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Equus explores the beauty of horses at Saffronart

Imagine an exhibition that helps fire Indian contemporary artists’ love for horses. Saffronart’s Equus is an exhibition that features important works by India’s famous artists exploring the portrayal and symbolism of the horse within  diverse compositions across different mediums.From stalwarts and modern masters Manu and Madhvi Parekh to younger contemporaries Phaneendra Nath Chaturvedi, Natraj Sharma, Ompal Sansanwal, Jagannath Panda, Valay Shende and others  these are works that exemplify the art of the horse. In its myriad moods we get a fascinating  insight into how different artists engage and connect with this beguiling creature through artistic expression.

Phaneendra Nath Chaturvedi’s Chetak

Panoramic and passionate in intonations and inspiration is Phaneendra Nath Chaturvedi’s Chetak. He plays with both allusions and metaphors as he places the dark timbres horse and a scooter on two sides of the frame. The horse brings alive Maharaja Rana Pratap and his beloved horse Chetak.

Phaneendra created this with his love for Indian history in mind. He says: “Indian history is filled with many tales of bravery. In the tales, along with the roar of wars, the courage of kings and the bravery of valiant soldiers, we read as children about the loyalty of horses. The story of Maharana Pratap of Mewar is also one such heroic saga, and his horse Chetak is unforgettable. I also wanted to bring in the scooter image of the period when this was a popular vehicle on the roads even for a family of four. For me Chetak the horse is a symbol of bravery and the beauty of a relationship between a horse and its master. My backdrop of butterflies in the painting belongs to my series over the past 3 years. Within the span of our lives is the fragility and mortality.”

Indigenous breeds in India

Phaneendra’s work extols the narrative of  Chetak as a powerful horse of the Kathiawadi breed. This breed is known for its speed, swiftness and loyalty. Chetak was not only strong but also adept in war skills. Maharana Pratap and Chetak became an eternal pair on the battlefield. This painting presents the unbreakable bond with Maharana Pratap and reminds us of his tragic end when he took his master to safety. It was because of Chetak’s bravery and sacrifice that the battle of Haldighati became a heroic battle for the Mewar army. Chetak’s courage has a unique place in Indian history. He is still considered a symbol of bravery, strength and devotion.

Natraj Sharma’s Vapi horse

Another artist who has created an exhibition of horses as an indigenous breed is  Nataraj Sharma whose Vapi horse belongs to a series he began in 2004. He looks at the creation of a dialogue with the ‘fraught relationship between urbanization, the landscape, and human presence at the interstices of modernity.’

This painting, is an expansive landscape with a solitary,  horse. The Vapi horses in Gujarat are lent out for several purposes. Beautiful elegant creatures of strength and speed and grace, this painting is not only about “technical finesse” and “epic subjects” of the artist’s earlier paintings it is also about the beauty of time past and present. A visit to the remote points of the Gujarat peninsula created optical capabilities for him. Saturated elements have been orchestrated into this resounding composition that startles with simplicity and charged effects of a sky and the setting shades of the sun. Atmosphere creates a conversation about the sentience of animals, as well as Nataraj Sharma’s painterly path.

Madhvi Parekh’s painting

Madhvi Parekh’s reverse painting on acrylic sheet is a beauty to behold. She creates a carnival of characters from folk idioms and her horse is a celebrated symbol of kinship amongst many human faces. Placement and precision of each element is the key to the brilliance of her compositional frame. She creates a horse that belongs to the narrative of fantasy. The manner in which she decorates the horse’s mane with decorous symbols from man and nature create its own corollary. The sun and moon both flank the acrylic sheet to create multiple narratives that sift and sieve through the tapestry of time. The horse’s tail is as enthralling as its head and its expression of sheer energy and grit as it stands on wheels. The juxtaposed little foal on the mare’s body suggests pregnancy and the beauty of continuity of species in the universe.

Madhvi’s horse sculpture

Madhvi’s bronze sculpture is a direct translation of her horse in the painting. We can see that she is not just fascinated by analogies between art and form in folk idioms, she also regards rhythm as the most important element of an art aesthetic and design dynamics. She composes this sculpture  out of a rhythmic layering and explores a bridging of grace and gravitas. This horse on wheels is captured in motion of  a dalliance of dance and density in the materials used to fashion it as an avant garde work of art in bronze.

Manu Parekh’s horse from Guernica

Manu Parekh’s stellar imagery is a surfeit of fragmented horse forms in his work that has a rich literary and art history connotation.Who killed Horse of Guernica from my town, is a robust rendering of colours and contours.

Manu peels back the pages from the powerful and iconic artwork created by Pablo Picasso in 1937. Art history says the painting was created in response to the bombing of the Basque town of Guernica by German and Italian warplanes during the Spanish civil war.

Manu creates a striking example of his own distinctive style, and creates a charming characterization of sharp angles, distorted forms, and bold colour  contrasts. He divides his work  into several different sections, each containing various symbolic elements that convey the horrors of war and the sheer sadness of the horse that is in agony.

Each fragment of horse’s body head and hoofs are powerful symbols of the suffering and brutality of war. It speaks of yesterday and today. Within the fragments Manu tells us that we have not changed. Only our lifestyles have changed as we witness war in so many parts of the world today. Manu’s handling of the narrative and the composition both create a stirring signature of chaos and destruction and the cruelty of man and nations.

Ompal Sansanwal’s horse heads

Ompal Sansanwal creates his horse head as a portrait born of the branches of trees. This image tells us of his realist roots and his experimentation with modernism as he creates a metaphor of the secrets of Darwinian delight in the horse that stands in the shades of silent epochs. In his horse’s head he captures the soul of the animal.

Ompal uses the density of a tree’s branches as the tresses, as the subject and fashions it into the horse. In this image created against a flat surface of a limpid blue  the scene deepens into the distance, as the horse’s head makes us think of verdant trees and  branches rustling in the wind to create a compelling sense of isolation  amidst a rich atmosphere. On the other hand, this painting exudes more brightness with canvas as the choice of material to create  portraits that are  more closely connected with the horse head forming an upright layout that favours grace and calmness .

In terms of painting methods, Ompal pursues extreme intricacy, restraining his use of monochromatic colour and lines by using mostly short strokes and heavier ones in pen and ink and acrylic to create a sensation of textures. Ompal’s use of contours and the spirit of the work creates an interpretation of works by ancient masters years ago that demonstrated a singular pursuit to “learn from the past but not to be constrained by the past” in order to create in the present. Equus at Saffronart Mumbai and Delhi is a treat for equine lovers and horse riders. It runs till July 18th 2024.

Images: Saffronart 



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Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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