Author-Ria Sarkar, For Eikowa
Pune based Madhuri Bhaduri is a well-known Indian contemporary artist whose works are best described as a cocktail of colors, impressions and abstract art. Her distinct style has evolved over a long and substantial artistic career spanning four decades, that kick started with her first solo exhibition in 1986. Her exhibitions have travelled across all the major cities in India and abroad in US, UK, Singapore and Dubai. The experiences of having travelled and lived in many places has helped her to cultivate a unique and expressive language of symbolism that sets her paintings apart from her contemporaries.
Her journey into the art world
Like many, Madhuri did not start out as an artist. Being trained in Badminton since her childhood, along with her father she too cherished a love for the sport and even went so far as to win three national level titles. Apace with Badminton, she pursued a degree in Economics, studied French and took a course in Hotel Management. But it was much later after she completed her Masters of Art in Painting from SNDT, Mumbai, that she took up painting as a career. She was exceptionally good in drawing and painting as a child, and eventually her love for art overpowered her passion for sports.
Now, after almost forty years as a practicing artist Madhuri has slowly carved out her own path and created a style of painting that is uniquely her own. She has experimented with various mediums finally settling on oil painting as her most preferred medium.
In the formative stages of her artistic journey, Madhuri dabbled in figurative art and developed a stylized interpretation of the genre, before she let go of it entirely. She went on to paint landscapes and cityscapes that had an impressionistic feel to them. These works are visually engaging due to their bold color palette and imaginative compositions. Over the years, Madhuri has gone beyond the constraints of genre to inculcate a style of painting that seems to transcend definition. In the absence of narrative, a calm serenity radiates from her works allowing the viewers to let their minds travel across unending colorful skies, the rippling surface of a pond, catch the shimmering rays of sunlight filtering through trees or simply walk down an empty street.
Key themes and concepts
“..I have an uncontrollable urge to create and express myself in some art form”……”anything that lingers and grows in my consciousness becomes the theme of my work…”
Art is a deeply personal experience for Madhuri. Within the confines of her studio where each and every thing is either selected or created by her, the artist lets her imagination take over. Drawing from memories and recollections, she is taken over by the intensity of the process, at times painting for hours on end to achieve the desired effect. It is also her way of channeling the chaos of thoughts, moods and reflections that plague her mind. For her, every work encapsulates a ‘free flow of imagination and emotion’ that is borne out of an artist’s incessant need to discover and create.
In the early eighties, Madhuri made a number of impressionist works inspired by famous impressionists such as Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Klee, among others. Her studies at SNDT involved studying and working with figurative art, which she explored further (after her Masters) in paintings that she made of tribals, nudes and clowns. In particular, her series on Rajasthani tribal women was well received and displayed a commendable grasp over the figurative genre. But she constantly yearned to display her inner expressions more freely and as her struggles in life became more intense, she found her way back to nature and spirituality.
Madhuri’s repertoire is largely centered on the concept of space. Her compositions possess a sense of depth that comes from the intelligent handling of space and form in a two dimensional plane. It is almost as if she directly translates a vision inside her mind onto the canvas, and is able to bring a sense of that inimitable vastness of the subconscious in which dreams and visions take place. For instance, in her Reflections series, the surfaces of the lakes and ponds reflect impressions of the surrounding foliage creating compositional depth as well as hinting towards deeper reflections within the mind. Images depicting tranquil lakes with wild flowers decorating its surface, a far away view of an imaginary city visible in between a haze of color and remnants of dilapidated ruins that exist in a timeless space, Madhuri’s subjects are universally relatable and while they may be deeply personal, their abstract quality characteristically evokes some form of emotion in the viewer.
In the words of famous art critic Pheroza Godrej, “The events across her canvas are intuitive, intense immediate and direct. She depicts her interaction of mind and matter in a dialogue of brush and paint that is warm, vivid and sensual to the eye.”
Along with an intuitive demarcation of space and subject matter, Madhuri’s canvases seem to bleed color. Vibrant reds, yellows and greens replace the usual blue skies in her landscapes creating a visually entrancing color palette that is almost therapeutic. Her treatment of color involves using a variety of shades and hues that complement the mood of the painting itself. In other words, color is not simply a tool but an active element in her works, possessing a tangibility that translates into feeling.
About her works, Madhuri says “My paintings are reflective of what one is thinking and not just what one is seeing”. Her primary motive is to create a pictorial space of multi-layered images and abstract forms that are deeply rooted in nature, but at the same time transcend the arboreal into a realm of magic realism. This carefully constructed illusion is the basic tenet behind all her works and her canvases function as windows into her illusory world, reigning in the viewer through its familiarity and spiritual charm.
Even before her tryst with figurative art in the 1980’s, Madhuri had started painting impressions of lakes and water bodies, flora, fauna and everything that inspired her in nature. In her renewed attempt of the same style, Madhuri produced an entirely new rendition of ‘impressionist’ works.
The Reflection series captures the artist’s diligent exploration of using rain and water as a trope. The intention is not to romanticize rain but to use it as a means of portraying the fleeting, transient and impressionistic quality that it possesses through a wonderful interplay of light and shade. Madhuri’s ‘Reflections’ are reminiscent of French impressionist Claude Monet’s ‘Water Lilies’. But unlike the 19th century artist, her impressions are less definitive in terms of form, and are carefully constructed viewpoints that she has experienced herself. Every angle, every view and detailing has a purpose. In fact, the beauty of Madhuri’s paintings lies in their seemingly effortless charm, which can only be achieved if one has an extensive hold over a subject or genre. Madhuri’s refined aesthetic sense comes across wonderfully in the ethereal beauty of her ‘reflections’.
Renowned art critic Kishore Singh writes, “Attracted towards depictions of light in nature, of pearly dawns and flushed sunsets, Madhuri seems to enjoy the glimpses in her reflections, as reality breaks up in rippled impressions, causing us to look closely at the object of her attention.”
Madhuri’s horizons are idealistic compositions of landscapes that focus on the alluring aspects of life in the city. Little pockets of colors merge together into a kaleidoscope of high rises and buildings in the distance, bathed in washes of reds, blues, greens and oranges that are somewhat unrealistic yet pleasing to the eye. Like her Reflection series, these too are heavily impressionistic. The key feature of this series is a subtle yet identifiable skyline that can be seen in most of the works. It merges together in a spiritual communion of sky and earth as a point of focus, rather than disappearance. The line also works in distributing space in the composition, and one notices how Madhuri expertly incorporates negative space into her works.
Even in this series, Madhuri’s preoccupation with water continues in the background in the form of distant water bodies. The textural variations that she imbues into her works are breathtaking and come across strongly in her landscapes. By using multiple painting tools such as brushes, palette knives, spatula, cloth, etc. Madhuri creates multiple layers and textures in her works that somehow remind us of the complexity of nature itself.
A patchwork of slum-dwellers roofs viewed from above or walking down an empty street surrounded by an array of houses, Madhuri’s rooftop series seem to bring the viewer very close to the subjects, without actually revealing the figures. The interlinked roofs work as an illusory device that leaves the viewer to imagine what may lie beyond them. For her attempt at eliminating the figurative in her works, here is proof that it remains, even if in the form of an absence. Madhuri’s works are never overtly intrusive. They depict a certain viewpoint, and the rest is up to the viewer to gauge from her abstract depictions what they wish to. Therefore, while looking at someone else’s roof from above might have an invasive feel to it, Madhuri does not bring us directly to her subjects, in a way protecting their privacy as much as her own.
Writer Saryu Doshi explains in a recent article, “In her series of rooftops, Madhuri has approached the subject in two ways. In one, she merely creates planes of patches to represent the context; in others, she has literally walked the road, firmly holding the viewer’s hand as she guides him up the street, to the very door of the rooftop that conceals it. What lies beyond is left to our imagination. “
A new series that Madhuri has recently come up with are impressions of temples from various places in India – such as Banaras. These works are abstract yet seem to possess the sanctity of religious devotion that one finds in places of worship. The impressions are quite detailed, as compared to her previous works and one can clearly spot the dome-like superstructure that is a part of Hindu temple architecture. These new works are a slight departure from Madhuri’s usual practice of keeping ambivalent subjects, especially as these are fashioned from real places. But it is still in tune with the spiritualism of art and combines nature, ecology and spirituality in the form of a recognizable and relatable theme.
Branching out to Sculptures: Alchemy
In recent years, Madhuri has found a new medium to experiment with. She discovered a proclivity for crafting scrap metal into utilitarian and decorative objects and has since then created many of these ‘assemblages’, as she likes to call them. After dedicating a majority of her career to her favorite medium – oil on canvas, sculpture has provided her with a refreshing alternative from the two dimensionality of painting. She explains in a recent interview,
“I started loving it as it allowed me to make, break and remake things, which is so Newtonian just like nature. The fact that I get to work in three dimensions also intrigues me. I have always loved to experiment and explore new mediums as it is a good break away from painting.”
Madhuri has created a number of these assemblages, which are essentially tangible representations of thought or narrative created using a combination of found objects, memory, movement and drawing. This is not simply a form but a ‘thing’, which breathes and lives its own existence. She says “It was hard for me to let go off my used brushes, paint tubes with their colored knobs, palette knives, dividers, compasses etc…They had finished their life for all but for me I wanted them to live on.” So she utilized them by breaking them apart and reinventing them into artworks.
As part of the Alchemy series, Madhuri made sculptures of Clowns, returning to an old preoccupation from her initial days as an artist. She says, “I revisited my clown of 1998.. at that time I was experimenting with the human form and its emotional connect with me…The clown’s amazing philosophy of smiling in spite of being sad and trying to entertain everyone around was something I really admired. This attracted me to study it and paint a series for a couple of years..and now once again I wanted to take the clown further through my work.”
Madhuri has come a long way from her early works to the refined impressionistic landscapes that have become her trademark. Her journey marks a process of self-reflection, assimilation and discovery of not just an artist, but also a perfectionist. Her travels and experiences have helped her to visualize innovative dreamscapes and abstract renditions of the world around her. While some might argue that she completely obliterates the squalor of cities and does not dwell on the negative aspects of life, Madhuri feels that her art is meant to be a liberating experience. She herself thrives on the meditative and rejuvenating quality of her paintings and endeavors to achieve a perfect harmony of nature and imagination through her artworks. All she requires from the viewer is a complete surrendering of the senses, so that she may take them on a voyage through the landscapes of her mind.