A phenomenon is defined as an occurrence that appears or is perceived. Phenomenology is the study of such appearances, the science of understanding perception. Yet science itself implies an empirical premise: that which is based on observation or experiment, not purely theoretical. So what one has then is the observation of observations, a double-helix of the chicken/egg conundrum, a tree falling in the forest just so that it can make a sound.

Such are the dilemmas and pleasures one encounters when viewing the art of Shobha Broota. The paintings she has been creating for much of the past twenty years challenge perception and require the viewer to consider how the mind processes that which the eyes take in. the works are pure visual stimuli that eschew language and cognition, a switch of sorts to directly activate the link between the optic nerve and the brain. It is as if by standing in front of her paintings we become acutely aware of our own finely tuned physiology and are made to marvel at its everyday operations.

Shobha’s woks are now the mature fruition of a long and conscientious exploration of the process and procedures of creating art. Such exquisite subtlety, which is amply evident in her most recent output, can come only through patience, solitude and persistence.

Shobha’s first solo exhibition, held in New Delhi in 1965, was of realistic portrait paintings, a genre she has never abandoned completely. Subsequent works acquired a more expressionist flavour, leading to a period of abstract printmaking and a fascination with the textures of paper. Shobha can pinpoint 1986 as the year she began “throwing colour”, as she phrases it. With this technique paint is applied to canvas or paper without a brush, atomized pigment is guided towards its final support, enabling an atmospheric effect of vaporization. This technique is ideal for rendering forms and patterns which flow between the states of solid, liquid and gaseous; referring to both the molecular constituency of biological life and the digitized components of information technology. This technique has come to define the artist’s signature style and while opening onto a range of extended exploration.

Persistent attention to her intuitive self has led Shobha to the point where such simple works can speak of profound subjects. On one level, her works appear mathematical in their rigor, constructed of geometric forms and calibrated grids. Engineered to perfection, the works seem more the products of machine than man, so excruciatingly monotonous must be their execution. Simultaneously, the paintings are wholly of the spirit, guided by unseen forces into being, more a meditational vision than anything existing in the real world. One daydreams perhaps that these whispers across canvases were created simply by wind or rain, as dust settles into a pattern on a table or stones are worn smooth in a river.

Discipline of both body and mind would seem to be the connecting link. Shobha is also a practicing musician (first as a vocal artist and today playing the sitar) and she herself admits this may be the most useful metaphor for comprehending her visual art. It is within the complex inter-weavings of tone, rhythm, scale, pitch, melody, beat and repetition, practiced with a militaristic exactitude, that one encounters the greatest possibilities for emotional expression, the precise formula with which to melt the heart. A systematic approach may be the most opportune manner or coaxing a fervent sensibility. This dichotomy between the evidence of emotions and the deductions of the mind, so succinctly rendered in Shobha’s art, encapsulates human nature but also expands into the realms of the social and the political, being the core of continuing strife and conflict in the world too.

One is compelled to return repeatedly to the intricate web of manifold meanings lingering behind these surreptitiously simple facades. The vibratory pitch of the works, achieved through her application technique and astute palettes, is of both the constant background radioactive hum of the universe (which many astronomers believe to be the on-going echo of the big bang) and the miracle of visualisation (be it that of the eyes or the mind, the real or the transcendent). With this, the works hint at their knowledge of the apparent collapse of distinctions between physics and meta-physics now taking place on the theoretical stage of quantum mechanics. Shobha’s works mine various schools of abstract visualization (Op and psychedelic art, Tantra and Zen, Minimalism, Pointillism, Impressionism, Radiology, Optometrics) to present both somethingness and nothingness. These are the concrete axioms proving the perceived reality of Mayavada (the theory from early Upanisadic thought which posits that all which falls outside of the parameters of the one eternal being is by necessity illusionary). Shobha’s art mimics the world of movement and change, the constant renegotiations of fluctuating sensory cognition we call life. On occasion, her paintings can appear so inconceivable that the viewer is forced to interrogate the very nature of representation itself (as in Magritte’s famous dictum “This is not a pipe” attached to the painted image of a pipe).

Yet, in all their hermeneutical prowess, one must not lose sight of the resplendent beauty of Shobha’s paintings. They are, above all, lovingly crafted odes to infinity, idea sonnets, aesthetic investigations. Within many disciplines, the characteristic method of meditation is visualization. The painter acts as a medium, materializing this visualisation so that it can be perceived by others, instigating a process of emanation and reabsorption that moves from the personal to the communal. Shobha’s project accommodates the masterful as well as the naïve, embodying something of the most learned scholar’s acknowledgement that there will always be much more to learn.

New Delhi, September 2006.
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