Bodies in a playhouse. Women and transvestite actors, exalted in the sway and thrust of dance, stoke the chill, raise the erotic, keel into the coils of the circle, the arc, the frenzied curve...steering through conflict.
Continuities of movement are opened out on colour-plane ecology - flower petals, flames. They garner a plentitude of ecstasy. It is all caged in. Movement in the shape of optimism, of a free breeze, beckons even outside this impeccable stage.
Tyeb Mehta has constructed a grand new proscenium, working in his familiar idiom of dynamising a space with the apparitional presences of the figure and the plane; only now they are forms wracked with, pain, skins of fire, defying gravity, buoyant in the wind.
You have seen sea frigates, maybe; banking in the wind, cleaving the thick opaque air, approaching the tumultuous water in great mantles of butter silks...
Clone upon clone of earth mothers, yoked together in a taut, interminable aloneness. Their ancestress was the albatross from who descended prophetesses and queens who bequeathed their daughters with cautionary fables; who taught them dulcet songs of concealed harmony.
Tyeb's new painting. He has called it 'Celebration'. Its movement is fuelled by a suppressed and contradictory energy. It says everything and it says nothing at all except for the composure of a drunken dance, its lurching enervated rhythm.
Tyeb has an instinctual control over the excessive statement. He wants the engagement with the tension of colour and form.
How do you sing, how does one become the dancer?
That condition of mourning that arrested the denizen of the falling figure, that state of peril and captivity that propelled the volumes of his trussed bull, the rickshaw puller and the drummer, is still in existence here. Tyeb has hardly exorcised his rage. He repeatedly spreads it out... thinly... so that it is a fire in the wind life nurturing, not destructive.
You may have seen the dancer sculpting a pattern of emotions. Love, envy and fear are delineated in bodyline, in gesture and in the walk. You see the curve, feel the axis. When she tunes into fear, she does not double up in cringing stance, closing her anatomical lines. She unspools them. She unspools them, exhaling. Fear, an endless stream of thin ribbons; vermicelli around the knees. The body locked in rhythms of quaking. To know fear is to open put, to expand and cloak it in a chilling embrace.
Fear is the key.
It acquires shades of terror and simultaneously, a temperate equilibrium. Easing it off and away from the body is the yoga in the pantomime by Tyeb's yoginis.
A few years ago, when he was painting the flaccid cutouts of Kali, luminous images in Prussian blue, cobalt and ultramarine with a malevolent mahogany hue stirring under the skin-tight layer, fear was the pulse beat in the body, a receptacle of rasas: Adhbhuta, Vibhasta, Bhayanaka, Karuna, Shanta.The lips moved into a grimace, .a howl, a furious moaning.
By the time he came to be painting these fearful mothers, he was able to detach himself from the seductive, violent aura and alchemise them into icons; Shaktis; melodramatic sirens, heralding the cleansing ritual of the carnival; Colossal, luminescent, images of bazaar prints. Lustrous deities, quivering with the potency of reassurance, hovering satellites of the dark night.
Kali the mother procuress of life. Later he made Mahisasurmardini, the Vanquisher and Durga, the Incandescent. They were added to his cabinet of shadow puppets - shuddering creatures, in flat hues created to challenge the restrictions of the canvas and the stage, minus the pause of the drop curtain and the sweet music of interludes. The 'dumb show' snaps into view; a masquerade with the intertwining partnership of dense slab and figure, causing the emotional mayhem to advance endlessly.
These are his painterly terms to parley with a private bedevilment.
A jabbing, cutting edge of the pictorial vocabulary has abided through the thirty years of Tyeb's work; that it is the problematic of engineering and construction that bothers him is imposingly evident; his paintings have a propensity for classical restraint, purity and for the precise harmonies of colour saturation.
Working against tonal patches, he does not hedge between two worlds. Meaning is derived from the contact and conjunction of liquefying pigment without the hint of breathing mergers. It is block against block.
If he began to brighten his palette with cosmographic signs goddesses and a psychotic animism, it was for the sensation of emergent spaces. Now, in the wide lateral spread of the canvas, a wall, he is chasing spatial ambiguity, using the capacity of colour mass to advance and retreat.
Plane extensions are geared to meet the compression, propelled by the top and sides of the mural. The cage that is the frame in 'Celebration' has probably been shattered in Tyeb's mind. For, the dance, the scaffolding of its structure, seems to be at hand, hanging outside in a kind of expectancy that will have the group re-congregate in the emptiness, giving birth to new patterns of orbs and ellipses, softly thudding against the shoulders of the squares.
Disjunctions occur between the rectilinear planes when the demands of slow curves - sometimes manifest, sometimes to be imagined cut and run, halt and vanish into the flesh, piercingly.
The crisp faceting of colour was an earlier device by which he pitched the spaces created by yellow, red, grey as was in the ‘Drummer’ and in the ironic Baconesque 'Play'.
Today the iconic derivation of his forms has a supplementing openness. The woman resembling the peasant-cultivator-labourer, a prototype has been placed in deadpan stances of beaten down melancholia; these dancing banshees have the aristocratic demeanour of divinities; oracles are pronounced in the way the spine curves, the way the arms slice the ether and press it down with the foot. There is an ache to grasp the ground between the draped knee and the pendulous breast, to regain a sense of loss, to restore a sense of being, reaching down for an anchorage to the earth.
In the vascular, placental laying down of colour, Tyeb tests the very limits of a mass of paint; its skin, stretch and elasticity. It plunges across and forwards, tilting in the throes of communicating urgent messages. The play is full of intervention and instruction. The geometry of blue, brown, black and the fugitive red is the crux of the celebratory dance. Tyeb has honed the flat surface as a cushion to absorb the blood and horror of angry flesh. A tactile relief might look forthcoming with his predilection of dealing with encounter, advance and the terror of falling. Unanimated flatness, also a killing field is compulsively given a dimension of survival through geometry. His blueprint suggests volume and void,corporeal wound and the diseased nerve, precisely because it obliteratesevent, story and anecdote.
The meetings, clashes and overhangs are without-clangour, without resonance. The duration of a plane segment is abrupt and incisively proportioned. Sometimes it is menacing for its cut-and-dried pace. A sudden secretive burst; a guilty intervening wedge, a sharp metal sheet rearing and collapsing, wiggles into shape of a new geometry, a new hide-and-seek with the poise of the dancers.
The svelte, trouncing tension of the cadmium yellow realizes a slip and slide away choreography. The collision of space cells is the sounding of a silent alarm, the warning of a depletion of oxygen and the temper of destruction of the civilization we live in.
He has designed a litany, an entreaty with silhouettes for actors, with the grimace of elation for sound, with zipping directions of planes dictating the rocking tilt of his pantomime. His single figure has multiplied itself into a chorus of impersonators, they represent the cruel, the weak, the corrupt and the pure. They congregate on stage, gather themselves together like echoes of grief and laughter; the palms are open in grandiloquent beseeching.
A composition of contradictory shifts builds into a spectacular display of the discipline of painting.
Without relaying an eyewitness account or replicating the experience of a Santhal dance, Tyeb calls for strength, the self-containment of a closely bonded and autonomous unit of life.
A human gathering concentrating in low-key ritual of recitative murmurs; they measure the timing of every step, bend and swerve; a seething mime.
A painting without catharsis, a drama where the performance never ends. A great grieving is constantly being secreted from the wall. Therefore, there is mounting, accumulating hope, a breakaway joy, that fire in the wind that we can never posses, that hypnotizes the seeker, the entranced, stranded at the turning points of 'Celebration'.