On a muggy evening in Delhi earlier this month, French artist Thomas Henriot's works were put up for "one-night stand" (on 6 April) at the Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre. Visitors arrived at the gallery to find an oddly unrolled paper that ran like a runner through the length of the entire gallery. Tall and lanky Henriot walked around the space with feline grace.
Here were riveting images of the artist's residency in Mauritius (Basu Foundation for Arts)--the monochromatic and surreal images revealed a passionate artist who absorbed the landscape he saw. Images of Henriot sitting on the sandy beaches and drawing lush tropicana floated between a suddenly puissant image of a pink wild lily, evocative of the "The Colour of Summer" by Reinaldo Arenas.
Kolkata and Havana have something in common--the people are so kind and loving. In Mumbai, I found aggression.
The images have strategic secrets to tell--of how Henriot placed his rolls of Japanese paper asymmetrically on the beach, and recreated what he saw in strokes of monochromatic splendour Japanese rice paper comes in one standard vertical measure, and Henriot's treatment of it is uncanny and unusual.
His posture and his strong hands reflect the trance-like devotion that translates into his renderings of tropical landscapes in dark ink strokes. In Delhi, the walls at the Habitat are replete with haunting facades of colonial Mumbai as well as studies of tiled roofs and relief features of the hills of Mauritius. For the past six months Henriot has been travelling all over India. He notes, "Kolkata and Havana (one of the several places where he has worked) have something in common--the people are so kind and loving. In Mumbai, I found aggression. "
Inked wild lilies
When asked about the use of ink and paper as his preferred medium, Henriot states: "I first came across Chinese ink and Japanese rice paper scrolls while I was studying at the Regional Fine Arts Institute, Besançon, France. Later on, during an internship in China, I learnt how to use the paper and ink from local artists and it became my permanent choice."
During an internship in China, I learnt how to use the paper and ink from local artists and it became my permanent choice.
The wild lilies look mauve at night and seem to have a smoky tint of folding fervour as they echo the sojourn of sunlight on the petals of perfection. Desire and deception fill the air as you peer closer into the flowers that are steeped in symbolism. Few artists work on ink and paper, but Henriot's oeuvre is fashioned by this antique pairing.
Japanese rice paper
The long strips of Japanese rice paper seem to create diaphanous walkways, fragile but tangible between the places Henriot visits. When you look at the symbolic and poetic architectural details of the temples, the arches and niches of Gothic architecture you know that he has a deep understanding of the present historical moment.
Curiosity crackles when you look closely. Henriot smiles, "Designs in buildings always deliver messages. I use the lines as well as the black ink to create areas of spongy grey, to deploy the spaces I see. For me, windows are messengers--they give me very acute sensations, and I look at them like snapshots, born intuitions coming out of the contours..It's good because every window I paint I am wondering. I try not to know anything about a place when I start, I want the knowledge to come through the painting. It's almost like a meditation. I sit for many hours drawing. I feel drawing is my duty."
Designs in buildings always deliver messages. I use the lines as well as the black ink to create areas of spongy grey, to deploy the spaces I see.
Doesn't the size of the Japanese paper become a limitation? "I like it that I cannot always know the size of the paper and not all the panels match exactly," he explains. The best part is that he does his drawings in fragments--long fragments that become one whole.
Ink and rice paper are long-lasting media. Placing Japanese rice paper on surfaces, he rubs an inked brush over to get various textures through. "I always use a brush, never a pencil, ink becomes the paper."
"For me, art is a link and a language to create contact with unknown spectators who witness the elaboration of my works, it's meditation for me," he reiterates. Henriot revels in juxtapositions--in figurative motifs, landscapes, architecture, characters, the rubbing of real elements at his disposal around him. The lithe fluidity, its continuity, the magnitude of depth gives an originality to all these nomadic documentaries.
I sit for many hours drawing. I feel drawing is my duty.
You walk away with an album of memories but also a realization of a choreographed performance in an urban setting. We see emerging horizons invisible to our eyes revealed by the lines snaking into the paper sheets. We also understand the balance of beauty that a once-upon-a time ballet dancer can bring to his drawings after becoming an intrepid traveller.
Thomas Henriot's show "The Colour Of Summer" opens on 29 April at Nine Fish Gallery in Mumbai.
Thomas Henriot studied at L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts de Besançon and lives and works between New York, Rio de Janeiro, Havana, Varanasi.
All images have been provided by Basu Foundation for Arts.
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