In the waning years of the twentieth century, when instantaneous visual communication has gifted or cursed us with an avalanche of images from every corner of the world, it is often misleading to speak of an artist’s work as characteristically French or American or German, Japanese or Chinese or Indian — when it is better considered as arising from the worldwide merging of cultures and peoples.
National characteristics remain, of course, and in the case of Anil Revri we encounter the richly nuanced art of an artist who was born in India, whose taproots are in that specific and tangible part of the world, and who draws primary inspiration from that remembered and often visited landscape. The vivid cultural particularities of India are also of great importance to him. Thus, it is significant that his mother was an accomplished classical dancer. In the global context he has also been drawn to the music of Mozart and Bach. Music has played a significant role in the development of his creative personality. So has Western literature, notably Dante’s Inferno, whose imagery influenced a group of predominantly black paintings.
Anil Revri was born in New Delhi and has received one-man exhibitions there and in Bombay and Calcutta. Since completing his early art studies he has had solo exhibitions abroad in France, Britain, the Netherlands and the United States. He began drawing when he was three and as a young man developed an elaborate and intense graphic style which stands in distinct counterpoint to his paintings. These drawings are “Tantric,” reflecting the esoteric and erotic Indian cult of ecstacy and an ideal of cosmic sexuality. Yet while Tantra is sensual, it is not worldly; it is structured through meditation. Thus, it seems contradictory to many Westerners, but its universal potential is affirmed by Jung, among other European thinkers. Anil Revri’s Tantric drawings, made with a rapidograph pen, are powerfully meditative, enormously inventive, and quite diverse in style, realism alternating with abstract clarity.
It is in his oil paintings that Revri has realized a blending of cultural traditions, of East and West, that seems uniquely his. In Mughal painting the landscape appeared as garden or as the setting for narrative tales, but even though it was subsidiary it was depicted warmly and realistically by Mughal artists with a pronounced feeling for form and atmosphere. This cultural tradition may have conditioned Revri’s love of the Indian landscape, but his art is informed and literally enlarged by the vast Western nineteenth and twentieth century repertory of meditative landscape paintings and abstract paintings which seem to evoke the landscape, also in a contemplative vein.
The Veiled Doorways series is a departure from his earlier abstract landscapes which have been compared to Rothko’s work of the late 60’s, and to that of his Indian counterpoint, V. S. Gaitonde. These paintings have a vibrancy that is reminiscent of the work of the Latin American op-artist Jesus Maria Soto, and a serenity comparable to the paintings of Agnes Martin. Revri integrates these elements within the format of a rectangular window with multiple perspectives. The result is an overlapping of transparent planes that border on the spiritual There is no narrative here, excepting that of order beneath the restless surface.
Revri says he has “tried to share a state of mind achieved during meditation, in which it is possible to visualize matter as it appears in its most basic form — space particles or Bindu. Though some of these particles appear to float randomly, they have distinct paths and perform specific tasks. The effect is very similar to watching ‘snow’ on our television screen. If we stare at it long enough, the lack of any recognizable imagery encourages introspection. One thought leads to another, and pretty soon we are in a reverie.”
For these paintings, Revri uses metallic paint to create a grid consisting of dotted, straight, oblique and curved lines. The result is a vibrant window within a window format with different planes that move in and out of each other depending on the viewer’s position in relation to the painting. At times it is difficult to distinguish the separate planes, but the longer one looks at them, the more one sees. Line and color are used to accentuate surface tension making it harder for the viewer to locate the hidden doorway that leads to the “void.” For Revri this void holds the key to our deepest emotions — love, fear, and desire among them. The paintings merely serve as a platform to help the viewer make the transition between the conscious and unconscious states of mind.
Temple Walls are paper-pulp paintings that mimic surface textures of materials that have been exposed to the elements long enough for a physical transformation to occur. In India, these changes are most evident during the monsoon season. Exterior white-washed walls, tin roofs and outdoor sculptures, blister, rust and decompose under the onslaught of torrential rain and are repaired and painted yearly. This scene set in the context of a temple courtyard serves to heighten the contrast between decaying organic matter and the brightly colored clothes worn by the devotees who come to worship.
Pages from a Manuscriptwith their subdued use of bronze, copper and silver evoke memories of visits to churches, mosques and temples. A combination of calligraphy and geometry creates the illusion of three-dimensional space lending these pieces a sculptural quality, allowing them to become private alters.
The repetition of the word RAM in Devanagri script is used for the purpose of design and does not convey a religious message. He uses this script for two reasons. First, because he can read and write in Hindi. Second, the characters in the word RAM repeat well and create a consistent ratio between positive and negative space. The inscriptions remind one of carvings, bas-relief and inlay work on the walls of religious buildings. In spite of using a Sanskrit script for the inscriptions, his approach seems almost Islamic — creating a geometric design with calligraphy as the basic design motif.
Although his new paintings emphasize perceptual abstraction they do not exclude conceptual examination. On the contrary they are a demonstration of the simultaneity of cause and effect. Attentive looking gradually prepares the eyes and the mind of the viewer to receive and share in the artist’s acuity of perception and feeling. Anil Revri is an established and proven artist, but this recent achievement seems a harbinger of a new stage in his career and an expression of his impressive vision.