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Rameshwar Broota experiments with a new form | Latest News & Updates at Daily News & Analysis

Most artists have a signature style, or ‘subject’ matter – Raza’s ‘bindus’, for instance, and MF Husain’s thick trokes. It’s what gets them approbation. Rare is the artist who’ll try out something entirely new, especially once he’s tasted success with his current style.

Rameshwar Broota – the painter whom Kito de Boer, Dutch collector of Indian art, described as “one of India’s finest treasures”, and “not simply a good artist…[but] a great artist” in his foreword to a book marking the retrospective exhibition at the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art – is one such rarity. For long Broota’s trademark style was the “scratch” technique – unlike most artists who apply paint to create images, he first layers the canvas with paint and then painstakingly scratches it out for forms to emerge. It’s a style he’s worked on from the 1980s onwards, achieving a wonderfully luminous effect in monochrome. Of course, there’s been an evolution in form – from the humanoid apes of his early paintings in this style, to later bare-bodied males, architectural shapes – only describable as dream- or nightmare-scapes.

But the works at Vadehra Art Gallery’s recent Broota show, Scripted in Time – his first solo in more than four years – signals not just a development, but a clear departure in style and medium. For the first time in his more-than-50-year-long career, Broota has sculpted three-dimensional forms made with epoxy resin painstakingly layered and as laboured as his paintings. Suspended between each layer of the clear, glass-like material are bits of paper, tiny objects, even lines of hieroglyphics that seem to recede into the depths. The  effect is not unlike that of a fossil, with the stamp of time laid bare.

“Two years ago, I was clearing a paper shredder and liked the look of the colourful paper cuttings. They would look so good, I thought, if they were suspended in clear glass,” says Broota. That started off a search for a suitable medium: stable, clear, easy to handle – traits found in epoxy resin. “There are immense possibilities with this medium and I liked working with it,” he adds. So much so that he confesses that this is all he’s been doing for the past two years – “painting vainting to chhoot hi gayi,” he smiles.

Despite the apparent divergence of form and medium,  Broota feels, there is a correspondence between his sculptures and paintings – both have the same artistic preoccupation of making layers visible. “Even in photography” – something the artist has dabbled in since the 2000s – “which I alter on the computer, my work is in layers”. Similarly, for his paintings, scraping allows him to reveal the layers of pigment – lighter tones beneath dark coats above.

There’s also another attraction – that of working with the hands. Unlike many contemporary artists who have assistants, or achieve their effects in a factory, Broota does everything himself inside his studio space at Triveni Kala Sangam in Delhi, where he’s worked as head of the painting department since 1967. “It’s dangerous, even carcinogenic. So I have to wear a mask and keep the exhaust on. But I enjoy working with my hands,” says the 76-year-old artist who reveals that until about a year ago, he even stretched his canvases himself.

“Change,” says Broota, “is an internal need for me. I can’t repeat myself. If someone asks me to make another painting, say in the ‘man series’, which did so well, I can’t do it now. I reached a saturation point with that expression. I must have something new to say.”

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