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Colourful masks, hard-edged reality

The series of canvases by Nitin Arun Utge, Maharashtra-based artist, which are on display till July 15 at the Vinyasa Art Gallery, are a commentary on children from all strata of society.

NITIN ARUN Utge, a Maharashtra based artist's works are showcased at Vinyasa Art Gallery till July 15. A young artist in his mid-twenties, his canvases recreate a world in which children are the main players. The bland walls of the gallery come alive as one steps in and the kaleidoscopic rich colours hold the spectators' attention. The stiff and stylised human forms dominate, colluding powerfully with the resonant colours.

His early inspiration came from the veteran Bengali artist Bikash Bhattacharjee, whose social relevant themes apparently influenced the youthful mind of Utge. And in the present series of canvases, this is not far to seek as Utge studies children from all strata of society to make his commentary on them.

In a socially aware world, the proactive role of human rights organisations has underlined the strategy for preventing exploitation of the economically deprived segment of society, particularly in the Third World countries. Despite this, there are pockets within it in which the children remain the target for easy manipulation and exploitation.

What is socially relevant for the artist are his valiant attempts at projecting these street urchins, who happily eek out a subsistence by selling their wares. Two of his large canvases titled `Mask Sellers', painted in acrylics, explicitly reveal the young protagonist at his job, himself wearing a mask to enhance the sale prospects.

Subsumed within this act is the very act of masking their deprived childhood and its related activities of fun and frolic that would eventually bypass them in their existential environment. Pathos and comedy juxtapose to mark their inherent reality from which, apparently, there seems to be no release. Utge perhaps parodies this subjectivity, mediated through the clown character. And the frames of these `Clowns', rendered as small format painting, are a happy blend of liveliness and mock ironical situations.

Apparently, the artist in direct measure communicates his ideas dramatically and forcefully through single figure compositions where the protagonist confronts the spectator with eyeball-to-eyeball contact and with his wares placed in front. Reinforcing and enhancing this compositional device are his colour manipulations that are brilliantly studied and organised. Utge's compositions could be described as figurative hard-edged colour field paintings. The virtuosity of the artist in his simple and focused works comes through his colours applied as flat planes with minimum modelling of tones. A strange orderliness pervades these pictures, creating a sense of foreboding, almost surrealistic in character. The colours resonant to attract and hold attention, deployed with a decorative feel. This is to say that the choice of colours is purely arbitrated to suit the theme or the iconography of his compositions as the instance of fluorescent greens that appear in some canvases. These teenage and adolescent boys who carry on the road side trade of selling coconuts, fruits, flutes, hot cups of tea or young girls as `gajrawalis' or flower sellers are ubiquitous sights, particularly in rural areas or at railway or bus stations.

Utge brings to his paintings, the pedagogy that is Western as well Indian. This is to suggest that all the devices of making a picture with perspective, foreshortening, contrast of values are present, and delineated with command of skill and artistry. The countenances of his children have large wide staring eyes reminiscent of folk art traditions.

In the `Flute Seller" he has dexterously juxtaposed these two dimensions of art making namely, western and Indian. The foreshortened half open window, and the profile of the young girl, partially concealed by the curtain, demonstrate this explicitly. Predominantly linear, his forms have crystal like clarity and this aspect of his works projects itself on to the spectator with force and vehemence. There is no question of looking at his paintings momentarily.

His potent colour organisations engage with the spectator allowing the eye to take in the entire frame investigating every shape, hue or color and its related values. The design content and decorative patterning in Utge's paintings speaks of his Indian inheritance. The thick application of paint creates texture reinforcing the compositional values, particularly in the flower sellers.

The backgrounds of his `Clowns' are interestingly worked out with strong reminiscences of textile designs. In this respect, Utge's oeuvre is diligently calculated in his use of visual language. With confidence, he deploys the primary hues and balances the rhythm of the whole with equanimity.

Nitin Utge works and lives in Pune. He studied at the Abhinav Kala Mahavidyala in Pune and has a Diploma in Art Education. On his young shoulders, he carries success by having won awards from the Art Society of India, Mumbai.

ASHRAFI S. BHAGAT

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