Madhu Basu 

by Gérard Xuriguera


The quest of the real in art often takes unexpected forms, especially if the object represented draws its inspiration from historic and cultural heritage sources, and which in doing so, gives rise to re-creations of the original object. These re-creations are able to impose themselves on emerging present-day trends. However, here the goal is not to imitate the archaeologist's pursuit of scientific truth but to throw a new light on the timelessness of some of the symbols of daily life.  

And so it is with Madhu Basu. Having abandoned the roughly-handled body positions and figures of his earlier paintings, Madhu has gradually rid himself of his previously schematized characters to explore in depth the theme of familiar objects buried by and reclaimed from time - the pot and the bowl. He has made the humble pottery with full of memoris, the central point of his artistic vocabulary by calling up with exemplary austerity the filigree of its faraway associations. Although he concentrates on the bowl, the bowl is for him not an end in itself but a means of expressing relation to art.

The result is a long and uninterrupted series of paintings of pots, depicted usually in pairs or more, that not only emphasizes man's functional and decorative existence but is also a condensed chronicle of his daily life. Of course, Madhu's pictures are not a servile reproduction of these objects but a representation of how he experiences them inwardly. He does not try to magnify them but only to extract and isolate them from their context without altering their shape or their resemblance to the real thing in order to preserve the first prototype. This attempt at re-creation which replaces the quantitative tyranny of the object by the weight of feeling is characterised by a monkish sobriety that does not however take away the liberty of interpretation in any way. 

If one analyses their Indian origins, one can only conclude that Madhu's paintings must have been long meditated. Succinct and usually grouped in two distinct parts where gap boundaries also form shapes, they are at once a search for the absolute and a call to contemplation in the wake of our mechanical era. 

Resembling large petals that peel off from the speckled tops of their transparent stalks, the pots are sometimes surrounded by a halo of rings. Framed by circles on all sides, the pots reveal their unyielding nature as also their fragility either by alternating thin strips or by wide swathes of monochrome black.

Circular rather than oval, their shape expanded or compressed, the contents of Madhu's pots are opaque with chalky scars. Either empty or half-full, swollen or sunken, usually joined together and set back, the bowls communicate their timeless presence.

Since they are not ethnographic documents but an impartial and well-deliberated pictorial means of communication, Madhu's pots not only celebrate sociable rites rooted in man's collective memory but also stimulate the imagination. Most of all, they are a poetisation of space.

In order to highlight these immemorial icons against their enamelled and mottled backgrounds with scattered stains, Madhu returns to elemental tools such as the line and the contour and more precisely, the permanent elliptic trace left by flowing movements. Such movements vary according to the ratio of the speed and control of the texturial flows. Apart from acrylic / pigment combinations, Madhu also plays upon flashes of light and shadowed counterpoints that magnify the dimensions of his pots. As Pliny the Elder would have it, the discovery of the shadow and that of painting is really the one and the same thing - we see the object only when we become aware of the shadow it casts, and the shadow leads in turn to a re-evaluation of the object.


This art that is so frugal of the means employed, is an illustration of the saying "Less is more" as MIES VAN DER ROHE pointed out. However, even though he briefly travels down the narrow road to minimalism, Madhu never banishes himself from his emotions. Indeed, like his mastery over contrasts and the rigour of his arrangements that the non-colours reinforce on adjoining areas, the touch of emulsion surrounded by small fine lines with misty passages and the deletions and revelations that alternate fluidity with density have a subtly unifying effect on these unusual combinations of antitheses.


Subtracted from the silence of time, Madhu's eternally coherent iconography speaks to the heart and to the mind beyond his austere frames and their bald bareness by connecting the past to the present. 




by Jacques Depauw
by Gérard Xuriguera
by Françoise Monnin

by Christian Noorbergen