First, the nuts and bolts of biography. Manish Pushkale, who has charted his trajectory as an artist in Delhi, was born and raised in Bhopal, where he trained as a geologist. In Bhopal, too, he found his painterly métier in the ethos of creativity nurtured at Bharat Bhavan by the artist and cultural activist J Swaminathan. What these words conceal are the interwoven histories that have nourished the artist’s sensibility, the multiple horizons of consciousness that inform his approach to abstraction.
Pushkale has memorably described his birthplace, Bhopal, as being almost equidistant between Bhimbetka and Sanchi. The spatial distance between the two sites also spans a dizzying macro-scale of temporality, from Neolithic prehistory to Maurya-Shunga history. Bhopal itself stands, in Pushkale’s itinerary, for his transformative encounter with artists of rural or tribal heritage at Bharat Bhavan, their unpredictable experiments in contemporary visual expression. As to Delhi, that palimpsest of cities built above or athwart one other, its everyday experience too calls for a simultaneous negotiation with several centuries. An average drive might take us past a 21st-century infrastructure project, a Sultanate-era edifice, and a Mauryan monument in swift sequence. These pasts are actively present to Pushkale as artistic lineages going back far beyond the narrow ambit of modernist self-assertion.
We follow Pushkale, in one of the series of paintings presented here, as he employs the running stitch associated the kantha tradition of embroidery as his generative motif, playing it out over surfaces animated by a palette of reds, ochres, and umbers. The painted stitch morphs into rivers, ravines, rising terraces in a survey map. The colours remind us vividly of the textile and embroidery arts of the nomadic communities that traverse what had once been the Dakshinapatha, the great trade route connecting the northern cities of Varanasi and Vidisha with the capitals of the peninsula, Pratishthana, Madurai and Kanchipuram.
In another series, Pushkale articulates his fascination with geology, archaeology and epigraphy in compelling, enigmatic images. Are these fossils or potsherds? Or rock formations or the outlines of lost architectures, long hidden in the earth and revealed by infrared photography? That earth, on inspection, comprises broken characters from unknown or half-recognized scripts. These fragments of script – Roman, Brahmi, Devanagari, Urdu – form the substratum of a series of near-monochrome drawings that the artist has developed. Trails of routes, vestiges of direction, begin or peter out in this soil of broken words. These drawings are the pensive memoirs of abstraction, which, as we know, both resists language and invites it into dialogue. In this spirit of paradox, Manish Pushkale is a subtle custodian of mysteries and also a sophisticated mapmaker and bridge-builder.
About Manish Pushkale
One of India’s most known mid-career abstract painters, Manish Pushkale has significantly contributed to contemporary art practices through his unique approach. With no formal training in art but a powerful and sensitive initiation into it at Bharat Bhavan in Bhopal, Manish has developed a language of abstraction that carries an imprint of his own. His work is rooted in Indian aesthetics.
A widely exhibited artist in India and abroad over the last 25 years, Manish represented the country at the Festival of India in France (2016), with an exhibition at Musée de Guéthary, with Akar Prakar and ICCR. He has also exhibited his work along with his guru S.H. Raza on multiple occasions, including the Venice Biennale (2010). He is the recipient of many awards and residencies, such as a fellowship at the Nantes Institute of Advanced Study (2014), and Grand Award, Bharat Bhavan Biennale, Bhopal (2018).
He is a trustee of The Raza Foundation, and has written books and columns on art. His works are part of private and museum collections in India and overseas.
The artist lives and works in New Delhi.