I'm interested in the connotations of the image, its political implications and the kind of ironies involved in this aspect of science and its side effects. Every era had a certain mindset which got reflected in the writing and the artworks produced by the artists of that time.
-TV Santhosh (Artist Statement, Anupa Mehta, India 20: Conversations with Contemporary Artists, Mapin Publishing, Ahmedabad, 2007, p.202)
TV Santhosh's preoccupation with the diabolical pact between knowledge and terror is reflected in Two Wise Men and their Sheep.
Discussing the artist's near-monochromatic, quasi-photographic style, art critic, Ranjit Hoskote writes, "This distinctive stylistic treatment, which makes Santhosh's paintings recognizable without being predictable, subsumes three cardinal elements: first, a mode of representation that has erroneously been termed photorealism; second, a strict tuning of chromatic scale; and third, an incremental transfiguration of the material, by degree and detail, that is all the more shocking for its unobtrusiveness. In truth, his handling is neither photo-realistic, nor yet quasi-photographicRather, his is a velvety hyperrealism that shrewdly alters the proportions and dimensions of the given, emphasizes the sensuousness of folds and highlights, invests the quotidian with mystery so that Santhosh's visuality, ostensibly based on the photographic, is revealed as being far more akin to the cinematic."
Hoskote adds that this painting references the younger Holbein's masterpiece, The Ambassadors and comments, " in Two Wise Men and Their Sheep: his (Santhosh's) gaze fastens upon the detail of the ambassador's feet; adapting the allegorical spirit of the original, he inserts into this frame a grave-digger's shovel and Dolly, the cloned sheep. The play of image and title assures us, bleakly, that the Magi and the scholar-diplomats have been replaced by genetic engineers and military strategists. " (Ranjit Hoskote, Transfigurations at the Margin of Blur: Recent Paintings by TV Santhosh, Exhibition Catalogue, The Guild Art Gallery, Mumbai, 2003, unpaginated)
A story within a story, this work is imbedded with several layers of meaning. With his interpretation of Holbein's painting, Santhosh creates his own meanings and plays with the socially constructed codes of recognition. The objects assembled reflect the broader intellectual scope of knowledge and scientific mode of thought spanning from the sixteenth century to the present, culminating with Dolly. The cloned sheep forces us viscerally to confront the extreme boundaries of the intellect and challenges an individual's claim to uniqueness.
The placement of the grave-digger's shovel, the skull, and Dolly in the same picture plane creates further tension between life, death, immortality and knowledge. In conversation with the artist, Santhosh explains that the skull is an anamorphic image and cannot be identified unless seen from a particular angle. He compares this potential for distortion with the multi-faceted manifestations of knowledge and science. The artist further adds that the choice of a sepia tone functions to make the painting appear slightly blurry like a still photograph from a history book as opposed to the very sharp and detailed image of Holbein. The dated appearance of this painting creates distance from the present reality and invites the viewer to reflect upon the contemporary conflicts between knowledge and terror.