In the bucolic idylls that Yashwant Shirwadkar paints, the landscapes are picture postcard perfect. At first you are taken in by the sheer prettiness of it all. It is lush and luminescent, capturing with impressionistic fervor, nature at its photogenic best. The paintings are ethereal and lovely, swathed in blue-grey mist, his works on Benaras brim with the timeless energy of the Ghats.
This simplicity however, is quite deceptive. The undulating shorefronts and verdant abundance are a ploy to get you into a deeper level of viewing. If you tarry a while, new and unexpected landscapes feather within his canvas and the empty beauty recedes to give way for a more sumptuous fare. The seemingly facile view deepens into keen insights, of places and people and recoups the essence, the subtle flavors and ambience that often escape the ordinary traveler.
It is quite evident that Shirwadkar loves to travel, and is drawn to places of the usual tourist interest, but the similarity with the stereotyped, camcorder-carrying tourist ends there. Shirwadkar is hardly looking at facades; he reacts to the underlying, unspoken subtexts and cross currents that nourish the topography. He responds to the odd quirks, the little whimsical detail, rumours of the past and the myth and lore, all the things that lend a city its character and historical identity. He is the indefatigable traveler, seeking from a place not just its physical offerings of beauty, its monuments or its natural abundance but the inscrutable elements of the mystical, individual truths that each of us seek as voyagers of the cosmos. He works are much more than mere postcards and there is enough to suggest that he is on a much longer journey.
Take an image as familiar as the Ghats at Benaras. We’ve seen these a countless times previously. But when Shirwadkar invites us to view them as he does, a slow enchantment descends upon the scene. In one of these works, an early winter sun rises obliquely above high wall near the Ghats. A vendor appears to prepare for the day, a woman steps down tentatively but what really catches our attention amidst these commonplace images, is the soft luminosity of the winter sun. We are drawn to it, as if we would be to a personal photograph and an indelible memory is created by that small detail. It is in these and similar images that Shirwadkar is able to turn run of the mill, travelogue-like images into works of interest.
In his paintings, the landscape is the centre point of attention. It surges ahead with force and a startling sense of immediacy. Inside the canvas, the past and the present, ideas, people and monuments and nature melt to form such a world where boundaries are seamless. The temple pond and the devout bather converge, the pilgrim and reveler, the tree and the mist, palm shores and boats mingle : it is hard to tell where the borders begin and where they end. But it hardly matters, for it is not any one single facet or the idea in the canvas that it is significant. The landscape is being celebrated in a festival of colour, ebullience and light and each entity within it fetes the other.
The sense of immediacy is hard to miss. He uses the canvas like a lens and his paintings have a photo-journalistic feel, trying to freeze the sights and sounds of an eternity into minutes.
A lot is happening on his canvas. It is usually bustling with activity and we get a feel of the imminent, as if we are about to witness events just about to unfurl upon the canvas. There is none of the tidy order that we expect from a conventional landscape painter.
The inherent paradox in his work, ignites an intriguing kinesis. The imagery is not new; most of them are ‘done to death’ scenes straight out of tourist brochures. But he kindles our curiosity with those unpredictable twists and tales, replete with casual humour to create those romantic and “the fugitive effects” that Monet talked about.
His painterly eye is enhanced by a flair for storytelling, amidst the shimmering turquoise waters, a houseboat glides under leafy green palms and suddenly brightly colored washing hung between two palm trunks waylay your vision. The prosaic spectacle of clothes hung out to dry gives his perfect paradise a deliciously personal feel. You are curious to know more about those who live behind that picture of perfection. They would be ordinary faceless people eking out a living the hard way.
By deconstructing seemingly perfect imagery, taking apart the conventional format of the viewing and reformatting them for us, Shirwadkar makes us take a relook. The choice of places he paints is not an accident, they are views visited and revisited by the hoi polloi, by everybody. He seems to be saying that we all run through life in much the same way. Skimming through clichés, creating and recreating fantasias, we would like to visit briefly but would never want to live in.
By delineating the ideas of beauty and the banal, we keep our sense of splendour alive. We aspire to live briefly in those moments of ephemeral loveliness. Shirwadkar suggests that our response to beautiful things are heightened because our everyday lives are moored to the world of mediocre imagery. Shirwadkar plays with the established notions of beauty, its fragile transience and by interspersing an element of the mundane in it, he plays with our sensibilities.
If lighting is used to enhance emotion and mood, colour in his work is used to navigate a range of meaning. Bright and rich hues are evocative and lustrous. They accentuate the air of celebration that most of his works exude. The short brush strokes and use of the palette knife also add to vim of movement. The canvas is nourished with energy, colour, a sense of fun and joy.
Shirwadkar is not the archetypal traveler. He moves through various landscapes absorbing its energies, enjoying the journey, much more that the destination. He likes to paint his pictures with that twist of the uncharacteristic. By depicting a plastic paradise with just that little bit imperfection his landscapes remain with us. “Nowhere, beloved does any world exist save that within.” Wrote Rilke in the Duino Elegias.
(Manju P Pillai)
G.D.Art ( Drg. & Ptg.) Maharashtra 1977.
1977,78,79,80,82,85,86,87, Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai.
2003,04 India Art Gallery, Pune.
2004 Sarjan Art Gallery, Vadodara.
1993,2004,10 Cache The Art And Crafts Gallery, Mumbai.
2013 'Confluence des Arts' a group show of 100 artists at Gallery Artchill,Amber Fort , jaipur.
Visit to Nepal 1981, W. Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands, France,Luxemburg, Belgium & England 1985, U. S. A. & England 1989, 1990, Malaysia 2008,09 Australia 2007,08,09,10,11 Thiland 2009, Hongkong 2010, Vatican, Italy, Austria, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands France, England 2011
Many Private Collections India & Abroad.
2005 Jaipur – Sponsored by Juneja Art Gallery.
2007 Jaipur – Sponsored by Bhoruka Charitable Trust.
Regular participation in most of the Major Art Exhibition.
and Art activities through India & Abroad
Monsoon Show Sponsored by Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai -1978,81.
Exhibited in Kala Mela, New Delhi -1986
Participation in Sotheby’s Auction in Mumbai-1998 &
Christie’s Auction in Mumbai-01,02.
A Charity Auction organized by Studio S & Gallery.
Art Resource Trust in Pune – 2001.
Jehangir Art Gallery – Golden Jubilee Year Exhibition in Mumbai-2002.
A Charity Auction organized by Grant a Smile Foundation of
India & India Art Gallery in Pune – 2004.
Concern Annual Charity Auction in Mumbai- 2001,02,05,06
Tao Art Gallery Charity Auction in Mumbai- 2006
Vinnyasa Premier Art Gallery Charity Art Auction in Chennai- 2007.
Bhoruka Charitable Trust (Jaipur) organized Auction in New Delhi- 2008.
Maharashtra Government Culture Programme (Saptarang) Mumbai- 2009.
Time And Space Gallery Charity Auction, Millionaire Homes in Bangalore- 2009.