‘Don’t Ask Me About Colour' is a retrospective of the work of Mehlli Gobhai over 70 years curated by Ranjit Hoskote and Nancy Adajania.
Actually the idea of this retrospective took root one fine winter morning in 2005 when these curators threw around ideas for two exhibitions, one of his early works of the '70s and '80s and the other of his later stark abstract paintings that has made him India's finest abstract painter.
This retrospective is divided into three sections:
His early figurative drawings which he did for Frenzy Talyarkhan's magazine in the 1950's. "I remember it was a biblical story. I used to interact with the great Walter Langhammer and Ramesh Sanzgiri, art directors of the Times of India."
Gobhai illustrated children's books for a living, for him human anatomy which he studied under the legendary Shivaux Chavda was very important where their discipline and control were obvious.
His evolution into abstract art began when he studied anatomy under world renowned painter of the human form Robert Beverly Hale. Though influenced by Mark Rothko and Rhinehart, Gobhai created a path of his own. Under Hans Hoffman, he studied the push pull theory.
One is accosted with vivid colours on entering the gallery and one wonders if one has entered the right exhibition...
This generation is more accustomed to his dark phase of burnt umbers, siennas, blacks and greys... his flattened perspective, his penchant for geometric lines, the burnt edges to his 'blackboard' scrolls.
He once said, “I use colour only when necessary as a last resource as if I need that last breath to live!”
About his technique, he doesn't use the brush except to bring a base colour. Rags, fingers, rulers, charcoals, leather, parchment, canvas are his favourite materials upon which he brutally impounds layer upon layer of colour, creating a dialogue... He’s so immersed into his painting that he becomes one with it and as if he's trying to hide something... on the contrary, he once said that he liked what was hidden, that he was trying to unearth its meaning...
He once said, that his greatest compliment was paid to him by his cousin when she saw large canvases painted in black and exclaimed, “So Mehlli, when are you going to paint on these blackboards?".
In conclusion, curators Hoskote and Adajania in summing up this retrospective said, “This retrospective includes 50 works from private and public collections, as well as more than 50 works from Mehlli’s studio, many of them works from his New York phase that have never been viewed before.
It also includes selections from his work in advertising, his illustrated children's books and works and objects from his own collection.” There is also a section showcasing his work in advertising as well as posters and brochures he designed for Ebrahim Alkazi' s theatre group!
What didn't Mehlli Gobhai do?
Go figure! ,NGMA, Mumba, Till April 25, 2020