Recent Paintings by Amitesh Shrivastava

The first thing we notice about Amitesh Shrivastava’s paintings is that they are, above all, celebrations of painterliness; they are, in Wölfflin’s sense, malerisch. The brushstroke is the formative unit in these works, varying in its handling of paint from a robust impasto to a velvet sleekness. It is no exaggeration to suggest that there is a legitimate Old Master intensity to these compositions, which are sumptuously layered with burnished, palpable browns, greens and blues, and pulse with events. Shrivastava’s personae emerge as apparitions in a world crafted in chiaroscuro from torrents of water and currents of flame, tides of shadow and hypnotic suffusions of afterglow.

Paint is its own emphasis here, its palpability mutating into image without the intervention of the drawn, shaping line. The figures that populate these scenes, which are choreographed in forests or aquatic surroundings – and the surroundings themselves – are not premeditated in drawing or preparatory sketch. Shrivastava renders them directly on the canvas surface in oils. In the artist’s resonant phrase, his figures “claim the space”, expanding their presence and activities to fill the frame. In the topographies invoked here, the land is unstable, vulnerable to the depredations of the elements as well as the greed of humankind; and the horizon is only one among several constantly shifting, menacing wave-fronts.

We feel the thrum of the life force – Tagore’s jibon-debota – in every rock, tree, stream and animal painted into these frames. Shrivastava’s is a fabular imagination – one that delights in, and is nourished by, anecdote and aphorism, folk tale and parable. These stories emerge from the dark, from specific experiences that have struck the artist with epiphanic force, and have remained with him; and from dreams that play through his waking consciousness. Here are scenes lighted in the midst of darkness: villages crafted beneath flyovers, intimate zones within the urbanscape. Here, too, are fisherpeople negotiating the temperamental course of a river. Here is a man riding a giant frog, and elsewhere, shamanic figures engaged in acts of healing, flaying, and cooking. Between land and water, the gnarled roots of forests and the storied walls of settlements, Amitesh Shrivastava narrates and annotates the unpredictable adventure of human life.

[Extract from a forthcoming essay by Ranjit Hoskote]