Even a stranger, meeting Gurudas Shenoy for the first time, is received like an old friend, with much exuberance and warmth. It's the same sense of exultation that makes a Gurudas Shenoy painting what it is, the abundance of colour - the gold and crimson that make up his palette. "The colour is there, you just have to see it," he smiles, at the opening of Impalpable Expressions, his latest solo show, at Galerie De’Arts on M.G. Road.
Tucked away into a corner on the eleventh floor of Barton Centre, the city spread out beneath, the storm raging outside on Friday evening only added to the intensity of the works within. Shenoy looks quite happy, too, "It's raining because that's the only thing that could make this better," he says, brightly. He means it, too. Growing up in Udupi (he calls it South Canara) "with the Arabian Sea on one side and the Western Ghats on the other," as he puts it, Shenoy's earliest inspiration is the natural beauty that surrounded him - "I think artists see, they observe. What sets us apart is the way we see things, the way we grasp them. The earth is so exquisite, the constant play of light, the sounds, the smells...It creates an impression in my mind." he trails off for a moment.
This remark is reminiscent of the master impressionist painter Claude Monet, "I am following Nature without being able to grasp her, I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers." Shenoy had this in abundance, he recalls, with great delight, the many Yakshagana performances he witnessed under the stars, the richness of his surroundings in Karnataka.
Being the son of a legendary artist, G.S. Shenoy, helped too. "My father was a visionary," he says. "I grew up around art and artists, my dad had a lot of visitors and I was immersed in it, surrounded by the art and the conversations," he says. In the late 60s, when Karnataka had its own Progressive moment, spearheaded by a group of senior artists and their proteges, Shenoy (senior) held an exhibition on the pavement outside Bible Society in Bengaluru. "At that time, there was no space for art," he recalls. The indomitable spirit of the artistic movement at that time instilled itself in the young Shenoy, too, growing up in his father's midst.
"My father would never insist that I become an artist too, he simply said to me, 'be happy in your life'. Granted, his early years were spent in his father's shadow, which granted, has its pros and cons. "My own style grew with time and lots of practice!"
His work can go from an impressionist masterpiece to a bold abstract, every painting is fluid, grabbing the viewer in so many ways. It all starts, though, with a drawing. He walks excitedly to a corner of the gallery - to a drawing that now adorns one wall. This was done at the request of gallery owner, Deepa Subramanian. "When the drawing is done, I work on the colour and the composition, on the play of light and the stories it tells."
Shenoy lays a great deal of emphasis on these 'stories', the images that race through his mind when he finds something that inspires him. He travels extensively, this is his way of finding a spot with a beautiful view and settling down to observe - the light dappling through the buildings, the people passing by. "I sit there and imagine all their stories, that's where my painting begins," he says. From there on, it's an inward journey, "I don't know what my work is going to look like until it's done," he says. "It's an internal process."
Growing up in the temple town of Udupi, Shenoy was filled with wonder at what lay immediately around him, from the Yakshagana performances to the multitude of idols. He first arrived in Bengaluru in the 1970s and the city would go on to inspire him too, find a place in 'My City', a series of his urban scapes. In 1990, he became the curator at Husain Sankala in Bengaluru.
Impalpable Expressions is the culmination of a period of transition, both for the artist himself and the curator, Deepa Subramanian, who owns Galerie De’Arts. For Deepa, it marks a return to the city from the United States after nearly two years. For Shenoy, it is the development of a new vocabulary - his new works are all about freedom, of the spontaneity and unpredictability of light playing with the earth. The human mind creates countless impressions, many of which our consciousness is too limited to understand or even hold on to - and it's here, in this space, that Shenoy chooses to work.
"The evident movement in the style is a singular force that has brought about this change," says Deepa. "Light and freedom suddenly seem imperative, which gives him a sense of release and connects with a greater need for a free and direct expression. The structure recedes unapologetically and without mediation, the free form emerges." Only one quality is left intact, she adds - the soul of the artist!...