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A Child, the Youth, now Man

A Child, the Youth, now Man
signed, dated, inscribed and titled 'R. Broota. 2003 / RAMESHWAR BROOTA - NEW DELHI / OIL ON CANVAS-SCRAPED- WITH BLADE / A CHILD, THE YOUTH, NOW MAN' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
70 x 70 in. (177.8 x 177.8 cm.)
Painted in 2003
Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi
Private Collection, Mumbai
Saffronart, 26 March 2019, lot 31
Acquired from the above by the present owner
E. Datta, Rameshwar Broota, New Delhi, 2004, p. 6 (illustrated)
R. Karode, Visions of Interiority: Interrogating the Male Body, Rameshwar Broota: A Retrospective (1963-2013), exhibition catalogue, New Delhi, 2015, pp. 161, 232 (illustrated)
New Delhi, Triveni Kala Sangam, Rameshwar Broota, 7-17 December, 2004
Mumbai, National Gallery of Modern Art, Rameshwar Broota, 4-12 January, 2005

Brought to you by

Nishad Avari
Nishad Avari Specialist, Head of Department

Lot Essay

Rameshwar Broota’s paintings bear the physical scars of his innovative and labor-intensive creative process. Using a razor, Broota scrapes and works the layered surfaces of his canvases to create texture and exquisite relief-like details. Through this process, Broota blurs the definitions of painting and sculpture, becoming part artist, part archaeologist, and exhuming his subjects from the medium to reveal them to the world as new discoveries. Terming this “Broota’s excavation of the male figure”, Susan Bean explains, “[...] he developed a method in which he applied many thin coats of paint beginning with silver and including raw sienna, burnt umber, shades of bluish black as well as pure black, and incorporating linseed oil to preserve the suppleness of the surface for the scraping phase” (S. Bean, ‘Midnight’s Children: The Second Generation’, Midnight to the Boom, Painting in India after Independence, New York, 2013, p. 138).

The present lot, painted in 2003 and titled A Child, the Youth, now Man, is bisected horizontally by a hyper-realistic finger, which partially covers a comparatively hazy vertical male torso. The evocative cruciform structure of this composition, possibly alluding to ideas of masculinity, corruption and persecution, also aides the artist in highlighting human vulnerability. There is no face visible here, only an unprotected body. As the artist has explained, “The subject was always the struggle of man. I am quite interested in his structure, his body […] They have no clothes because clothes contextualize man. I don’t want to add any extra meaning to mankind. I don’t show emotion or any kind of facial expression. It is the whole body that speaks and the mystery has to be revealed by a simple posture” (Artist statement, R. Dean & G. Tilotson, eds., Modern Indian Painting, Jane and Kito de Boer Collection, Ahmedabad, 2019, pp. 254, 259).

From this monumental painting, it is clear that Broota has mastered the unique method he invented in the 1980s, using it here to create myriad micro-textures and chiaroscuro effects. The minimalism of the work belies the meticulous and scrupulous process involved in the artist’s careful and economical depiction of the male form. “The painter is by now supreme for his brevity, of statement and also able to grasp the smallest detail with a hawk’s eye [...] Sharp indeed is the edge of his visual designs and quite like those of a honed scimitar. And he dividing and ruling his canvas most like a master strategist, ushers us before what is essential and not a mite more, not a dot in excess in any work […] Each of the portions, in his pictorial configurations, would seem to vibrate in unison, and our viewer's eye does not even for a moment have to wander over the canvas in search of a work’s ostensible purport” (K. Malik, Rameshwar Broota, exhibition catalogue, New Delhi, 2001, p. 4).

Broota’s new method also led to a shift of focus in his work. Moving away from the sociopolitical commentary of his Ape Series, the artist began to use the male figure to raise more profound existential questions. Instead of Broota’s “bulky, overgrown, indolent, and greedy-looking” figures of the Ape Series, in works like the present lot the male form is somewhat emaciated, exposed and meek (R. Karode, Visions of Interiority: Interrogating the Male Body, New Delhi, 2015, p. 41). The imposing scale of these works, and their lack of narrative and color, brings the male form into unavoidable focus, challenging viewers to grapple with the same tough questions that provoke the artist. By playing with scale and cropping, Broota monumentalizes the ordinary, encouraging new interrogations of the familiar. Through his images of the male body and its magnified parts, Broota explores the dark and shadowy anonymity that society imposes on the contemporary individual, and the insidious violence inherent in this phenomenon.

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