At Kartik Sood’s Shimla house, the emphasis was always on aesthetics. His photographer father would tell him how to keep things, how to compose a photograph, what colours don’t work together... As a kid, Kartik was very receptive to these subtle lessons and went on to find his medium of expression in art. With an exhibition of paintings and mixed media collages going on at the Talwar Gallery in New York right now and several successful shows and residencies behind him, he is creating a niche for himself in India’s art bazaar.
As a student, Kartik was fascinated by physics, wanting to “explore the truth of the universe." His creative mind though pushed him towards art. He first studied at the College of Art, New Delhi, and then pursued MA in Painting from the Faculty of Fine
Arts, MSU, Baroda.
Kartik’s debut exhibition in the US is called ‘Elusive Spaces’. It showcases works created during the pandemic, besides other recent creations. As an artist who spent long hours in the studio, the lockdown wasn’t so “radical” for him, but he could see the shift around. “People were not used to being with themselves for long days and could not digest the fact that this could be forever. For some, the virus disrupted all the meaning they had attached to lives. But did that meaning really exist?”
This meaning-making is central to not just ‘Elusive Spaces’, but Kartik’s entire body of work. “We perceive something and very quickly draw meaning out of it. For instance, a tree. You see one, and within microseconds, it becomes a tree in your head. In my work, I am trying to capture that space between perception and meaning, that elusive, shifting space.” Kartik believes meaning-making narrows down a thing. “As we become conflicted in that meaning, problems begin,” he says.
One wonders how it translates in his work. He explains: “In all my works, something is happening. You see figures engaged in something, but don’t know what they are doing. That’s my point: we don’t know what is happening. The minute we say we know what is happening, we are killing the moment, the real meaning of life. Almost like the quietness of any religion, meditation or music.”
As the pandemic officially ceases to exist and we return to our routines, Kartik sees us repeat the pattern: “We are again trying to give meaning to life and would again get disappointed.”
The exhibition is in two parts — one set is about very muted canvases, the hallmark being white spaces, symbolic of the isolation of the lockdown. The second set is about how we have come out of that period and how everything is vibrant, bouncing with energy.
An important element of Kartik’s paintings is haze. “I want people to feel comfortable in not knowing. When you don’t know, you begin to see things differently. When you know what is happening, you just go on living like a machine.” This all-pervasive haze, in fact, comes from his life in the Shimla hills where mist would encapsulate everything one moment, and it would be all clear the next second. Not just the mist, the hills inspire as well. Just as literature by Kafka, or Beckett.
Amid this all, his art remains a reaction to his surroundings. “Politics, society, social media, propaganda, technology... As an artist, you are just responding to life. As an artist, you re-see the whole life and write the story down.”