Last year,on a misty autumn morning in Varanasi,Thomas Henriot arrived at a busy marketplace with a backpack filled with oddly-rolled papers. He placed them asymmetrically on the floor,and replicated what he saw in front of him. With trance-like dedication,he spent the next four days,capturing the landscape with dark ink strokes. As he narrates this story,we cant help but notice a saffron thread on his wrist. I was enamoured by Benares. The people were filled with so much faith,and that kept running through me the entire time. I woke up at dawn,drew for close to 12 hours a day and every stranger who passed me by protected my artwork by only peering casually and making sure I was not disturbed. It changed my life, says Henriot. His exhibition in Delhi Across the Cities captures many such buildings and skylines of Morocco,Lebanon,China,Brazil,New York and Cuba,
Henriot first came across Chinese ink and Japanese rice paper scrolls while he was studying at the Regional Fine Arts Institute,Besancon,France. During an internship in China,he learnt how to use the paper and ink from local artists; it became his permanent choice. During a residency,I saw the Brooklyn skyline,and just rolled out the paper and started drawing. The ground imprint is still there on the artwork,because the paper is so impressionable, says the French artist. We notice that since the paper is only 46 inches wide,he had to club four scrolls together to capture different aspects of the skyline. He exhibits them in an uneven manner,allowing one to guess where the skyline begins and ends.
A church in Cuba,a market place in Morroco,a Gothic architectural building in Havana,the skyline of a Lebanese city,an incomplete drawing of the Harlem Cathedral in New York and a framed drawing of the market place in Varanasi fills the gallery room at Alliance Francaise. The scrolls can go up to 25 metres,and can be rolled in and out on the discretion of the viewer. He also has two unfolded books on display,one of New Yorks skylines and another,of the city of Alexandria,Egypt. The skylines almost hint at a sense of claustrophobia,but the monochromatic beauty of it all comes to the rescue. Spewed splashes of pink make an appearance in some of his paintings. Pink speaks to me because its bright and happy, he beams,black and white gets boring for a lot of people,but they are colours,too,right? He admits that the Jama Masjid in Old Delhi has been stuck in his head,and the next time he comes to Delhi,the scrolls will be out.
Henriot and his partner currently live between Havana and Paris. My partner is an opera singer and I used to learn ballet. Working on the streets of any city can be like choreography,deciding which pose to strike as you draw, he says. Henriot reveals its one of the reasons why he did not feel the need to draw a temple in Varanasi,calling it stereotypical. The whole city is holy. I felt it every second with every stroke of my brush,when I sat by the Ganges and had tea and even while observing the people go about their daily lives in the market area, he says. The exhibition travels to Chennai,Kolkata,Hyderabad and Mumbai until March 2014.
Across the Cities is on display at Gallery Romain Rolland,Alliance Francaise till December 15.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines