Sheetal Gattani on Art in the Present,
Mumbai, Light, Painting Layers, Abstract Art,
the Process of Art deciding the Visual,
and Being at One with Art
The artist's body of work highlights Sheetal Gattani’s art journey and process. Through watercolours and thereafter other mediums, the artist explores the elements that evolve into being at one with art. Her studio is based in Mumbai and her practice has led her to producing art that disassociates from the self and evolves into art deciding the visual. For Gattani, ‘Abstraction is in its deepest sense, based on realism, as in, reality – reality of the present moment, free from any thoughts, memory-conditioning…only that pure present moment existing. So painting is a ‘time-manifested’ process and I become only a means…’
What first drew you to art and what was the catalyst that made you want to become an artist?
Most children I think doodle, and I did too, but soon I was copying pictures from books, which in time developed to making portraits of my friends in school. It was my math’s teacher who, on seeing the thank you card that I made her, actually told me to consider joining an art college. And the rest is history!
How does Mumbai influence and inspire you?
Mumbai is the place I have lived in my whole life and I love it!! Having travelled a fair bit – i can all heartily say, that it is a city that is home. I love the pace and acceptance of this place. It is part of my DNA! It's difficult to say what inspires or influences me because I am a product of this city!
In some of your work, you use several layers of watercolour, creating a worn-out abstract effect that recalls the decaying urban surfaces of Mumbai. How did this process come about and what do the layers mean to you?
Watercolour and black paper was my medium for the first 15-16 years of my practice. Watercolour fits well with my temperament and allows the process of spontaneity and chance that is vital for me. It was very early on, that I realized that white paper or surface made me uncomfortable, almost like it gave me stage fright, whereas black is very welcoming and takes me in.
I enjoy the process of labouring, spending time with my space and materials, hence the layering, but, when one layers watercolours 10-12 times on the paper, it gives way too, leading to it tearing, weathering and so on. This is not designed but it happens and sometimes it doesn’t. It really depends on how much abuse the paper is willing to take that day. The process decides the visual.
It is but natural that we see something and associate it with a familiar known experience , but for me it is not about the decaying urban surfaces, I am simply exploring the square space with concerns of colourlessness and formlessness.
Untitled (19) . by Sheetal Gattani. 1999. Water color on black paper. 11 x 11 in.
Untitled (16) by Sheetal Gattani. 1998. Watercolour on black paper. 11 x 11 in.
Untitled (13) by Sheetal Gattani. 1996. Watercolour on black paper. 11 x 11 in.
You have also created the effect of excavating surfaces: charcoal and dry pastel to add on the surface and measured cut-outs to subtract from the paper’s surface. When did this development come about?
I attented a drawing camp in 2015, where I was given a white paper to work on, not used to this, I felt on unfamiliar territory. I took the easy way out by blacking the surface with charcoal. I then erased the charcoal and started drawing with a blade,, the charcoal would sit on the crevice created by the incision of the blade, I applied the charcoal over the entire surface many times, erased it again and again while drawing on it between the layers, one thing led to another and the process led its way to this body of work. Light has always played an important role in my works, first due to the texture created by the various layering, creating a subtle shadow and now with the current works with paper carving. It would be safe to say that charcoal, dry pastel and light are the mediums in my work.
Untitled (23) by Sheetal Gattani. 2019. Charcoal and dry pastel on archival paper. 14 x 14 in.
Untitled (25) by Sheetal Gattani. 2019. Charcoal and dry pastel on archival paper. 14 x 14 in.
What is it about abstract art that you are drawn to producing, that helps you convey your message in your work? Or do you not perceive your art as abstract, as it just evolves in that way as you work?
It was/is not a decision to produce non-representational works, but the concern has been to be in the present moment and allowing the flow to take over. Narrative or figurative work is somehow for me associated with memory...hence the past, and the idea is to be in the present.
Although you explore the space, rather than colour, what emotions do colours reflect for you?
Colour to me is only an entry point to a work, it could then be any colour and it would give you the same sense of connection and oneness to the work.
Untitled (4) by Sheetal Gattani. 2011. Acrylic on canvas. 36 x 72 in.
Untitled (9) by Sheetal Gattani. 2011. Acrylic on canvas. 72 x 36 in.
You are interested in the notions of time, memory and the subconscious, conveying these in your art, can you share with us a bit more about that and how you bring about these ideas in your work?
Painting is not putting paint on paper. It is a process in which you allow space, light, your medium of working and yourself to become one-where there is no separation, you don’t know where you end and the painting begins.
When one begins working (painting) one is of course carrying many thoughts, conversations, people and so on, along with oneself. Slowly as one connects with the process, they leave, and then slowly even you leave, what remains is the oneness, where everything becomes one. At that magic moment/s, how one responds defines the integrity of the work.
It is in these moments of being submerged in the process, allowing the flow to take over that the best works happen inspite of oneself. Call them moments of subtle accidents if one wills that makes a work “art” not craft.
Untitled (17) by Sheetal Gattani. 1999. Watercolour on black paper. 11 x 11 in.
Untitled (12) by Sheetal Gattani. 1996. Watercolour on black paper. 11 x 11 in.
Pictures courtesy of Aicon Gallery in New York. Images copiright of Aicon Gallery and Sheetal Gattani
Sheetal Gattani (b.1968) completed her Diploma in Art Education (1990) and MFA (1993) from the J. J. School of Art, Mumbai, and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Indian Aesthetics in Mumbai (2002). She has showcased her artworks through extensive participation in a number of solo and group shows. Prominent solo exhibitions include those at Chemould Prescott Road (Mumbai, 2016), Bodhi Art Gallery (Singapore, 2007), Gallery Espace (Delhi, 2007) and with Gallery Sumukha (Chennai & Bangalore, 2008). In 2009 she received an award for excellence from the Raza Foundation and her work has formed of a few major group exhibitions including “Soft Spoken” (NCPA, Mumbai, 2007); “Reduced to Essentials” (with Zarina Hashmi at Bombay Art Gallery, Mumbai, 2007); “Panchatantra” (Kashi Art Gallery, Kochi, 2007); “Anonymously Yours,” organized by Lakeeren Gallery (British Council, Mumbai, 2000); “Festival of Contemporary Art” (with Sohan Qadri at Gallery 7, Mumbai, 1999) and “50 Years of Independence” (NGMA, Mumbai, 1997). Sheetal Gattani lives and works in Mumbai.