played on a loop in the gallery to enhance the viewer’s immersive experience. (This could have been easily addressed with the use of headphones since the music is openly available on YouTube.) Even a note to that effect as to which music to tune into would have helped enhance the experience of losing oneself in the lyrical rhythmic vibrations cast on the canvases hanging on the walls.

Kristine Michael , who is a ceramist and curator and has written the wall texts for the show, said, “I can sort of reflect on Rahul’s work and I can appreciate the way, the style in which he is working where he is allowing the material to say for itself. Because as a clay artist we also deal with materials where you want to have the minimal touch; you want to have the material speaking for itself. Also in the entire process of firing you are working with elements, like you are working with fire and you allow the kiln to take over. There is a certain amount of letting go. So what he is calling ‘reduction’ we call ‘let go’ and when you open the kiln you finally see what sort of magic the clay, the elements, and the air have done and you just have to accept it. There is no reworking that. So the same way as he doesn’t rework his pieces, we also can’t really rework ours. You have to accept them for what they are and trash them if it isn’t exactly what you wanted but finally you have to have that ‘letting go’, which is what I really appreciate in his work.”

Rahul’s works seem perfectly placed, exhibited at the basement gallery, like in a garbhagriha (a womb/sanctum sanctorum) with its white bricked walls serving as reflective coves and inviting the viewer to sense the transcendence of the softly subtle works with pastel-like softness and water-colour-like transparency. The works are quite big and some are even diptychs or triptychs, but the large horizontal span of walls with high ceiling nest them comfortably. The display is widely placed with sufficient visual and physical gap between the artworks. It is therefore a genuine pleasure to walk through the exhibition and surrender yourself to the impact of the works placed in the meditative ambience.

The initial work in the series seems to be in a flux, questioning organic experimentation. There are some muddy grey areas which show the lack of mixing control, as the artist initiates the wet-on-wet treatment of colours (subsequent colours being added on while the previous layer is still wet). The subsequent works in the series present a far better understanding of the chemistry – notably through the retained freshness of the colours clubbed with the transparency of each layer adding to the hues peeping through, and the physics – by creating and manipulating shapes and forms that are simple yet complete, using gravity by tilting and stretching the canvas. The latest work in the series has bolder colours and more precise shapes and somewhat sharper edges. On the whole, however, lack of spatial demarcation and subtle blurring of the edges is a common feature of the series. The works are aptly titled, “Untitled”, for they do not need limited understanding prompted by any specific titles. The works are not framed, inviting the viewer to be open and resolve the questions in their mind. The frameless canvases and non-imposing, soft-toned gallery walls allow the viewer to create a world for themselves, attributing forms, colours and shapes to objects, creatures, and settings from their own imagination; much like looking at clouds in the sky and discovering recognizable shapes that only exist in imagination.

pareidolia – the human tendency to read significance into random or vague stimuli (both visual and auditory)

What remains to be seen is to what extent the human strength (or failing, if you’d like to see it so) to learn from previous attempts can internalize each learning at a sub-conscious level, even without the artist deliberately acting with clear knowledge of doing so!

“Reduction requires one to understand the colour. The range isn’t necessary, even a single colour when listened to, can hold the viewer’s breath.

The application of colour reflects the maker. How is the colour transferred from the bottle to the canvas, how fast or slow? How long is it allowed to stay? How frequently is it added or removed?

The subtlety of a work is simply a record how well the maker understands the colour.

The purified linseed oil along with turpentine is more than the mute bystander it’s assumed to be. Like the rain drop quenching the parched earth or waves moving, tossing the sand, the medium brings it all together. It slides, glides, moves, and drops – responding to angles, to surface texture, to gravity, to time, leaving very little beyond traces of transparency.

The third dimension is the canvas.

An unprime[d] canvas with a wave that is exposed is hungry to absorb every drop of pigment and oil at its own pace.

A line drawn or a dot dropped on an unprime[d] canvas dissolves in the oil. Moving through the waves it becomes space in the expanding blot of oil, till it pleases.

The maker brings all the elements together and thus gets to see the work come to life.

The work never looks the way it looks when it’s born. As it dries, colours open up. The oil yellows every time the work is observed; it brings forth a detail unseen, felt as if absent before.

Through this ever-evolving perception, the work grows in the mind of the observer.”

– Artist Note for Reduction by Rahul Inamdar

The show is on display at Gallery Threshold, New Delhi till 2 September 2021.

(All photographs and video taken by Aakshat Sinha at the show, courtesy of the artist Rahul Inamdar and the Gallery Threshold.)


Aakshat Sinha is an artist and curator. He also writes poetry and has created and published comics. He is the Founding Partner of artamour.

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