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Artist of the floating world

In a recent essay, artist and art critic Swatee Kotwal characterised abstractionist action-painter Deviprasad C Rao as an “artist of the floating world.” This was not a literal reference to the almost exclusively figurative Japanese tradition of Ukiyo-e in technique and style, but rather to its general sensibility, where each work is a reflection of contemporary life, encapsulated as a suspended moment in time.

What gives Devi's work its visual appeal are the sensual and childlike properties of his line, executed in an intuitive but controlled version of what Breton called “psychic automatism,” modified by the dynamic physicality of techniques initiated by Jackson Pollack. The subconsciously inspired imagery is infused with an unobtrusively Asian sensibility in the positioning of forms. The figures that can be discerned even in his most abstract works are often evocative of tribal art. Compositionally, the works have a zen-like quality.

Sculptor Anish Kapoor said in a recent interview: “What's interesting about the younger generation is that their forum seems to be global and their engagement seems to be with themselves as artists, rather than with a half-understood concept of what it means to be Indian.” Deviprasad C Rao belongs to this an ascendant international breed of Indian artist.

The exhibition ARTIST OF THE FLOATING WORLD showcases paintings from three series: Beyond Barcelona, Buddha and Prescience—a trifecta of visual delight.

Beyond Barcelona is the result of Rao's trip to that city in 2002 and his submergence in the art and architecture of the region. The stylistic influence the Catalan painters have had on his artistic vision, particularly that of Miró, can be readily perceived. The product is not actually Barcelona, but the memory and feeling of Barcelona as seen through the eyes of the artist, filtered and translated into his own language. Through the use of light shading contrasted with opaque lines, layering of subtle patterns, and color gradations, he brings Barcelona home to India.

Ukiyo-e is sometimes translated as “pictures of the sorrowful world”, an allusion to the pleasure-seeking aspects of daily life as well as the cycles of death and rebirth from which Buddhists seek deliverance. The Buddha series is the expression of Rao's long-time engagement with Eastern spiritualism, especially Tibetan Buddhism. In these works he consciously exhibits more line control, but the resulting sense of ritualism, detachment and transformation is effected through the pathos of shape rather than line.

In the third series, Prescience, a collection of imaginary city and landscapes, we still see an exuberance in the movement of line, but there is also the insinuation of a darker element, the foreshadowing of a world at odds with itself. While in some cases the crowded cityscapes call to mind the coziness of a Hundertwasser habitat, they do not possess Hundertwasser's redemptive quality and convey, by their density and colouring, the damaging effects of industrialisation, pollution and overpopulation.

While Rao's visual lexicon is a constantly evolving hybrid of archetype, popular culture, and prophesy, at the root of his oeuvre lies a discernible ethic: a concern for spirituality and nature, executed with an understated elegance that is at once simple and complicated, through which the ordinary is transformed into the extraordinary.

- Late Margaret Mascarenhas
(Novelist, Columnist & Collector) 

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