'Footboard Rider' takes forward Gieve Patel's decades-long preoccupation with the marginal, vulnerable or extreme figure, taken from the sidelines of society or from unbearable intensities of experience, and set at the centre of his paintings or drawings. The mourner, the ageing woman, the athlete-apostle, the martyr at the stake: each of these figures is clothed in the robust specificity of its social or historical circumstances, yet remains enigmatic. It is never so distant as to be alien to us, yet never so close as to be neutralised by familiarity. Take the protagonist of this exhibition’s title work. The footboard rider inhabits a threshold between the interior of a train and the landscape seen outside its window. Are we inside the train, looking out at him? Or are we outside the train, looking in? Or is this a dream? The construction of the painting subtly disorients our viewerly certainties. Similarly, Patel’s long-term fascination with the moment of looking into a well, and with the passage of clouds, opens us to cosmic intimations. The floating world of the well might be an image of the mind, with thoughts and sensations succeeding one another on its mercurial surface. Or it might point to the millennial cycles of gathering and dispersal through which the universe maps its life cycle. Patel’s clouds, natural ephemera approximated through the drawing, remind us of the interplay between mortality and eternity that defines our earthly transit. Patel's special gift is for taking up an unremarked moment and visiting a transfiguration upon it, and upon us: his gesture invites us to look closely at all that is unexamined in our lives.
Gieve Patel was born in 1940 in Bombay. He held his first solo exhibition in Bombay in 1966. His work has been shown in numerous exhibitions in India and abroad including ’No Parsi is an Island’, National Gallery of Modern Art, Delhi (2016); ’Touched by Bhupen’, Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke, Mumbai (2013); 'The Body Unbound', Rubin Museum of Art, New York (2011); ‘Multiple Modernities: India, 1905-2005’, Philadelphia Museum of Art, USA (2008); and 'Gateway Bombay' Peabody Essex Museum, Mass., USA (2007). Gieve Patel is a recipient of the Rockefeller Fellowship and the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship. He lives and works in Mumbai.