The retrospective on Alphonso Arul Doss’ works currently on display at Art Houz provides a delightful opportunity to explore six decades of the celebrated artist’s work.
The large, sunny gallery in a leafy corner of Kasturi Rangan Road has been entirely given over to more than 60 artworks by Doss in various media, including oil, chalk, watercolour and more.
There is a temporal sequence to the way the works have been organised, so that you can literally see the different phases and styles of art adopted by Doss over the years unfold as you walk through the gallery.
The first hall is devoted mostly to the artist’s sensitive portraits, his earliest works — from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Whatever the medium used, these portraits are uniformly engaging; each one has a quality of intimacy and of authenticity that makes you feel like you’re looking at the face of someone you know, your neighbour perhaps, or your friend, or the old man selling vegetables down the street. Their clothes, their posture, their expressions are remarkable in their very ordinariness. These are real people, and Doss captures their vulnerability, the shadows in their souls, those fears and insecurities we all carry within us. This quality of melancholy travels through time, and is present in all the portraits on display, stretching up until the 1990s.
His abstract figuratives from this period have the same undercurrent of emotionality, speaking of tragedy and fear, or love and sexual intimacy.
We also see the first of his iconic images of Christ, conveying strength, kindness and wisdom. Scattered here and there are the odd still-life, and even a delicate watercolour of Bangalore’s cityscape, dated 1958. These rare pieces make you feel a bit like you’re peeking into the pages of an old, yellowing sketchbook in the artist’s study.
To venture into the second hall is to see a distinct shift in Doss’ artistic vocabulary. This contains works stretching from the 1990s to the present, and is devoted to what has come to be recognised as his signature style of abstract figuratives, filled with scattered patches of colour, a prism-like effect of light and shade, and deep symbolic imagery.
A sense of movement
The ‘Time And Space’ series from the 1990s depicts poses derived from the dancing figure of the Nataraja, and have a wonderful sense of movement and energy. Some of his most recent works —from 2010 to 2012, feature stylised imagery of rural India, and are colourful and pleasing.
Rooted in tradition and folk art, these are all earthy tones of red and yellow, with lively images of the village belle, her ornaments, her mehendi, and the flowers in her hair, and more sombre images of the farmer looking towards the heavens for rain. Also on display are some of his larger canvases, and these are quite breathtaking, the power of the artist’s vision coming to the fore.
All the pieces in the exhibition are originals except for three prints of works from the 1960s. These are strikingly Rembrandt-like (which were auctioned at Osian’s, Mumbai), depicting Christian imagery and Hindu temples alike, pulsing with deep colour and glowing as though lit from within. They are indicative of Doss’ fascination with religion, with light, and above all, of the sheer talent of this internationally acclaimed artist of the Madras Movement.