Deepak Shinde’s basic instinct is to celebrate colour. Not in the spirit of an orgy where there is a mindless daubing, smearing and splashing, but rather in the spirit of commemoration: Honoring colour in flesh and in spirit, guiding it, leading it to conquer and to accomplish and bringing it into its own.
More often than not, it is the sheer force of honesty that one encounters in the generous coloration's that he offers: there is a rusticity, a rugged directness that carries with it the charge of spontaneity. No perversely emasculated sophistication's for him. No atrophied effetism in the name of refinement. "My quest is the quest of the purusha" He says.
With a pollockian gusto, the artist attacks the canvas; coats paint with knife, trowel and brush and in the process, secures a remarkable effect: that of the canvas having bathed in the torrid effulgence of the afternoon sun. For the artist then, the act of painting is also the act of arresting the flow of crude power and asserting its rough-hewn, raw innocence.
Relayed through the agency of colour, flattening and patterning it through form and flourish, the artist renders palpable the spice-laced, spiky red language of heat: waves of fire gush and swell against the flat frame of the canvas, breaking into shards of flame and the impression that we are left with is of having witnessed the spectacle of the petals of the agni-pushpa being tousled and crushed against the plain white of the surface.
In Deepak Shinde, the first phase of abstract painting commences from 1971 and continues till 1978. the painter tries to conjure up visions of unmitigated devastation: feathers fallen in the snow, termite-eaten bars of wood leaving against unhinged windows, tongues of fire leaping up to meet the fluff of the clouds. The artist flags off a steeple-chase of pigment-flecks as striplets of white, red and green string each other and criss-cross in various capacities, in the process creating zones of significance. These untitled abstracts bear testimony to the high voltage draw the artist has. Though there are sustained attempts especially in `78 and `79 to try and modulate the passion so evident in the earlier frames, the abiding impact is that of the sheer floridity which remains one of the most important constituents of the painter's idiom.
In 1980 "The green christ" most appropriately heralds the change from abstractionism to figuration and reminds us of frames like "two kids" `72. "Abstractionism had reached a cul-de-sac. And I felt the need for figures as carriers of meaning" says Shinde. Keeping with his temper of being consistently experimental, he tries to devise an art that does justice to his socio-political affiliations. From the 1982 "Grounds men" to the 1984 "coolies" and the dispossessed people in the "shelter" series, he tries to focus his attention as an artist with a conscience, on the dregs of society: the marginalized, the stragglers, the have-nots. Stylistically these frames are remarkable: ghost images of the drooping, world weary figures come across to us in a haze of pigment underscoring their ultimate degradation, formally securing in the process an interesting echo effect of sorts.
Vignettes of encounters with everyday life always pose a challenge, even for consummate artists. Depending on the spin that the artist gives the depiction, the work of art stands salvaged and rises above the slavishly drab description of the commonplace. The "Basketball players", "The Guards", "The Patil series" are all frames of the 80`s that tellingly re-create the ethos of the situations they set to present. "Answering the doorbell" from 1991 is one such special frame that narrates the story of the pangs of sheer anticipation experienced by children when their parents are not at home and at home and the door bell rings.
The predilection for recording men at work continues with Deepak Shinde from the 80’s to the 90’s, whether it is the "Ice-workers" (1991 - 93) the "Tangawallah"(1992) or the "Acrobat at the mallakhamb" (1993 ).The figures now are based in force field of swirlicues that creep up, bathe and almost threaten to swallow up the actors in the scene. A figure is plotted and calibrated through degrees of coloration even as slowly along the way from a delicately pale layering with only slightly resolved shapes, the tempo picks up. The lines grow thicker, the contours get bolder and the colour starts shedding skin: it outgrows its grain and flake and realises its potential. Steadily, the form gets fleshed out and life starts beating in it along its operating axis. The effect is that of submerged shape sharply revealing itself, acknowledging its presence and achieving definition.
This constant questioning of the fixities of composition of the figures in the painting is an interesting device. It holds these figures in a kind of suspense; converting them into zones of animation where the negotiations between ethereality and substantiality are held.
1993 turns out to be an important year in the life of the painter. One finds him turning inwards, traveling through the back allies of his mind, regurgitating old memories: whether it is "The blindfold game" or "The water diviner" (both 1993), it is the artist's attempt at trying to make visual sense of scenes from his past.
Most importantly, it turns out to be the start of another journey. One, where the artist strives to dig deep into himself to come out with meditations on sexuality, among other things. The autobiographical impulse is the impulse to examine one's selves and to establish connections of relevance between them. The paintings now are headed for a different turn: they are allegorical attempts at analyzing the concerns that we first saw emerge in "The Man- Woman series" in 1989.
The elephant becomes a prime motif invested with powers of exposition. From being a "Challenger" to being a "Crusader" to being a "Loser", the elephant runs the whole gamut of the various roles played by man during a lifetime.
Synecdoche becomes the operating trope even as the artist pares and refines his icon into its simplified representations: Trunks, Tusks, Eyes are all gathered loosely over the canvas in a series of dismembered poses, scattered shadows and billowing outlines. The artist tries to reconstruct the myth of the elephant as god by decontextualizing the elements that go into the making of the sum total of the animal. In a lighter vein, the artist also puns on the Elephant jokes.
The Monkey, The Chameleon and The Grasshopper form a phalanx of animals performing a complementary function, giving us a glimpse of a world where nature still rules through the primacy of the instinct. This family of animals serves as a significant emblematic site to interrogate the assumptions of freedom, deception and ensnarement in a Man-made universe.
When one tries to reconstruct the trajectory of the artist, one realises that his leaps from abstraction to figuration to what one might call now a kind of contemplative figuration (Where there is abstraction in equal measure) are the indicators of a restless spirit at work. Here then is the classic case of the artist at the crossroads; and here is art poised at a crucial moment. Having assimilated the finer points of the pragmatics of colour over the years, the artist arrives with his baggage of experience: his art has moulted many times. It has pursued different stars and every time it has arrived at a newer self-realization which has in turn, become the building block of further construction and growth.
After every interval comes a new progression: an indication of the expanding maturity. From 1993 onwards, The artist, immersed himself in himself, has tried to grapple and work through the sign-systems he has got to know on intimate terms. His attempts at sifting through the elements picked up from his various earlier encounters with the canvas and forging them has begun to yield interesting results.
One feels that the artist is on the threshold of evolving a new language. It is in such a truly cherish worthy position that we find him in: in an interregnum of sorts. Incidentally, in fact, the only place where a painter might truly gather grace.
Written by Abhay Sardesai, December, 1996