An entirely self-taught artist, Deviprasad C Rao (fondly known as Devi) quit his job in PR & Marketing some years ago to embark on an artistic adventure. He escaped into a world of his own, a world where picture-making is paramount. Rebelling against conformist ideas of composition and structure, Devi created a language all his own to articulate his world the way he saw it. Through constant doodling, drawing and sketching he evolved his own artistic idiom of form. Lines, dots, squiggles, amorphous shapes – Devi’s creative vocabulary is replete with its own syntax and grammar of forms. He communicates his language through paper, canvas, wire sculpture and even his own body. Devi draws out lines, pulling them across here, finishing them abruptly there, layering them with blotches and flecks. His canvases are sprayed and strewn with dots and daubs of paint. These forms are his characters, script and symbols. These are his alphabet.
Devi’s works over the last decade has shown progress along his aesthetic journey. He has visited various thematic concerns over time and while his primary occupation has been to finesse his own idiom, Devi has helped many others along his journey. An art teacher and founder of the Mango Tree School of Art for young children in the Sunaparanta Centre for the Arts in Goa, Devi has constantly encouraged his students to find the artist within.
His own experiments and experience with form have developed into a signature style. Devi’s initial series, Beyond Barcelona captures the artist’s fascination with the vibrant city – a city where he first came face to face with Gaudi and Miro’s works. Devi was deeply influenced by the Catalan masters and Barcelona became a spur for him to create an authentic artistic response. Large canvases feature Devi’s early experiments with shape and colour to capture the essence of a city he still feels a deep unconscious connection with. Here, the forms are still robust and solid and depict a world of urban modernity.
An interest in introspection and meditation coupled with curiosity about the Tibetan faith, led to the Buddha series. Here, the forms get more ambiguous yet there is more detail and density as well. The artist explores themes of seeker and truth, awareness and faith. His own spiritual quest is mirrored in these abstract works, with hints of figuration. The body, the physical is not all that important, is the apparent realization. It is the inner world that takes centre-stage, a state of formless awareness.
Concurrently, Devi’s creativity is sparked by the everyday and his immediate environment. His earlier preoccupation with the ethereal finds expression in Floating World – a world where there are Cosmic Clusters and weightless forms suspended in space, a world where everything is light and buoyant. Devi’s visual language now evolves to a new maturity. There is plenty of detail and density in line and form. The compositions are intense yet appear to be light and whimsical. The artist is getting lighter and more playful and these flights of fancy truly bring out Devi’s innate child-like and innocent spirit. Devi also tries out brass wire as a medium of expression and the delicate lines and fine poetry of his canvases are reflected in his sculptures as well. Ascend to something higher, seek weightless grace suggest these works. The whole world is at play (or should be) and we should just go with the flow.
The artist’s mischievous brushstrokes find new inspiration in the Transformer series. Inspired by all things mobile and mechanical as well as the Transformer films, Devi takes his spiritual quest one step further. Nothing is what it seems and only change is constant. Robot-like figures are delineated through Devi’s trademark squiggles and scribbles and seem to burst out of their flat coloured backgrounds. The possibilities for transformation are immense – both for these mechanical figures, and by implication, for us human beings.
This curiosity with machines, with technology and the mechanics of discovering the inner workings of things leads the artist to the Construction/Deconstruction series. Inspired by everyday things and daily scenes of life, this series actually found its take-off point in Devi’s neighbourhood, at a time when there was a host of construction and building activity. The artist represents his view of these buildings in a finished/half-finished state through aerial maps of the sites. These abstract representations have more linear defined forms that are solidly attached in some places and seem to drift away in others. It takes time and effort to achieve a full state of being, a complete state of construction. We are, after all, like a building site, a work in progress, trying to take shape.
All along, Devi’s artistic adventure mirrors his spiritual preoccupations. If we have the large canvases of Cosmic Cluster and Construction/Deconstruction on one hand, we have the tiny Minutaie series as well, which are more delicate and patterned. There is a zooming in, a close up of Devi’s imaginary world where he employs his visual language to charming effect. Figuration makes a re-appearance and again there are suggestions and hints, rather than fully defined figures. The Minuataie series is marked by tenderness and a meditative calm.
Devi’s art has taken many forms through the years and found multiple modes of expression. A live installation artist as well, Devi has delved deep into the self to explore or rather discover his true identity. There have been phases in which he focuses more on action painting and Pollock-like artistry but then returns to his meditative musings. Even during his action painting, there is no crazed distortion of form but a very controlled deliberate delineation. Devi rebels against convention and the banality of tradition, yes. But, he does fall back on fine detail, crosshatched strokes and a wealth of spare lines to render his potent eloquent works of art. Authenticity is key. Explore your intuition, find your spontaneity, live your art is the credo he lives by. Through this exhibition titled TAKING FORM, we have seen some of the ways in which he has found expression. If not on canvas and paper, he has found it on himself. Covering himself with his trademark lines and dots, he has transformed himself into a persona with no identity, save that of an artist. Indeed, Devi’s art is him and he is – his art.
- Samira Sheth
Art Critic & Curator