July 22nd to October 17th 2014

"Invention in Tradition - II"

  • By Umesh Shah
  • artist
    Umesh Shah

    About Artist Profile

    Growing up in Sarlahi, Umesh observed his grandmother making traditional Mithila art on walls during family functions and festivities. These early moments of watching village women paint their stylized figures and motifs with natural pigments and clay would sow the seeds of an interest in the pictorial.

    These aspirations were, however, cast aside during a surprisingly eventful life that includes being a runaway in Delhi, working at a garment factory, and being a shopkeeper writing stories in his spare time. He would reach the age of 27 bef fore finally deciding to pursue art at Kathmandu University. There, during his search for his own visual style, he began experimenting with Mithila art as a framework. He would carry this with him during his graduate studies at Chattisgarh, India, developing and maturing it fu rther. This would ultimately become the signature style that viewers and collectors today have come to recognize as Umesh Shah. A rising name since 2007, Umesh Shah currently works as a faculty of drawing and painting at Central Department, Tribhuwan Univeristy. He has exhibited his works in Nepal, India and Japan, and participated in workshops and residencies across Nepal and India. His works are in collections in Nepal, India, UK and the USA.

    About Exhibition

    Park Gallery presents second quarterly exhibition Invention in Tradition II by Umesh Shah, known for weaving his Maithili heritage into his paintings. His early works were representations of everyday scenes in a Mithila inspired style, whereas of late, they’ve begun to take on a much more symbolic and folkloric spirit.

    For Invention in Tradition II, he showcases thirty pieces, mostly in oil, that speak with a distinct Maithil vocabulary. His works exude the vibrancy of Madhesh life, peppered with a bit of drama, perhaps borrowed from his e enthusiasm for Bollywood films. But this visual dynamism takes place within a controlled palette, rich but not gaudy, and here his skills as a colorist shine through.
    While traditional Mithila work is often peopled by simplified anatomies that are almost child-like in their conception, Umesh Shah’s figures suggest more features of the body, but they do so while under the general schema of Mithila art: Profile faces, geometric emphasis of forms, the use of patterns, and postures that are more diagrammatic than gestural.
    There is a kind of rippling motion across his work, enhanced patterns and texture, and spelt out more literally by the recurring zig-zag lines he uses. Like the wave-forms of sound or the heartbeats represented by an electrocardiogram, it is interesting to see this motif in a work rooted in the life-blood of indigenous culture. The layering of work also holds a similar meaningfulness: the modern layered over the traditional, the mundane layered over the mythological. And much like the pigment itself, both peek out from beneath in places.
    Umesh seeks to be more visually engaged than conceptually, and in this he succeeds through bold execution and spontaneous composition. However, the result does have the quality of story. The images leave the viewer wondering if they are illustrative of fables or epics. One imagines the fish or the sitar or the blindfold to be a symbol. In ‘Local Language’, figures are carrying a luminous fish, and there is something communal about this activity, almost like a celebration. In the similarly coloured ‘Four sisters Dancing’, one can make out the lumbering gait and tapping of buffalo-hooves in the zigzag motif and chequered pattern that carry the eye up and down.
    ‘Freedom’ is very straightforward in its representation, but this is offset by the rather eccentric composition and bo rdering. There is a lightheartedness too: the sun deity from his e arlier works appears again in the somewhat amusingly titled ‘Running at Morning’. Invention in Tradition carries forward a contemporized tradition of the Mithila pictorial, while blending in all of Umesh’s visual quirks. We hope that this exhibition will help inspire emerging artists and viewers ask questions about drawing creativity from their own heritage, and also provide a glimpse into a colourful fable-like world created by Umesh.