Kartik Sood’s solo debut in the US, “Elusive Spaces,” is an achievement of aching delicacy. Semitransparent, often partial renderings of human figures hover amid smoky forests and haunting crepuscular interiors. In a departure from his earlier preference for mixed-media installation, the artist here presents a vision of Surrealist interiority through the pared-down vocabulary of paint, graphite, and collage.
The works in the first gallery were produced in response to conditions of the pandemic lockdown. His subjects are painted in muted tones of Whistler’s dusk and seem to be plucked out of Gaganendranath Tagore’s mystical proto-Cubist tableaux. Such a lush hazy palette suggests the thick mists of Shimla, Sood’s hometown in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh at the foothills of the Himalayas. This atmospheric saturation may also nod to the deadly smog of New Delhi, a city he now calls home, in addition to the coastal state of Goa. The suite Being with oneself I–VI (all works 2022–23), shows pairs of seated men, each one a near mirror of the other, suggesting doubling, or a form of displacement as seen through a glass, darkly. There is an ambiguous intimacy at play in these pictures, a link between the twins that resists resolution, like a dream half remembered.
Textural variation serves as a gentle reminder that each work is an object of reflection. A canvas’s surface is often disrupted by small scratches and errant flecks of paint. Parts of figures seem about to peel off, suggesting the afterimage of movement frozen on tintype. In other pieces, this three-dimensionality is amplified as portions of Sood’s characters literally hover above the picture plane, anchored by invisible supports. Consider Dilemma of being you (you are but you are not) II. A faceless torso, possibly bound, levitates just above the floor, his truncated abdomen curled slightly up like a disconcerting comma. He is flanked by a pair of vermilion-faced mirrors. Before him are two crows in silhouette, linked by charcoal dashes suggesting a flight path aimed toward a subtle fissure in the floor. In Sood’s elusive world, the line between memory and dream may just be smoke and mirrors, after all.