A stroke of faith

Updated: Jun 19, 2019, 09:07 IST | Snigdha Hasan

A Byculla gallery transforms into a chapel as it brings together works by Milburn Cherian and Paul B, known for their ornate style inspired Christian art

A stroke of faith
Cherian's rendition of the Last Supper

It's intriguing how an art gallery can make you forget it’s one and remind you of a chapel and a less opulent version of the Vatican Museums all at once. But this is perhaps one way of describing the two hours spent at the Nine Fish Art Gallery inside an erstwhile mill compound in Byculla on a Tuesday afternoon. The venue is home to Milburn Cherian and Paul B’s artworks for this week, and it is interestingly the first time that the noted contemporary artists — with very distinct styles tied together by their inspiration from Christian art — are showcasing their works together.

Paul B with the triptych, Emanuel's Tale. PICS/Bipin Kokate
Paul B with the triptych, Emanuel's Tale. PICS/Bipin Kokate

The exhibition, Trilogy, Christian Strains of Divine Art, is a collaboration between the gallery and the art foundation, Dot Line Space. Curated by Gourmoni Das, it features 17 paintings by Cherian and over 25 works of Paul. It’s after six years that Paul, who divides his time between Mumbai and the hills, is exhibiting his works. "That’s how long it takes to create a body of work," he says. And the work speaks for itself.

Gourmoni Das
Gourmoni Das

At the entrance is a panel of three artworks called Easter Monstrance Trilogy. A closer look reveals that it is intricate work on chicken eggs, which Paul cracked open, emptied out, cleaned and glued back together deftly. "It is inspired by church festivals dedicated to a saint, where a relic of the saint in a monstrance is brought out on special days," he informs.

Signs in the Sky by Cherian is the newest addition to Cherian's oeuvre
Signs in the Sky by Cherian is the newest addition to Cherian's oeuvre

It is after you move past the panel that the chapel-like transformation becomes evident. At the centre of the gallery is a huge boat with candles, which were lit on the opening night. With its many metaphors for Christianity, the boat is a fitting addition. Facing each other from across the two ends of the space are the two artists’ works. While Paul’s Virgin & Child is a 24 carat gold leaf, acrylic on canvas set in a carved teak wood sunburst, Cherian’s Signs from the Sky reflects her signature Renaissance-art inspired style, full of such detailing that it reveals a new layer each time you stand before it. The huge 62X40 inch acrylic on canvas is Cherian’s latest addition to her oeuvre.

Milburn Cherian (in black) at the opening of the exhibition
Milburn Cherian (in black) at the opening of the exhibition

A triptych called Emanuel’s Tale in a corridor of sorts that connects the gallery spaces at the front and the back is another example of Paul’s process that treats the artwork and the display in its entirety. A little down the hallway is his series, Songs of Faith, which features artwork on pickle jars. "The series became a metaphor for me for preservation of faith and iconography," Paul shares, referring to how he and Cherian are perhaps the only contemporary artists working in a style inspired by Christian art.

Paul B's The Virgin & Child
Paul B's The Virgin & Child

Inside, Cherian’s stunning rendition of the Last Supper done as a triptych adorns a wall. "It needed a wall of its own," Paul remarks. It’s intriguing that while Paul is self-taught, Cherian began painting as a hobby. "It was at my first Jehangir show, that Adil Jussawalla discovered that I was more of a Christian painter, even though I had never painted a single religious work," she says. Paul, who comes from a family of pastors, is not a Church-goer. "I go to church to see what can be restored," he shares.

Songs of Faith – Easter Lullaby by Paul B
Songs of Faith – Easter Lullaby by Paul B

Das, who designed the display of the works puts the surreal afternoon in perspective. "Imagine these works going up on stark white walls. Art needs to be experienced, not viewed."

Christian art in town

It is the old churches in Mumbai including the St Thomas Cathedral, Afghan Church and the Blessed Sacrament Church where Christian art is well preserved. The Archdiocesan Heritage Museum in Goregaon is worth a visit, too.

Till: June 23, 10.30 am to 7.30 pm
At: The New Great Eastern Mills, Byculla.
Call: 8655042300

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