This is Rotterdam based Aji V.N.'s first solo exhibition in Mumbai. These recent watercolour paintings and charcoal drawings on paper provide an important occasion to assess the work of the artist – born 1968 in Kerala – who so far has shown mainly in Europe.
It is possible that the artist, as an Indian living and working in a context that must be overwhelmingly Dutch-European, creates art that of necessity comes from some inner state of being. Personal estrangement in the cultural sense and the freedom from so called security and community could be a part of it, affording him the contemplative experience that translates on his paper into dream-like, visionary narratives.
Aji's drawings – some driven by line and contour, others by shadow and light – each have a distinct structure, each its own magnetic field. His use of charcoal has the tactile richness of a finely grained, multi-layered surface, the graphite sometimes so intense, so unrelenting as if it were a recording of some endless, existential experience.
His unique artistry includes a place for death. In a large charcoal drawing the artist depicts a full-length skeleton lying in a wilderness of sand and stones, dust and spiky plants. It is depicted with astonishing skill, as an organic part of the landscape. Colour and structure are all of a piece with the sand, the dryness and the prickliness. So we may fail to notice that the apparently barren ground around the bones is in fact teeming with life: it is made up of the contours of a huge diversity of creatures, from birds to crocodiles, from sheep to elephants.
His watercolours deepen or fade with the seasonal cycles. Divisions like a bar of rippling aquamarine water and the geometrical calibration of finely ruled horizon lines refuse to let sky and ground merge. In one nocturnal scene of bathing elephants, the animals lie like small islands in the rapid current, while the moonlight on the swirling eddies of the surface makes them sparkle like crystals. This does not depict a natural phenomenon; rather, a painting of this kind tells us about the secrets that the water holds within it, as if it were a metaphor for the subconscious that can unexpectedly conjure up images, emotions and thoughts – even elephants.