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Subliminal Excavations: Pursuit of symbolic vocabularies

by Alka Chadha Harpalani

“Abstraction allows man to see with his mind what he cannot see physically with his eyes . . . Abstract art enables the artist to perceive beyond the tangible, to extract the infinite out of the finite. It is the emancipation of the mind. It is an exploration into unknown areas.” Arshile Gorky

The solo show by Krishna Setty CS titled Subliminal Excavations (20 December 2021- 30 January 2022) being held in the College of Fine Arts, Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath, Bangalore, reflects the artist’s never-ending, experimental search for a pictorial language consisting of symbolic vocabularies and myriad idioms to discover intrinsic connotations of form, and thus form a new holistic equivalence. For the benefit of those who may not be familiar with the artist, Setty is also an art critic and writer and was the former Administrator, Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi and Chairman of Karnataka Lalith Kala Academy.

Artist CS Krishna Setty at the show Sublimal Excavations

Perusing one canvas to another in the well-lit art gallery, the personal synthesis of the artist becomes obvious – be its thematic alignment, textural explorations with dribbles of broad, brush strokes or inclusion of indigenous elements. The exuberance of bright colours – oranges, greens, yellows, greys and intense blacks – blend with earthy tonalities with rhythmic alteration of images. Juxtaposing the various narrative elements and enriching them with metaphors, dreams and fantasies floating in bizarre forms, Setty reflects on the hypocrisy, dualities and atrocities rampant in society.

As one views the exhibition one feels compelled to travel with the artist on his retrospective to his world of creation and absorbed through his lecture, interactive session and demonstration. One observes his surrealistic approach in the recurring elements of his oeuvre – gloves, swans, a crawling winged man, bird sitting on a framed memorial sculpture head, knife, car, hands, snakes and fish. Initially, the artist searched for metaphorical narratives, which gradually became secondary. The forms and colours started changing, finding their own meaning corresponding to the surroundings. Adding to the depth are his intense drawings – cracked skulls, fragmented thought-provoking heads, branching out with pen nibs, animal heads, boats, spirals, loudspeaker, ladder, butterfly, winged cars, rooster, bulb, checkered chair, a watch. At some places one can see plain backgrounds with scattered, indecipherable abstracts.

The paintings and collages include surreal and fantastical elements, such as a mirrored Mona Lisa with a skull face; a crawling serpent; winged forms; a crown suggestive of power; a kite flying free; melting clocks and stinging scorpions. The gloves hanging on a clamp board with the iconic painting of Adam and Eve collaged in the background allows an easy, understandable connection. There is a deft unfolding of new forms where allegories play a mystical role, whether it is a loner bird, a headless reptile, masks or multiple hands adorning the head portraying tortures and atrocities prevailing in society. The bitter reality of estrangement caused by technology is represented by the emotive depiction of heads lost in the squares and triangles showing. The liveliness of the woman’s spirit is captured by wings, depicting the liberating sense from the captivity.

Setty says that that whenever he felt his art was turning stagnant, he added motion through the accidental and deliberate drips of colours. He enjoys turning the objects from the reality to abstraction. The latest series of works have a visceral quality to them with intaglio/relief/embossed effects that lead the way from the symbolic to the contextual. The artist’s earlier experiments with graphics and drawings peep through at places among the play of multiple floating textures and viscosity.

Seen in retrospective, Setty’s compositions over the years have gradually become more complex, and moved away from his earlier more minimalist style, albeit remaining wedded to the same community of ideas. Whether they are shadowy moods, suggestive forms, or intriguing concepts with haunting meanings, the artist leaves it to the imagination of the onlooker to interpret and appreciate the shapelessness and abstraction in his works.

Artist CS Krishna Setty and Alka Chadha Harpalani at the show Sublimal Excavations

(All images are courtesy of Alka Chadha Harpalani)


Dr Alka Chadha Harpalani is an artist, researcher, writer, poet, and has worked as a professor. She is involved in an e-learning project by MHRD (Ministry of Human Resource and Development) at Dayalbagh University, Agra. Editor of the journal Artistic Narration (Anu Books) for over 10 years and recipient of many prestigious awards and honours, she has held and participated in many all India and international exhibitions, and published research papers and articles in renowned art journals, newspapers and magazines.

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1 Comment

Nice write up..

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