DHRUVA MISTRY

Bronzes 1985-1990,
introduced by Andrew Wilson,
Nigel Greenwood Gallery, London(68 pages)

 



Studies for DIALECTAL IMAGES, 1990,
(sketchbook detail)


Study for SPATIAL DIAGRAM, 1990


HANUMAN:
A SPATIAL METAPHOR, 1990


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Introduction
Jean-Francois Lyotard in a discussion on Kant's Critique of judgement addresses those feelings that derive from the situation of a recognition of the sublime. These vigorous emotions', among which are enthusiasm, respect, admiration and sorrow, are found to be in this case grounded in moral ideas where the notion of sorrow becomes all-per-vading. By its very nature the sublime cannot be recognised; Burke as well as Kant having put forward the belief that it was with that which was hidden from view but paradoxically made visible that the Sublime could be recognised and so we must realise that the Sublime can only be found through the presentation of the unpresentable. In a manner that holds good both for the artist creating a work, and for the individual beholder, Lyotard emphasises the centrality of sorrow and despair- within this equation in reaching a stage where the Sublime can be located through a sense of tension felt where 'the despair of never being able to present something within reality on the scale of the Idea then overrides the joy of being nonetheless called upon to do so. We are more depressed by the abyss that separates heterogeneous genres of discourse than excited by the possible passage from one to the other.'(2)

It is a tension that can also be sensed through the work of Dhruva Mistry. And yet here the sorrow felt at that abyss is not unutterable it is instead marvellous or, more exactly merveilleuse, where as he told me 'things in nature only exist in their presences. There is the idea of creating such a presence that is so tantalising and so palpable and yet one which you cannot get near to despite being able to really touch it, feel it and see that it is there.'(3) Mistry approaches this situation in a particular manner and the body of his sculptural work to date does not strike me in the same way as that by other sculptors does. It does not have that sense of having just appeared rather it is evolving in what can only be described as a non-linear manner. Mistry is fond of using the metaphor of an artist going on a walk and talking steps down a path, or rather down many paths and in many directions. His work has that varied surface appearance that might be expected from somebody embarking on such a rootless route and who has perspicaciously remarked that 'I think reality exists beyond the objects themselves'.

Despite the varied stylistic shape of his work and the varied approaches he utilises in making sculpture (to him truth to materials is an untruth) his work has a unity of purpose that is startling. His recent wanderings bear this out. These new direct-wax sculptures DIALECTAL IMAGE, twenty-nine in number, encompass his sculptural terms in a pleasingly concise and unbombastic manner. The title here provides a key by both invoking 'dialect' or specific language and 'dialectic' where a feeling for truth is uncovered through a process of logical disputation. The language that Mistry has employed over the last few years is that of the narrative in a formal rather than pictorial sense and is composed from the play of forms among each other, as opposed to the forms as significant in themselves.This emphasis on a rhythmically formal perambulation returns us to his notion of wandering down a number of paths in such a way as to correspond to an Hegelian notion of speculative discourse such that 'truth cannot be expressed in one phrase so it requires several phrases linked together.' (4)

The DLALECTAL IMAGES largely concentrate on two images of the human body which moves between the head and shoulders bust (and yet often carrying the form of the complete body) and the hieratic and totemic fetish; between a comforting and an aggressive image. In their questioning of frontality as much as by their image these are visceral sculptures, where both the inside and the outside perceived in the same moment as the corner's turned. This emphasizes the extent to which we should beware of the seduction of wrapping because reality is often covered and concealed by a facade that is itself a false image. Yet his aim is much more than a recapitulation of what we might immediately understand as his desire to form a mediation between what is real and not-real'. In his terms the Real is more often than not that intangible Presence of the thing rather than the thing itself. Where he talks of 'finding visual equivalents of reality felt: inner and outer' we should realise that this is in the context of a practice that is founded on the ordination of 'a sculpture's concrete presence into an evocative presence where presencewhere there is the idea of creating something that is so tantalising and so palpable and yet on which you cannot get near to despite being able to really touch it, feel it and see that it is there'. If these new sculptures embody characteristics of the archaic and fetishistic environment they are also quietly referential to certain artistic achievements of the inter-war period and especially the sculpture of Gonzalez and Picasso. Such precedents have been felt before in Mistry's sculpture. His REGUARDING GUARDIANS (1985) grew out of a contact with Picasso's Vollard Suite d Minotauromachy. In these prints Picasso was reinventing himself through the invention of a personal set of cultural metaphors and so, to a certain extent, was Mistry with his sculptures and drawings of that period whose images are based on notions of bodily and spiritual transformation - where the winged becomes hoofed or, as with Picasso, the bull becomes human - and which also can become an image for creative and artistic transformation standing itself for something Real through the presence of sculpture.

SPATIAL DIAGRAM (STUDY) shows the extent to which Mistry's attitude to the body acknowledges the example both of Picasso's paintings executed in Dinard, Cannes and Paris between 1927/30 of bathers on the beach, (the so-called 'Bone Women'), as well as of those sculptures that developed out of the painting such as Head of a Woman and Bust of a Woman which were both executed at Boisgeloup in 1932. The extent to which parts of the body such as breasts, arms and legs are exaggeratedly treated by Picasso leads to their assuming a role that is more than simply descriptive in the defining of the human body but itself moves towards the representation of felt experiences found ultimately through the relationship with its formal delivery. Mistry's DIALECTAL IMAGES operate in a similar way, but through an indirect meditation with the sculpture of Julio Gonzalez. Although the techniques and materials are different there are points of contact, predominantly with regard to the question of sculptural image. The denial of frontality in Mistry's sculpture has already been alluded to (a denial that he achieved even through the relief format with his series HANUMAN: A SPATIAL METAPHOR); despite any first impressions these new works require a concentrated viewing from all angles for a complete reading which even then is undermined by the nature of the sculptures' notion of truth and reality. Gonzalez's and Mistry's sculptural statements about the body and existence as well as their use of the mask as a model also have similar overtones over the field of archaic and fetishistic symbol. Mistry has made a great use of sculptural models from a wide range of cultures other than his own and the hybridisation that such an approach lends is yet another facet of his wandering through offering a logic of discontinuity. However, as we have observed his references are largely indirect. There is no 'quoting' or observable appropriation, as his approach has always been to push beyond his playful and marvellous sorrow of creating. Likewise little straightforward displacement of speech takes place, his sculpture is not concerned with a bodily metonomy but nothing less than an attempt to show the Sublime as something Real, tangible and whole. By being open to so many figures of speech he is burying each in turn so that he may find that there is no better figure of speech than the altogether hidden, that which we do not even recognise as a figure of speech.'(5)

Claude Levi-Strauss, in a short essay on the Surrealist painter Max Ernst, writes of his 'work speaking 'countless languages-a discourse always expressed by an unbreakable solidarity between the background chosen and the techniques of execution (which are able to take advantage of every kind of '(6) This would also be applicable to Mistry and accounts for his own disavowal of the tenets of truth to material and the primacy of carving in some people's minds; 'the material has to be the secondary thing. It is the visual impact of an image which is accountable in the end rather than material as truth'. I have already written of the manner in which the idea of a dialogue between inner and outer worlds-between idealism and realism-seems to be at the heart of artistic creation and at the heart of its marvellous sorrow. What can also be recognised is that it is between these two worlds of perception, at the point at which the boundary is crossed, that Mistry's sculpture can be read as successful. It is a point that lends physical solidity to that which is not and it is also a point where, to pick up on Levi-Strauss, the multiple 'techniques of execution' all become 'aspects in terms of which one can see a painting form a chorus whose singing guides us towards a hidden law.'(7) It is at that juncture at which the Sublime can be found to reside.

Andrew Wilson

 

  1. Jean-Francois Lyotard, Le Differend, Paris
    1983/Manchester 1988:
    Paragraphs 255 and 256. See also Immanuel Kant, Critique of judgement,
    London 1952:PP-105-109 and 117-130.
  2. ibid.
  3. Interview with Dhruva Mistry conducted June1990. Further statements by the artist are taken from the interview
  4. See Georg Hegel, Science of logic, London 1969: P.82 and ff, also for Lyotard's critical examination of the Hegel Notice' in Le Differend: op. cit.
  5. See'Traite du Sublime ou du Merveilleux dans le discours Traduit dulgrec de Longin par M.D*** in Oeuvres Diverses Du Sieur D***, Paris 1674. A parallel French/Greek edition of the Traite du Sublime in this 'translation' by Nicolas Boileau-Despreaux was published separately in Paris in 1694: the British Library's example carrie manuscripts annotations in Greek and French by one Andre Dacier.
  6. Claude Levi-Strauss,'A Meditative Painter collected in The Viewfrom Afar, London 1987: P.247
  7. ibid.

 

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