Akash Bhatt

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Paintings

Akash Bhatt A is for Answer, Oil on canvas 38 x 291cm

A is for Answer, Oil on canvas 38 x 291 cm.

Sughandh26x244

Sugandh, Oil on canvas 26 x 244 cm.

Akash Bhatt Dotted Line, Oil on Canvas 38 x 245cm

Dotted Line  Oil on canvas 38 x 245 cm.

Akash bhatt Aram, Oil on canvas 15.5 x 122.5 cm

Aram, Oil on canvas 15.5 x 122.5 cm

Akash Bhatt Bus Stop, Oil on Canvas 15 x 123cm

Pushkar Bus Stop, Oil on canvas 15 x 123 cm.

Akash Bhatt Bad Habit, Oil on Canvas 15 x 123cm

Bad Habit, Oil on canvas 15 x 123 cm.

Akash Bhatt Bhaag Bander Bhaag, Oil on Canvas 15 x 123cm

Bhaag Bander Bhaag !!, Oil on canvas 15 x 123 cm.

Akash Bhatt Road Trip, Oil on Canvas 15 x 123cm

Road Trip, Oil on canvas 15 x 123 cm.

About

Catalogue Essay 2017:

Madhu, the title of the exhibition, is an abbreviated version of ‘Maduwanti’, the first name of the artist’s mother and the nickname that Akash’s late father would use to refer to her in the family home. Originally from a village in Gujarat, she has been a consistent presence in Akash’s life as a painter, with a role as chief critic, adviser, and crucially, the person most fully aware of the sacrifices necessary to be committed to life as an artist. Now in her eighties, portraits of Madhu have been a regular, if less public part of Akash’s oeuvre over the years. Recently, as the artist puts it, ‘The onset of old age is a constant reminder that time is limited and this in turn pushes me to capture as much of what is available to me.’ One such portrait won the prestigious Sunday Times Watercolour award in 2015, and now in this show she is, as she has always been in his life as a painter, an ubiquitous and stoic presence.

Akash is a constant if not obsessive draughtsman, and has a tendency to hoard even nascent ideas. His journals,besides neat spidery architectural and figure sketches, feature snippets of writing, quotations, passing thoughts, observations, overheard snatches of conversation, plus what to some would be the ephemera of everyday life – labels from food that Madhu has prepared, a fragment from a flyer picked up from a Manhattan Street. All these are plucked from his life and melded and reconstituted in lines and coloured marks on canvas and paper. ‘The characters,the symbols, the notes I use must be infused with my own experience, this is vital as only then can I fully immerse myself in creating a place to paint. Otherwise it is meaningless.’

The longest work, at over 9 feet, is A is for Answer, the third in a trilogy of paintings which have been exhibited over the course of 3 shows, set in Baroda, Gujarat. With its attenuated format and its streets teeming with life, one has the sense of looking into an aquarium. Numerous wheeled vehicles vie for attention; auto-rickshaws, bicycles, cars, carts, mopeds,motorbikes and mobile food stalls. He appears to relish the company of animals in the street-level brouhaha – a donkey is stationed to the left underneath some enigmatic graffiti, and next to the nearby roundabout is a dog loping languorously into the roadway. Snatches of the same yellow, blue, and red tones are interspersed across the panorama on facade, awning and veranda, ushering the eye along the length of the painting under the gaze of the attendant telegraph poles and lamp-posts. Details that extend to the edges and the streets that tail off in new diversions add to the sense of visual and narrative depth.

 Dotted line also depicts Baroda and features familiar landmarks. Centre left is the cupola of the Maharaj Fateh Singh museum which houses a significant collection of the work of Ravi Varma – a celebrated 19th century painter. Akash and family have visited the museum but more notable on the opposite side of the road is the domed roof of the Khanderao Market, a favourite haunt of Madhu’s with its vegetable and flower market at the rear of the building. Saturday is a scene from home-town Leicester, a stone’s throw from College street, where Philip Larkin lived in the late 1940s while he was assistant librarian at University College. Victorian terraces are distorted in the windows of the laundrette, and also tail off to the right. The pavement scene is dated and down at heel with its scruffy patchwork shopfront, mosaic tiles, and the grey-mauve biscuit pallor of the plaster walls; yet the artist lightens the mood. ’Speedy Laundry’ appears once as hastily stencilled signage and again as a reflection of its reflection. Seagulls, crows and pigeons look on speculatively, as if on special assignment from the artist. The bins, the birds, the drainpipes, the parking restrictions sign are all classic prosaic Bhatt subtleties and form a lugubrious Larkinesque vista that the artist himself could easily have encountered in 1970s Highfields.

Road Trip recalls a day out with a hospitable cousin in Baroda. In Detour ‘1995’ is scrawled as graffiti on a Manhattan wall, referring to a memory of his father falling ill whilst Akash was in New York painting. Arrival recalls a jet-lagged stayover after a flight from London, evoking a street corner in the Chor Bazaar area of Mumbai. Every painting has the thread of family running through it. And whether it is the grimy overhanging Bombay buildings, the brownstones of New York or brightly coloured facades of Baroda, he masterfully picks out the essential vagaries and familiarities of makeshift, higgledy-piggledy urban architecture, such that we can almost smell the vendors’ various foodstuffs.

Throughout his career, Akash has been celebrated for both portrait as well as architectural work, as his many and diverse prizes and awards attest. Generally a quiet, intelligent and thoughtful man Akash has in this body of work again woven with great skill a complex fabric of ingrained recollection and impression. As he mildly puts it, ‘The older you get the more of this stuff there is’. For me Tennessee Williams sums up what Akash has attempted, and more often than not succeeded in capturing in each of his paintings. ‘Life is all memory, except for the one present moment that goes by you so quickly you hardly catch it going.’

Aidan Quinn  September 2017

 

CV:

Born in Leicester

1991–92 Loughborough College of Art—Foundation Studies

1993–96 University of Westminster

1996–98 St Martins School of Art—Post Graduate Diploma

 

AWARDS

2015

1st Prize- Sunday Times Watercolour Artist of the Year Competition

 

2010

London Lives 1st Prize Network Rail/Cass Arts/Bankside Gallery, London

Penguin Prize, Sunday Times Watercolour Competition

 

2008

Elected Member of the Royal Society of British Artists

 

2007

Purchase Prize Discerning Eye Mall Galleries

Winsor & Newton Painting Award RBA Mall Galleries

 

2005

Regional Award Discerning Eye Mall Galleries

 

2004

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer Purchase Prize

 

2002

The Villiers David Prize

Third Prize, Singer & Friedlander/Sunday Times Watercolour Competition

 

1999

Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Award

BP Portrait Award Finalist, Commended

 

1997

BP Travel Award

 

SOLO EXHIBITIONS

2015 New Paintings, Beaux Arts Bath

2013 New Paintings, Beaux Arts Bath

2011 New Paintings, Beaux Arts Bath

2010 Street Life Drawing, Beaux Arts Bath

2009 Just Walk, Beaux Arts Bath

2007 New Paintings, Beaux Arts Bath

2006 New Paintings, Beaux Arts Bath

2006 Made in Cuba, Rebecca Hossack Gallery

2003 PNG: The Big Payback, Rebecca Hossack Gallery, London

2001 Indi-gestion, Rebecca Hossack Gallery, London

1998 Out of Fiji, BP Travel Award, Touring Exhibition, National Portrait Gallery, London, Aberdeen Art Gallery, Scotland

 

GROUP EXHIBITIONS

2017

‘Artists of Fame and Promise’ Summer Show, Beaux Arts Bath

London Art Fair, Islington London – Beaux Arts Bath

AAF Battersea, London- Beaux Arts Bath

 

2016

‘Artists of Fame and Promise’ Summer Show, Beaux Arts Bath

London Art Fair, Islington London – Beaux Arts Bath

LAPADA Fair, Mayfair London – Beaux Arts Bath

AAF Battersea, London- Beaux Arts Bath

RBA Mall Galleries, London

 

2015

20/21 British Art Fair, RCA Kensington London- Beaux Arts Bath

London Art Fair, Islington, London- Beaux Arts Bath

 

2012–15 Sunday Times Watercolour, Mall Galleries, London

 

2011

RI Mall Galleries, London

RBA Mall Galleries, London

 

2010

Lynn Painter Stainers, Livery Hall, London

The Discerning Eye, Mall Galleries, London

RWS/Sunday Times Watercolour, Mall Galleries, London

RBA Mall Galleries, London

 

2009

RWS/Sunday Times Watercolour, Bankside Gallery, London

Threadneedle Prize, Mall Galleries, London

RBA Mall Galleries, London

 

2008

Lynn Painters & Stainers, Livery Hall, London

RWS/Sunday Times Watercolour, Bankside Gallery, London

Crossing Over, Beaux Arts Bath

RBA Mall Galleries, London

 

2007

The Discerning Eye, Mall. Galleries, London

Singer & Friedlander/Sunday Times Watercolour, Mall Galleries, London

 

2006

The Discerning Eye, Mall. Galleries, London

Singer & Friedlander/Sunday Times Watercolour, Mall Galleries, London

 

2005

Beaux Arts Bath, Summer Show

RBA Mall Galleries, London

Royal Watercolour Society. Annual Exhibition, Bankside, London

The Discerning Eye, Mall. Galleries, London

Singer & Friedlander/Sunday Times Watercolour, Mall Galleries, London

 

2004

The Discerning Eye, Mall. Galleries, London

21st Century Watercolour, Bankside Gallery, London

Singer & Friedlander/Sunday Times Watercolour, Mall Galleries

 

2003

Royal Institute of Oil Painters, Mall Galleries, London

The Discerning Eye, Mall Galleries, London

New English Art Club, Mall Galleries, London

Singer & Friedlander/Sunday Times Watercolour, Mall Galleries, London

The Garrick/Milne Prize, Christie’s, London

The Hunting Art Prizes, Royal College of Art, London

 

2002

New English Art Club, Mall Galleries, London

Singer & Friedlander/Sunday Times Watercolour, Mall Galleries

Royal Society of Portrait Painters, Mall Galleries, London

 

2001

The Discerning Eye, Mall Galleries, London

New English Art Club, Mall Galleries, London

Royal Society of British Artists, Mall Galleries, London

Singer & Friedlander/Sunday Times Watercolour Exhibition, Mall Galleries, London

 

2000

BP Portrait Award, National Portrait Gallery, London

 

1999

Portrait Award, National Portrait Gallery, London

Map, Rebecca Hossack Gallery, London

BP Portrait Award, National Portrait Gallery, London

Contemporary Figurative Art, Beatrice Royal Art Gallery Eastleigh, Hampshire

 

1998

BP Portrait Award, National Portrait Gallery, London

Contemporary Figurative Art, Beatrice Royal Art Gallery Eastleigh, Hampshire

 

1997

Portrait Award, National Portrait Gallery, London

 

1996

Mercury Music Prize Art, London

Singer Friedlander Watercolour Exhibition, Mall Galleries, London

 

1995

Hunting Art Prizes, Royal College of Art, London

 

 

‘I rhyme, to see myself, to set the darkness echoing.’

Seamus Heaney from Personal Helicon

This new collection of works by Akash Bhatt takes us from the dusty subtropics of Karnataka in South India, via the streets of New York and Bayamo in Cuba, by way of the ancestral headquarters in Gujarat, to, at its heart, the exotic red brick streets of Leicester. Home. The dominant theme is the rippling after-effects of the death of Bhatt’s father Kantilal in the spring of 2011, a subject matter initially evident in his previous show at Beaux Arts in the autumn of that year.

November 2011 saw Bhatt and his family take a trip to India where they scattered the late patriarch’s ashes in the Narmada river in Gujarat before travelling to the south of the country. Having lost my own father recently, I feel some familiarity with the way in which the artist appears to have highlighted fragments and vignettes of memory. When once the subconscious would have glided fleetingly over the momentary thought of a living parent, the conscious mind is brought up short by death, and the merest of recollections – a word, a smell, music – is transporting and is a reminder of the kind of love that underpins one’s existence without ever being stated explicitly. It may be that the strongest and most enduring features of parental love are the thoughts that remain after death. One feels a strong link to particular places and it is as if in the artifice of relating these to memory we hang on to the person who has died and thereby embolden our own sense of self and rootedness, shaken up by the brush with mortality.

Akash’s Gujarati parents came from Kenya at the end of the 60s, to settle in Leicester. Kantilal Bhatt established an insurance business (Amazon International) and was well-known in the Highfields area as ‘Mister Amazon’. Insurance Man is one of the paintings which recall this time and includes the recognisable outline of its eponymous main character. The area now has a large Muslim population, and the black clad figures create a striking contrast with the dramatic blue sky and rust-red brick Victorian buildings. Architecture in Bhatt’s paintings is often at least as significant as any protagonist, the ordinary corner building dramatically and extraordinarily centre stage. A drab modern office block helps to frame the painting on the left, whilst the bin, the yellow lines, the lamp posts, the kerbside puddles all create an atmosphere so vivid that a viewer can almost smell the produce outside the grocer’s on the corner. With the ground colour showing through, however familiar the features of the painting are, they are also in dissolution. Life is short. I Wasn’t There Any More is another Leicester painting, this time in Evington where the insurance man had many clients. The archetypal terraced houses and lamp-posts cascade like dominoes away from the viewer in two directions, framed by urban greenery, and opening up with a dramatic sweep upwards to the right. There are as ever escape routes to ponder on the margins of Bhatt’s streets. The small Lunch-time paintings also recall Evington, particularly those times when Bhatt senior was detailed to bring his son home from school for his mid-day meal, only to leave him briefly stranded in these very vantage points. Fragments recalls sleepy journeys back from a relative’s house, and a struggle to stay awake in the back of the car. Thin Ice is a tribute to the Gujarati women he would see near his father’s office in Leicester, awestruck at their zest for life, and for gossip.

These Leicester paintings are in part a reflection on the affrontery of going back to places that were familiar, but that on revisiting seem to have simply moved on without you, oblivious to your associations. Bhatt also takes us on a journey any first or second generation immigrant will recognise – to the ancestral home. He first went to Baroda 12 years ago and the Gujarati city is the subject of several of the long format street scenes.

Jamun is a painting named after a tonic made from ground jamun (a kind of plum) taken daily by his diabetic father. His supplier in Baroda was situated on a chaotic intersection (Baroda’s ‘Arc de Triomphe’ is how Akash describes it) that makes for an energetic painting, the mélange of cars, buses, bikes, rickshaws a familiar sight to anyone who has visited a subcontinental metropolis. Topiwala (hat maker) is set in the hat and bags market Bhatt got to know well due to his father’s fondness for stylish millenery.

In Pilgrim the view sweeps down from the grand Byzantine Nyay Mandir (Temple of Justice) on the right to Sursagar lake, where a statue of Lord Shiva, trident in hand, looks out over the water. Bhatt fondly  remembers drawing here, with his dad as a quiet chaperone. When crowds would gather to watch, Bhatt père would occasionally say simply ‘my son’ from under his hat. The painter I know would appreciate the quiet appreciation. The theme of his father being a worshipper of the god Shiva returns in Kalabhairav, a panoramic long view of a street in Mysore in southern India. Kalabhairav is an incarnation of Shiva, whose sacred mythic vehicle was a dog, statues of which sometimes receive votive offerings of alcohol. Bhatt senior loved this idea of appeasing a god with whiskey, no doubt enhancing his own enjoyment of his favourite tipple. The painting is epic in format and surely contains a record number of two-wheeled conveyances. Bhatt and his father look on together from the right hand side. It is a painting he would have loved. Once again from the urban chaos of a tropical street Bhatt has cleared the dust and pulled out a show-stopper.

Now at the age of 40, the range of accolades he has gained for his work includes the BP Travel prize, the Villiers David Award and the Windsor and Newton Award. He has also been a winner in the Discerning Eye and the Sunday Times watercolour exhibitions. The hunched figures, resilient, dwarfed by architecture, battling, dignified, often alone, are reminiscent of L.S. Lowry. Bhatt in his own way is to modern day Leicester what Lowry was to Pendlebury and Salford. There is an honest, dirty realism that harks back to the Ashcan school of painters and in particular George Bellows’ early twentieth century evocations of New York and New Jersey. His paintings say this is how it is. They do not equivocate. They are the means by which he ‘earths’ and therefore renews himself, bringing together the world around him, his family, and his increasingly important written diaries, small snippets of which are written directly on to the canvas. As Auden put it, ‘The centre that I cannot find is known to my unconscious mind’. Standing in his studio amidst the new works- some small, square and jewel-like, others elongated and quietly magnificent in composition and architecture, Bhatt in his unassuming way sums up his oeuvre; ‘I have found a way to talk about my life’.

Aidan Quinn

September 2013