Beyond Barcelona Prelude

 

When Deviprasad C Rao made a trip to Barcelona, few years ago, he could have hardly envisaged then, how this visit would describe his career. All that he saw and experienced affected him deeply, particularly the Catalan modernists Miro, Klee and architect Gaudi. As to be expected in a young painter what followed was a body of works influenced by these painters titled the MINUTIAE SERIES. These works were well received for their freshness and charm and contributed to Devi's career as a painter; and set the tone for the entire series titled BEYOND BARCELONA of drawings and canvas works.

In the first decade of 1900’s modernists drew on the ‘primitive’, ‘the child’, and the ‘insane’ as figures of creative genius unfettered by civilization. At this time the focus on schizophrenia and the publication of ’L’Artchezfous’(1907) and then ‘Artistry of Mentally Ill : A contribution to the Psychology and Psychopathology of Configuration’ (1922) which pursued this line of inquiry was certainly provocative to the Modernists, especially the Catalan group.

At this point it is important to mention that for years Devi has taught art to children, and is confident in its therapeutic benefits to the disabled and mentally challenged. It is equally important to take into consideration his method of working. Devi says he works spontaneously, moving freely around the work, building it up in the process intuitively. In this context, Miro, a painter to whom Devi feels greatly in esthetic debt, speaks of probing the unconscious through automatic drawing and expressing the most primal, prelinguistic urges. Avant-garde poet André Breton too in his famous manifesto insists that psychic automation could indeed issue from brush or pencil and the uncontrolled production of automatic drawings and dribbled, dripped and spattered ’Cheam pictures’.
                       
At first glance Devi’s drawings look child-like. As in children’s works the objects hang independent of one another and are also what can be described as the calligraphy of a tree, leaf, twigs, fence etc. Here too, he is close to the creed of ’Catalanism’ which has lent organic life to the stark geometries of cubism and infused into cubist austerities the playful poetics of Surrealist Symbolism.

The ’line’ for Devi, is of utmost importance. An introduction to Brice Marden spurred him to explore his ‘line’ deligently filling up stacks of sketchbooks. In the recent drawings the line is more assured while maintaining its original impulse. The work has also acquired a certain density lacking in the earlier. Here, the imagery tilts towards the edgy and the urban. High voltage wires, factory funnels, tall buildings, darken skyline - chaotic and crowded. An aircraft flies 9/11 into a skyscraper. What looks like innards of machinery have come to replace open faced flower, seesaws in a children’s park. We are led to examine issues of alienation as he evokes the subjects of the development of military – industrial modernity as a regression to broken functions and disordered drives. A sophisticated refined use of colour also lends to the sense of technology and plastic of this age.

I have referred to Devi as an ’Artist of the Floating World’. And although he retains the allure of Alice in Wonderland and a rabbit going down a hole, in the present drawings one gets the impression of looking through glass of a skyscraper – a bird’s eye view of what looks like the psychogeographical map of the naked city sprawling below.

Swatee Nair

(Artist and Art Critic)
March, 2008