Nityan Unnikrishnan cooks for us in his paintings and sculptures; he cooks with great skill and what one can only call a passionate ‘anti-skill’ that fights prettiness, that side-steps virtuoso showing-off, what Angela Carter described as ‘avoiding writing well’. This anti-skill adds the slight bitter under-taste that sometimes fully completes a complex dish. It’s a strain you find in some great artists – Louise Bourgeois, say, or Francis Bacon or Philip Guston. With Unnikrishnan, as a viewer you are pinballed: between beautiful rendering and vivid grotesqueries, between recognisable narrative and almost metronomic micro-abstraction, between strong drawing and wispy, afterthought brushstrokes.
Unnikrishnan paints cityscapes teeming with people, the quirks of individual men and women, interiors detailed with the minutiae of domestic life. A keen sense of observation and the skill to image the world around are obvious in his work. The silver-haired men at their desks seem comfortingly familiar; so also a middle-aged couple in their home surrounded by the messy paraphernalia of domesticity. However, the sense of the familiar ends almost without us realising it. Unnikrishnan branches off from conventional representation, adding a surreal visual vernacular that takes us into mindscapes and emotive states.
Unnikrishnan’s work offers multiple views of heterotopia – with figures, objects, places and spaces painted and sculpted in an approximation of the world around us, where the details are precise, yet somehow always askew. What is this place in which men comfortable in their nakedness lie relaxing, oblivious to cockerels larger than themselves? Where is this that rocky outcrops appear to squat like humans, where in the far distance we spot a listing see-saw and, in another black and white painting, a doomed city and a shipwreck?
This artwork description is an excerpt from “The Way Out” an exhibition at Chatterjee and Lal by Nityan Unnikrishnan.
Nityan Unnikrishnan was born in 1976 and grew up in Kerala along with the intellectual milieu of a world populated by left leaning filmmakers, painters and academics40. He graduated from National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad in 1999, and on completion of his studies, he moved to Delhi where he now lives and works. He is represented by Chatterjee & Lal gallery in Mumbai.
This artist bio has been sourced from the Chatterjee and Lal gallery website.