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Brooms, mops, a dark horse, and a visceral interpretation of the pandemic year

Often found in a corner, long-handled mops and brooms became salient household features during the lockdown. Taking the unconventional route, artist Aditya Shirke painted large canvases with the quotidian implements. The exhibition titled ‘Unleashing the Dark Horse’ features four pieces in an artistic collaboration with alternative maker’s space, the Karkhana, designed and owned by Studio Mars.

Through the experimental paintings, Shirke visualised and interpreted the year gone-by and the one that has begun. He explained that akin to a dark horse — which is less likely to be noticed in a match, but can emerge victorious — the year, too, is going to be a game-changer. He decided to end it with a celebratory and creative outburst.

“The past year has been dark for us all and flipping it to a dark horse, symbolises that maybe it is a contender that will lead us into a better future. We tried to then push the limits of the experiment forward and it is then that I thought to incorporate household implements like brooms and mops, instead of conventional paint brushes. They are not artistic instruments. They are crude for painting and they bring out the most instinctive and visceral of marks and strokes,” he said.

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Shirke said he approached the experiment with a clean slate and in the initial stage just gauged how the tools at hand are going to behave, along with the technical aspects like how much pigment they can hold. “It was different from using paint brushes, like the size of the release of the paint, in terms of the scale, magnitude and the weight of the mop. Wherever you hold the mop and where the fulcrum is, it will throw its weight on the other side. Gradually, I gelled this into my advantage to create more forceful strokes as you cannot really be accurate with these instruments. You have to channel the force and energy of the implements.”

Since the strokes were rudimentary, Shirke further drew inspiration from the free strokes often seen among New York expressionist artists and in the Japanese calligraphy paintings, Shodu. Instead of using Japanese ink, however, he decided to go with black acrylic paints. “The ink could not be an ideal choice for a work of such a scale so we went with acrylics and the colour black, so that it has an affinity and kinship with the calligraphic art form from Japan,” he explained.

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Inspired from the traditional Japanese cherry blossom brush paintings is the piece titled ‘Cherry Blossom’ which has calmness and tranquility embedded in each stroke. ‘Airborne’, meanwhile, has a race horse adorning blinders, capturing it mid-gallop when it gains momentum and its body lifts from the ground. The paintings, instead of being hung on walls, have been suspended at the venue to complete its “ethereal feel”.

Shirke completed the works in two days. “I found painting with brooms and mops quite liberating and interesting. I would like to pursue it and see where it takes me. This was a release of energy as most of the artists were relegated to the studios and the whole exercise was a cathartic experience. It has been exhilarating and liberating. The marks and strokes on the canvas have a tendency to encode visually, the process and energy I had when I was making it. People have been able to decode and see the visceral energy in the static marks.”Shobhna Hadap, founder and creative director of Studio Mars, emphasised that there is a need to have such experimental spaces for artists to push themselves out of their comfort zones. She also said apart from “colouring outside the lines”, and the whole concept of the art collaboration with artists, it is interesting to know the technique which is intriguing.

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“What people generally see is the masterpiece in the end, but the documentation of the entire process and the challenges endured… The idea is to show the entire process and experimentation that goes behind an artist’s work. We received a phenomenal response, so much so that we extended the show for a week until January 16,” she said.

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