Brijesh Upadhyay profile
Trained as a civil engineer and graphic artist, Brijesh Upadhyay’s engagement with contemporary fine arts began with an arduous trial and error method, undertaken in what he describes as a “lonely studio”. An honest Upadhyay does not shy away from these early, sometimes inconsistent self-taught experiments; instead, these large-scale canvasses adorn the walls of his studio and home in Baroda. The warm and vibrant space invites the critic, curator and collector to view the different stages in the evolution of this artist, and assess his oeuvre critically. This space also becomes a reflection of the very nature of Indian contemporary art, which has redefined and embraced the role of the “experimental self-taught artist” whose career and works defy clear-cut categorization in terms of specific genres and schools. Upadhyay’s bold display of his changing artistic trajectories and failed experiments, alongside his most successful works in the studio, hint at the presence of an underlying postmodernist ideology and method. He shares the “crossovers” he has made from canvas to paper, classical subjects to more contemporary issues and the shift from large-scale compositions to dense, small-format works. The critic comes away with impressions of “adventure” and “fluidity” as hallmarks of this meaningfully evolving career; simultaneously, the critic is posed with a challenge, as the many suites of works painted by the artist cannot be anchored in particular genres nor classified stylistically. Paradoxically, these characteristics position Upadhyay as an interesting, emerging contemporary art practitioner. His biography becomes an empirical framework upon which one can anchor his artistic output.
This essay discusses four representative works which have marked significant “crossovers” and “transitions” in Upadhyay’s experiments, and consequently led to the development of new, aesthetic and technical achievements. As suggested earlier, the critical investigation of these works is framed in anecdotes and biographical details, which are excerpts from an interview conducted by this critic. (footnote: The curator-critic interviewed Upadhyay at his studio in Baroda in November 2008).
An early work of Radha and Krishna (early 2007) nonchalantly displayed on the stairway of the artist’s home, bears testimony to Upadhyay’s naïve reinterpretations of renowned artists’ compositions, style and techniques. The contours of the feminine form unabashedly emulate B. Prabha’s style. The employment of flat, ready colours, render the canvas devoid of tonal values, while the lines are confident. One continues to read a sincere beginning in this naivete. Upadhyay admits, “I had no mentor, no guide and no critic to tell me how to start. I had to take inspiration from established works and test my skills in reproduction. This alone could reassure me that I could paint”.
A series of fish and water in paper, begun in late 2007 marks a remarkable departure in palette and technique. Upadhyay creates unique aqua and green colour tones, which are arrived at after painstaking experiments in mixing. He informs the critic of his love for water as a child and adult. Perhaps, this predominant presence of the water element in his routine and play has led to the development of this palette.
In this series, the artist juxtaposes human faces with the fish motif. The artist displays immense technical virtuosity as his brush travels from the periphery of the forms to the centre. The darker outer applications are lightened as they travel inward. This series marks a paradigm shift as the early, flat and heavy brushwork is replaced by a light wash technique which is nuanced with shading and tinting.
Despite the recognition of his strength in small paper works, the artist returned to large-scale canvases in the same year. He was driven by the motif of Lord Ganesha and the mood of celebration evoked in the Lord’s visual imagery, to return to large scale works. Upadhyay informs “I grew up in the heart of the city of Baroda. My neighbourhood had a workshop of artisans who made Ganesha idols. Impressions of that workshop have stayed with me”.
One sees how the artist has successfully employed the Ganesha motif to frame his pictorial narratives which represent the busy streetscapes of Baroda. Utsav is a landmark work in which the artist captures a medley of characters engaged in various activities around a hand-pulled cart which ferries a large idol of Ganesha across the street. A variety of actions and emotions are placed in a loose, spread-out composition, around this focal point. A carefree rickshaw driver, a lady answering her mobile phone and another carrying her infant, all signify the transition of India’s small-towns into sprawling urban centres characterized by crowds and the chaos of busy lives engaged in increasing multi-tasking. This image is resonant of Pankaj Mishra’s amusing tales from a fast-changing India as recorded in the famous novel, Butter Chicken in Ludhiana.
The density of urban sprawl evoked in Mishra’s text, finds visual representation in a miniature version of Utsav, rendered by Upadhyay on paper in 2008. This work signifies the artist’s return to the miniature scale, which aids him to concentrate a teeming mass of characters within a tighter frame. As he paints the Ganesha procession, some of the attendant figures move away from realism; instead, they are rendered in jagged lines. This striking treatment helps the viewer to recognize the figures as the unique “others” in the frame. Mass, volume and chiaroscuro are achieved by treating the smooth colour surfaces with intricate and dark brush strokes. These also create an added layer of texture in the works. The overall fiery red backdrop with an orange glow demonstrates careful mixing, application and layering of colours. One hopes to see more works in red, aqua and earth tones which appear as some of the most outstanding palettes created by Upadhyay.
One sees how Upadhyay’s artistic experiment has found success in addressing the issues of urban sprawl and the transition of small towns in India in miniature paper works, laden with textured brush work and chaotic lines. The critic recognizes this vantage point in the artist’s career, while also waiting to see the next “crossover” which Upadhyay might make in a bid to arrive at a new experiment.
Doctoral Candidate, South Asian Studies Programme, National University of Singapore & Member of Board, International Committee for Exhibitions (ICEE) & Exchange, International Council of Museums (ICOM), UNESCO
Artist : Brijesh Upadhyay
Date of Birth: 10th June 1972.
Marital Status: Married
- Third Year,Diploma in Civil Engineering, M.S. University, Baroda
- Masters in Multimedia, Arena Institute, Baroda
Professional Experience as an Artist:
· Akruti Art Gallery, Baroda
· Huthesingh Art Gallery, CEPT., Ahmedabad
· Racecourse Art Gallery, Rajkot
· Gallery Seven, London
Private and Corporate Collections holding the artist’s works:
· Shri Narendra Modi - Honourable Chief Minister of Gujarat
· His Highness Shri Ranjeetsingh Gaekwad, Baroda
· Swami Adhyatmanandji – Spiritual Guru, Shivanand Ashram, Ahmedabad
· Swami Dayanandji Maharaj - Rajkot
· Mr. Yatin Oza – Senior Advocate, Ahmedabad
· Mr. C.O. Patel – ScientistJade Blue, PVC Tubes, Narayan Jwellers etc.
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