Etched in the heart of Colaba
An art gallery at Arthur Bunder Road makes space for a press inspired by Raja Ravi Varma's lithographic printing to have artists explore printmaking as a community
Barring the ivory white walls of the first floor space of art gallery Chatterjee & Lal (C&L) in Colaba, there is nothing quite gallery-like about it on a Wednesday afternoon. For, for the first 10 days of August, C&L has transformed into a makeshift press, one that gallery founders Mortimer Chatterjee and Tara Lal have christened The Arthur Bunder Press. A hand-made etching press, rollers, chemicals and paper-soaking trays make up the inking and printing section, while the front half of the gallery is bustling with artists immersed in filing acrylic sheets, etching them, or attaching metal plates to them.
With mise en scène that blends the aesthetics of an erstwhile press, an artist's studio and a gallery, C&L is hosting a workshop facilitated by Prati, an atelier based in Bengaluru for artists to practise and experiment with printmaking. Only a few among the 11 participating artists from Mumbai, Goa, Pune, Bengaluru and New Zealand have a background in printmaking — something Prati co-founder and master printmaker Jayasimha C is helping them with. But with their diverse art practices, what's on display on the temporary softboards in the gallery is an array of techniques, where every artist has embraced printmaking with his/her own stamp.
Jayasimha Chandrashekar explains the workings of the etching press. Pics/Atul Kamble
Madhao Imartey works on an acrylic sheet
Visitors to the gallery during the workshop — as part of the Art Night Thursday initiative, and otherwise — will be able to watch artists at work. "Normally, in a gallery space, what you see is the final outcome, not the actual studio practice. So, for us, it's interesting to turn that inside out and to have that studio practice on display for people to come and see," Chatterjee explains.
Further explaining the genesis of the collaboration, he tells us that the name, Arthur Bunder Press, comes from the Raja Ravi Varma Press, a lithographic printing press the celebrated 19th-century artist, started in Ghatkopar in 1893. It was here that prints of Varma's iconic paintings of Hindu gods and goddesses were produced on a large scale. "Artists would be invited to come and collaborate with him. In fact, right through the 20th century, there have been moments where artists have got together to create portfolios, which can then be disseminated to make art more accessible," he says.
Two portfolios carrying one artwork by the participating artists each, in fact, will be the final outcome of this workshop, Jayasimha informs. "As an atelier, we are interested in disseminating printmaking and the idea of self-publishing. The revival of printmaking in the context of the current times where hyper visuals [images on the Internet] have taken over is our key area of work," he explains.
As we speak at the gallery amidst a whirlwind of artistic goings-on, Bengaluru-based artist Amshu Chukki, whose idea it was to have a collaboration between Prati and the gallery, takes out a moment and shares, "We all work in our studios, but when it comes to working together, certain dynamics get established. You share space, ideate together — and a process like printmaking allows that. You can't do anything by yourself."
It only takes a peek into the front area where the artists are at work to understand what he means. Rupali Patil, a trained printmaker from Pune, is filing an acrylic sheet for fellow artist Gagan Singh. Her own art practice is rooted in ecology and the anthropocene. She shows a photograph of a colonial-era house with numbered bricks she spotted in Pune. For her lithographs, she misnumbered the bricks and deconstructed the house to present its components separately. The project also breaks hierarchies, bringing together senior and younger artists.
Gagan Singh, Areez Katki and Minam Apang at work
For, seated next to her is noted painter and art critic Madhao Imartey, who is etching a pylon on an acrylic sheet. "I like printmaking a lot, but somehow, couldn't pursue it after college. It requires patience and precision, and you have to visualise how it will all come together in the end," he says.
Mumbai-based Ratna Gupta, known for her sculptural work, is using the drypoint technique. "We tend to get stuck in our own media. After this workshop, I plan to rip the prints and stitch them back together," she says, referring to how the workshop has added a new dimension to her practice, and summing up the true essence of 11 artists leaving the comfort of their studios to try something new.
TILL August 9, 11 am to 7 pm (Art Night Thursday walkthrough, tonight, 7 pm to 9.30 pm)
AT Kamal Mansion, Arthur Bunder Road, Colaba.
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