25 Jul 2019

The Melancholy State of Happiness

Frames of Existence

Rekha Rao’s recent series of paintings ‘The Melancholy State of Happiness’ gravitates towards abstraction - fields of colour delineated by bold lines, discrete pigments and dense textures. Conceptually, her works are anchored around her response to her immediate environment, adopting an observational approach, yet an active witness to the rapidly changing times. In this body of works, her ecological concerns predominate and represent urban issues and challenges, such as those afflicting local water bodies and other prevailing calamitous outcomes. A minimal palette paints an evocative landscape that is at times subdued and subtle, and at other moments, bold and dramatic.

The Melancholy State of Happiness, painting by artist Rekha Rao
Red Rain
Rekha’s artistic journey has been unusual and perhaps even extraordinary, a result of an amalgamation of coincidence, destiny and circumstances. Born in 1947, during the year that India gained independence, she grew up in an artistic and politically charged environment that shaped her art practice to a large extent. In a newly formed nation, artists grappled with notions of identity and with reconciling the past with current global phenomena and trends. Politics, society, tradition and geography were key to charting discourses in the creative fields and influenced Rekha as well.

As a child, from the age of four, Rekha sketched and painted alongside her father, who went through each and every work of hers with immense pride. Hebbar believed that a formal art education would hamper her individuality and creative expression and encouraged her to study Indian History. He continued to mentor her through discussions, debates and regular practice. Reminiscing about her father, Rekha writes, he once said, inspiration from his children, especially Rekha - ‘whose view ceaselessly refreshed my own artistic perspective’.

The Melancholy State of Happiness, painting by artist Rekha Rao
Black Bat
Rekha’s first art exhibition was held at Jehangir Art Gallery in 1969. The foreword to this show was written by Karl Khandalawala, an eminent lawyer and authority on Indian Miniature Paintings, who had also been a mentor to Amrita Sher-Gil. Rekha was married the same year and then travelled to Los Angeles where she lived for two years. Khandalawala was in fact, instrumental in introducing her to the art world in Los Angeles. The experience of living in the United States enriched her understanding of global art, and writings related to feminism, gender and social inequity deepened her world view. This enabled her to revisit, review and reposition her beliefs, theories and principles related to ‘home’ and art.

Childhood memories have often been represented as a kaleidoscope of colours on the canvas, and she elaborates, “Colour has the power to embody and invoke light within each painting.” As a child her father often said that a painting is not a literal exercise where the viewer has to be supplied with a long explanation. “But it is the story of the artist, and whose vocabulary comprises the shapes, surface, texture and colour on the canvas.” Rekha remains a storyteller, weaving colours, textures and motifs into a layered narrative.

The Melancholy State of Happiness, painting by artist Rekha Rao
Drying Clothes
In 2003, she moved to Bangalore and has lived here since. She continues to work actively for issues close to her heart and runs a non-governmental organization Mali for underprivileged women. She is also a Trustee of the K K Hebbar Art Foundation, which supports deserving artists and art projects. 


Excerpted from the catalogue ‘The Melancholy State of Happiness’, recent works by Rekha Rao, written by Nalini S Malaviya.


The exhibition continues till August 4 at Saanchi Art Gallery, Bangalore International Centre, Domlur, Bangalore


All images courtesy the artist


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