The Maximalist: Adyot Rajadhyaksha

Art by Adyot Rajadhyaksha.

While in school, Adyot and math never really got along. The only part of math he could stand was geometry, of which he was simply awestruck, for he believed that humans were inherently visual beings. Almost half a decade separates now from his last math class, yet the fascination with Euclidean shapes and figures is still bristling inside, showing itself in his digital art. The exhibition marks his move away from painting and towards sketches and digital art, something Adyot attributes to the pressures of time as well as a conscious move towards the latter. The focus on textures and contrasting colours unify a body of work that would otherwise seem lonely, standing on its own, and it is this that marks Adyot’s work apart as special. Behind the use of colours lies not just an aesthetic thoughtfulness, but a deep understanding of colours as concepts and emotions. The vivid purples and blues, playing out the beginning and the end of the day, are as focused on the temporality of the life we enjoy.

The objective of art here is to be a visual creature. The psychedelic palette complements the momentariness of a large part of Adyot’s digital work, attempting to reach beyond a time and space that the viewer would not immediately recognise as one’s own, and into the world of the viewer itself. However, the palate also presents a barrier to co-optation, one that reminds the viewer that in the end, art is art, and ensuring the separation of art from life due to minute details, much like Manet’s Olympia. The aural works with the visual, for the palate is part of the semantic field of the psychedelic genre of music. It is up to the viewer to fill in the gaps, for the absence of sound begs to be filled. With the denial of sound, Adyot draws the viewer into a world that he creates with his art, one dominated largely by shapes and united by colour and form. Not unlike Max Ernst, the Dada photomontage exponent, Adyot brings otherwise disparate views together. The seamless blending of different photographic elements is the raison d’être of Adyot’s art.

Adyot’s rendition of Karlie Kloss.

Adyot diverges from the path of colour when creating pieces grounded in contemporary popular culture. It is in these works that are most clearly inspired by the pop art of 1960s east coast USA, especially works by Warhol. The reworking of motifs is essential in his approach to pop culture, and two of the most prominent ones are rapper Kendrick Lamar and popular American model, Karlie Kloss. He attributes these to requests by followers via social media, which he uses as a valuable tool to inculcate an audience and to get feedback. His reworking of pop culture, though, is most innovative in its use of the symbols of space exploration, a retrospective of the 1960s. However, he steers away from the adoption of a ‘retro’ style, avoiding the pitfalls of “retro nostalgia” while incorporating the 60s into his work.

Art by Adyot Rajadhyaksha.

In his poem Leisure, William Henry Davies writes:

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

With his choice of palate, Adyot subscribes to the same notion of life. The underlying tension between the beauty of life and the lack of time manifests itself in his art. The unnatural tone of his work is not jarring, and the artist is no provocateur here. Rather, the un-naturalism of colour serves to force the viewer to stop, and to look at what is in front. The shapes order colour into neatly delineated groups, that connect the various parts of the frame together.

However, the most important feature of Adyot’s work is his maximalist style, which is where he differentiates himself from a large part of his contemporaries. He is conscious of the history of art, and as the famous art theorist Griselda Pollock put it, operates within the avant-garde gambit of reference, deference, difference. His maximalism is not a rejection of the early twentieth century abstraction of Malevich, or the geometric simplicity of minimalism. He embraces the use of geometric forms in his work, reconciling them with the digital nature of society today. His digital art themed around outer space is a futurist rendition of modern culture, fusing two seeming similar ideas in a new and innovative manner. He crucially differs in his use of colour and texture to create patterns, and his work therefore refers to, defers to, and differs to the former leaders of the avant-garde.

In the early stages of his career, the freedom to experiment is broader and deeper. And it is this freedom that the exhibition exploits and highlights. It puts into perspective Adyot’s compulsive urge to create and experiment, for it serves as an early career retrospective as much as an outlet for new work. He alludes to Picasso’s axiom, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up,” when he talks about his practice of art. Mentored by Mr. Manjesh Rajadhyaksha, the former dean of the illustrious Sir J.J. School of Arts, this exhibition was put together in a week as a challenge. The short time-frame of its execution was deliberate, and the result of a regular art practice spanning the last half decade, and ties into his role as not just an artist but as a Jackson Pollock-esque painter-performer.

The embrace of the digital in the exhibition remarkable, a result of the exploration of freedom. The exhibition subverts the commonly-held notion that digital art is just the craft of manipulating via software, and not an artistic journey in its own right. While there has been a move towards the creation of art digitally, many are still considered to be solely graphic designers, not artists. Adyot and his peers are bringing about a revolution that has the potential to redefine Indian art- one where the digital is equal to the painted or drawn. The exhibition is a potpourri of physical and digital creations, where ultimately the binary becomes visual. The symbolic importance of displaying the non-digital with the digital is a refreshing sight in a tradition where being traditional and orthodox is celebrated. As the avant-garde painter Henri Matisse puts it, “Creativity takes courage,” and with this exhibition, Adyot takes the plunge.

This is the catalogue essay Ishaan Jajodia wrote for Adyot Rajadhyaksha’s third exhibition, which was held from April 22 to 23, 2017.