Scripted in Time II

Scripted in Time II
signed, dated, inscribed and titled '.R. BROOTA '95 / R. Broota / N. DELHI / Title - .SCRIPTED IN TIME -(II) / .OIL ON CANVAS / SCRAPED WITH BLADE' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
47 1⁄4 x 66 7⁄8 in. (120 x 169.9 cm.)
Painted in 1995
Acquired directly from the artist, circa late 1990s
Y. Dalmia et al, Indian Contemporary Art Post Independence, New Delhi, 1997, p. 107 (illustrated)
Rameshwar Broota, The Winding Spiral, exhibition catalogue, New Delhi, 1998 (illustrated, unpaginated)
Rameshwar Broota, Recent Paintings, exhibition catalogue, New Delhi, 2001, p. 12 (illustrated)
India: Contemporary Art from Northeastern Private Collections, exhibition catalogue, Rutgers, 2002, p. 37 (illustrated)
Recent Works by Rameshwar Broota, exhibition catalogue, New Delhi, 2004-05, p. 20 (illustrated)
B. Jahan, Abstraction in Indian Painting Post Independence Era, New Delhi, 2008, p. 22 (illustrated)
Counterparts: Recent Paintings by Rameshwar Broota, exhibition catalogue, New Delhi, 2009, p. 66 (illustrated)
R. Karode, Visions of Interiority: Interrogating the Male Body, Rameshwar Broota: A Retrospective (1963-2013), exhibition catalogue, New Delhi, 2015, pp. 142, 231 (illustrated)
The Stare of Destiny, Rameshwar Broota, exhibition catalogue, New Delhi, 2018, p. 26 (illustrated)
New Delhi, Shridharani Gallery, Rameshwar Broota, The Winding Spiral, 10-19 December 1998
Rutgers, Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, India: Contemporary Art from Northeastern Private Collections, 2002

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Lot Essay

Throughout his career, Rameshwar Broota has experimented with the norms of figurative painting, continuously pushing the boundaries of representation and abstraction in an ongoing quest to represent truth on the canvas. His early works were portraits of the urban poor, a reaction to the suffering and inequality he witnessed in 1970s New Delhi. He quickly grew dissatisfied with literal representation, instead developing his famed ‘Ape’ series, in which he satirized the greed of bureaucrats by depicting them as primates. For Broota, the ape was a powerful image that consumed his subconscious, until he had a sudden breakthrough.

“[O]ne day, after a particularly tough struggle with the image, I re-painted the entire canvas with some green paint that was lying around. I was experiencing great inner turmoil when I suddenly picked up a knife and started scraping the paint even though it was still wet. The unplanned exercise was very successful: the ape faded and man as naked being emerged” (Artist statement, Body Mind Soul: Recent Paintings of Rameshwar Broota, Jogen Chowdhury, and Prabhakar Kolte, New Delhi, 2007, unpaginated). Armed with this new technique and subject matter, Broota embarked on his ‘Man’ series. He turned away from local concerns, instead seeking a subject matter beyond his immediate sociopolitical reality. His paintings in this series center the figure of primeval, universal Man. Stripped of clothes, color, and setting, Broota’s Man is free of any geographic or cultural identity, instead becoming a representation of the struggles that afflict all: the unforgiving nature of time and the inevitability of death.

In the mid-1990s, Broota’s work shifted to include the products of human civilization, juxtaposing the disappearing body with elements of architecture and language. In the present lot, Broota considers this relationship between man and his legacy, depicting his protagonist as an anonymous, shadowed figure standing in stark contrast against the silvery whorls of text. Rather than an actual alphabet, these symbols come from an imagined language inspired by hieroglyphs and other ancient writing systems. By creating meaningless text, Broota draws attention to the aesthetics of language, positioning writing as a form of beauty and artistic expression, rather than mere communication. He also evades cultural categorization, instead creating an abstracted reference to the passage of time.

By focusing on the effect of time on the body, Broota’s works challenge the heroism historically associated with the male figure. The artist’s limited palette and straightforward composition force attention to the form of the body, highlighting its strengths and vulnerabilities. As Roobina Karode explains, “Broota migrates gradually into a timeless realm, where form and content remain indissoluble despite being abstracted into signs and symbols. The body, always male, for Broota to ruminate, is now universal substance. The body unframed from any contour vanishes within the debris of its own remains, leaving behind a subtle and tactile surface. The artist takes us back into time, and to the beginning of time” (R. Karode, Visions of Interiority: Interrogating the Male Body, Rameshwar Broota: A Retrospective (1963-2013), Noida, 2015, pp. 124-125).

Ultimately, Broota is a singular artist, one who does not conform to trends or traditions. Scripted in Time II epitomizes his pursuit of truth on the canvas, as he rejects any superfluous imagery or decoration in favor of his perennial subject matter: Man. Broota’s work is philosophical and highly ambiguous. Using characteristic techniques, such as texturing the painted surface by scraping away layers of pigment with a blade, or creating depth using a variegated chirascuoro effect for the background, he gives this work a sense of visceral immediacy, illuminating the artistic, intellectual, and spiritual struggles that underpin his practice.

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