AJI V.N. | Artist Spotlight
Aji V.N. is an artist who I have previously written about, almost ten years ago, so in our recent conversation we discussed his development and in particular the transition from drawing to painting. Aji V.N. trained as a painter in Trivandrum and New Delhi but coming to the Netherlands in 2000 began drawing in earnest and, he explains, he became fascinated with the technical and expressive possibilities of charcoal in particular. It took a mid-career retrospective at the Stedelijk Museum in Scheidam in 2013, to force home the point, that across the three floors of the building and amongst the forty works on display, there was not one single painting present.
The transition back to painting was complicated, and Aji describes the struggle he had to make what he could acknowledge to himself as an interesting work. Painting for him is time consuming with a single work taking potentially six months to produce, being built up slowly using multiple layers of paint thinned with turpentine. Aji describes this as a meditative process of hand eye coordination. He uses an old technique called sfumato, which was pioneered by Leonardo Da Vinci, that involves blurring the lines between elements with subtle gradations of paint to create an atmospheric or smoky effect, hence the name.
Painting for him is time consuming with a single work taking potentially six months to produce, being built up slowly using multiple layers of paint thinned with turpentine.
While the result is ethereal the artist is also concerned with the materiality of the work, for example when using charcoal, he was interested in building a pictorial world from dust, almost in a metaphysical sense, and in one of his recent paintings ‘Untitled’, (2020) the canvas is likewise suffused with a red haze of pigment. Out of this a mountain-scape of bulbous rocks, red silt and clinging trees appears, or as he explains, is coaxed. Is this a Martian landscape in the early stages of terraforming, or earth at an advanced stage of environmental degradation? Aji says that the image should be open to multiple interpretations. For example, he explains, people living in Kerala, might see in it the increasingly frequent landslides brought about by quarrying and road construction in the state, as well as extreme rains made worse by climate change. Others might identify the small figures in the foreground as tribal people driven from their home by the pollution and destruction of forest territories through mineral extraction. Yet others might read it as Shambhala, a hidden, esoteric landscape. Like many of the artist’s works, this painting conveys an atmosphere that hovers between tranquillity and disquiet.
— Grant Watson
Grant Watson is an independent curator based in London. He holds a PhD in Visual Cultures from Goldsmiths College, London. He was Senior Curator at Iniva, London (2010-14), and Curator at MuHKA, Antwerp (2006-10), where he presented the large-scale exhibition “Santhal Family: Positions Around an Indian Sculpture" (2008), which addressed left politics and modernism in India. He was Visiting Curator for documenta 12 in Kassel in 2007, where he researched the participation of contemporary Indian artists in the exhibition. Recent activities include 'bauhaus imaginista' a 3-year research project exploring the transnational character and reception of the Bauhaus with exhibitions and discursive events taking place in Asia, Latin America, Europe and the USA.