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Soliloquies: Notes from the drawing book – Extended Essay by Georgina Maddox

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A drawing simply is no longer a drawing, no matter how self-sufficient its execution may be. It is a symbol. 
— Paul Klee


Looking for truth, respite and catharsis, artists have often turned to the very primary and graphic   act of putting down lines on paper—by just drawing. Giving vent to the pent up passion inside of them, this form of art is perhaps the most direct way of speaking that an artist can lay recourse to. Arguably drawing, unlike painting and other forms of art, requires less premeditation, it is, in a way, unpretentious, raw and immediate.   

 

In this body of work, artist Sunil Padwal, attempts to unburden some of his angst and frustration towards social tribulations and the apathy felt by many as a result of being relegated to the margins.  For this, he turns to drawing that unlike his larger canvases is intimate, yet striking–almost like a stage whisper.

 

Padwal has approached some of his drawings as one would the act of automatic writing, wherein the lines of the artist have meandered from the austere dictates of strictly delineated forms and taken their own entangled path. These lines then to create forms that have, ‘come into being’ as opposed to them being purposefully created with premeditation.  They are perhaps, fictional forms where the artist has allowed himself to come close to abstraction. The works speak in black and white, but in a role reversal where the background is black and the lines are rendered in white with an isograph pen with white ink.

 

In other instances, the works gain multiple-layers and appear more self-consciously worked upon, even while they strive to maintain the feeling of being spontaneous doodles.  The drawings are actually quite studied in their casualness as they appear to have been torn out of a note book or sketch pad.  However, the drawings have in fact been worked upon, with Pawal’s trademark meticulousness to create textures, burn-marks, sutures, blue paper burnt on the edges to appear like an x-ray and other collage-like effects and processes that enhance the ruggedness of a scientists’ working manual. These make these spontaneous drawings more complex, refined and thought out.

 

In other instances the graphic quality of these works are so meticulous, that they appear almost like miniature paintings, they also bare the exactitude of and likeness to a study of human anatomy that has been a hallmark of Padwal’s earlier work.

 

In its entirety the works emulate the intimate format of a diary, yet they have a certain audience in mind; they possess theatricality and poise, which is why the title of the solo, Soliloquies, is extremely apt. The artists’ internal monologue is externalised and the intent is to share and articulate these quiet thoughts, without grandstanding, or resorting to heavy-handed preaching tone. The works are neither loud nor do they state the obvious. This body of work draws its effectiveness from the fact that it calls you in closer.

 

While writers resort to prose and poetry to ponder these questions, artists speak through the medium of lines on paper. Padwal’s implements for this body of work are paper, an isographic Rotring pen and basic drawing materials, enhanced with water- colour and ink. Some of the works are titled with a font of the now almost defunct typewriter.   

 

Largely these drawings, like most of Padwal’s earlier work, reflect upon the changing face of the metropolis of Mumbai. The constantly morphing sky-line of maximum city has played muse to many an artist, as it has for Padwal in his previous series, Numb, however the scale of the works are an important factor since their miniature size is in direct contrast with the larger-than-life  experience of Bombay/ Mumbai- with its sky scrapers, earth movers, Bollywood hoardings and teaming millions. 
This direct contrast is perhaps an invitation to examine closely what one has often taken for granted.

 

The five part series sets out to examine the genesis, growth of the city and its ramifications on human life. Continuum Chaos, Interpreting,Disclaimer and Analogic are some of the chosen subheadings for this series.

 

Padwal embarked on a similar trajectory of introspection about the city and its growth when he contributed his works for a group exhibition titledForty years of Freedom, and once more when he revisited the idea of urban growth for a similar exhibition titled Sixty years of Freedom. Like in his earlier works Padwal has continued to use the familiar symbol of a male protagonist, whose tonsured head and taut body became the symbol for urban man. However the body comes unravelled in meandering lines and strong anatomy drawings that candidly bare the bones of the protagonist.

 

This body of work is a culmination of his thoughts and feelings about the city, beginning from childhood and going up to his present lifetime. He has used the platform of the drawing book or diary as a chronicler of disquiet, when his immediate surroundings create within him a sense of dystopia. Here there is evidence of ‘progress’ but there is something not quite right with the manner in which this progress and modernisation has taken root in the city.

 

While one craves to be modern and to progress towards a ‘better’ future, stock taking of this so-called betterment is important. Padwal’s work constantly poses the question; must progress come at the expense of the degradation of society and the loss of human values?  In the post-industrial age of machine –versus-man, Padwal does not quote directly from the debate or rhetoric of displacement of migrant mill workers to make way for the glitzy mall; however it alludes to it obliquely where man and machine clash and twist in a dizzying dance of destruction.

 

In another series titled As far as I can see, he has embarked upon skeletal studies of animals and the human anatomy to evoke a metaphor of the quintessential symbol of dispossession. Is man a mute beast that can neither find a voice to protests the gross inequalities that often jump up to hit one in the face in a metropolitan like Mumbai?

 

Within this angst ridden landscape is room for humour and Padwal has dedicated a series to an application on his phone, titled A100 Words that make you Sound Smart. He has used these words, from his phone App, lettered in a font of the now almost defunct typewriter, which survives only in government institutions. The intent is to make the words ironic and tongue-in-cheek. For instance he has used words like Tirade and simply juxtaposed it with an image of a twisted spine. It is a comment on the digital era where words and images can be twisted by powerful members of society to confuse people by the smoke and mirrors of clever wordplay.

 

Finally, Padwal departs from the small format to amplify his comment with an installation titled Digitally Twisted. This installation consists of a huge paper roll, about 36 x 8 feet large, folded over in a manner of an accordion book or a sheet of corrugated paper. While it emulates the human spine it alludes largely to the spine of the city that has come under threat with the degradation of the very fabric of society and its basic human values. The work could also be seen as the spine of a book that in a way ties up the work with the notebook format followed by the artist throughout the show. The works are backlit with a spotlight lending them, once again, the air of theatricality that is so much a part of Padwal’s lexicon in this series. 

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