Updated: February 27, 2019 12:36:35 pm
A murder mystery opened the door for me to do abstract art,” says Atul Dodiya. We’re seated in his spacious studio in Ghatkopar in Mumbai, talking about his latest works, a series of 36 paintings based on Alfred Hitchcock’s 1929 silent film Blackmail. The works were on view at Chemould Prescott Road in Mumbai recently, as part of his exhibition “Seven Minutes to Blackmail”, along with large abstract paintings shaped as artist’s palettes as well as a series of cabinets inspired by the same film.
This is not the first time that the artist, a graduate of the Sir JJ School of Arts in Mumbai, has allowed his love for cinema to play out on his canvas. In the past, Dodiya has referred to films of all types that he has watched and loved, from Frederico Fellini’s 1960 classic La Dolce Vita to the 1993 Hindi potboiler Roop ki Rani Choron ka Raja. However, these works, the 59-year-old artist says, perhaps form the most overt homage he has paid to his well-known passion, particularly for the films of Hitchcock. “I’ve revisited Hitchcock’s films many times over the years,” he says.
These works, Dodiya says, form the most overt homage he has paid to his well-known love for cinema, particularly the films of Hitchcock. “The idea of making these paintings came to me when I watched this film after a long time, two years ago. I was struck by the fact that the most crucial sequence of the film was only seven minutes long. It resonated with me, not only because of how dramatic it is, but also because it takes place in an artist’s studio,” he says.
This important sequence — the culmination of which leads to the blackmail referred to in the title — depicts an artist inviting a young woman into his studio and then attempting to sexually assault her. The woman fights back and ends up accidentally killing him. Dodiya took photos of the key scenes in this sequence and recreated them in a series of 36 paintings that highlighted the drama of the events.
It is in the larger abstract works, however, that Dodiya has allowed himself to explore exactly why this particular sequence in the movie made such an impact on him. “There is this moment when she holds the palette and he shows her how to hold it properly and that got me thinking about what a palette really is. In an artist’s studio, it is basically evidence of the work that has been done. The making of art is a mystery in a sense, but the palette is there as an object of evidence, that reveals some things about how the art was made in the first place. At the end of the day, I always clean my palette, thus erasing all evidence, in a sense, but what if it wasn’t cleaned. Think about all that it could reveal,” he says.
The mess and swirl of colours that are typically found on an artist’s palette also represented to Dodiya, the emotional state of the woman in the film. “Just imagine what must have been going on in her head. She would have felt guilt, fear, a whole mess of emotions,” he says.
More importantly, the palettes — as a format — offered Dodiya, primarily known for his figurative works, a way to approach abstract art, something he had never attempted before, although he had been keen to do so for a long time. This is why the series if of particular personal significance to him. “I started off with a really small palette, but it kept getting bigger, because I found that there was greater freedom in rendering what I needed to,” he explains.
It would seem like the subject of the works — the attempted sexual assault of a woman — are in response to the #MeToo movement that has made an impact on the worlds of Indian media, cinema and art. Dodiya says this is just a coincidence since he began working on the series early in 2017. “A lot of people have asked me the same thing. While #MeToo wasn’t on my mind while making these, I feel like the current climate, in which so many voices are being raised against sexual harassment, adds another layer to the works,” he says.
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