Chandrika Marla’s paintings at the Re-invent Gallery in Lake Forest present an uncommon blending of color and materialism that is altogether particular to her Indian background. Growing up in New Delhi, where her mother was (and still is) a famous fashion designer, she grew to instinctively appreciate the bright colors and motifs of traditional Indian textiles. This art has a long and auspicious history in a country where color plays an ancient symbolic role that weds spiritual, material, and emotional expression.
Quietly contemplating these works offers a surprising retinal and emotional gift to the viewer. While the paintings partake of the modernist/minimalist tradition of art by delineating simple volumes and shapes, they also present a distilled expressive essence through the laborious layering of shades of pigment and paper glued to the surface, giving it a special kind of materialism. This intense and delicate layering of color appears in the boundaries between simple shapes in Marla’s paintings, setting up a mysterious and numinous vibration and evoking the spiritual and emotional basis that exists at the foundation of Indian color aesthetics.
When I Last Saw You, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 38”, 2015
Other contemporary artists, such as Howard Hodgkin (British) and Anish Kapoor (Indian/British), engage this same ancient basis of material and color expression in modern form. Hodgkin is both an avid collector of traditional Indian paintings and a traveler to India, factors that were seminal to influencing his own work in abstract paintings and prints. His carborundum prints are especially notable for their luminous transparent color, works that joyously celebrate expressive power and mood, a factor which is seminal to Marla’s own artistic approach. The sculptor Anish Kapoor also expresses aspects of this ancient sensibility. Many of his sculptures and installations use simple elemental shapes, brightly powdered pigments and pure homogenous substances such as mirrors or stones to create contemplative objects or environments.
The Courage to be Me, acrylic on Canvas 30 x 24”, 2015
Some of Marla’s images clearly show the female body in simple silhouette form while others are reduced to forms of such enigmatic simplicity that they conjure shapes and fields of pure abstraction. Identifiable feminine torsos in works like Grey Illusion, Start With Goodbye, I’ve Got a Secret, and That Moment of Confusion are both lyrical and tinged with troubling expressive tensions. Marla’s most recent paintings dissolve this bodily strife into shapes of greater simplicity and purity. The uplifting red Y shape in The Space Between and You’ve Changed and the mysterious hillocks of deep blue and red in One of These Mornings and It’s Greener on the Other Side dissolve the body/ground relationship completely into abstract singularities. With the loss of the figure, now reduced to mound-like shapes which the artist identifies as shoulders, the abstraction of the field is free to mirror emotional states of mind in pure color relations.
The Courage to be Me (detail), acrylic on Canvas 30 x 24”, 2015
The most enigmatic yet pure example of this is The Courage to Be Me. The entire surface consists of a densely layered grey field with a pulsating segment of red oval in the top left corner. This grey area, imagined as a torso, shows an upright resolve in its firm but solid tonality, while the red segment of oval draws our eyes upward asserting a kind of singular resoluteness. In all of Marla’s recent works the glowing spaces between shapes have become “spiritual” expressive essences. The more simple Marla’s abstractions are, the more they become the more purely essential states of mind. Pulsating with a life of their own, they reflect an emotional wisdom about human intuition, and the ever-changing nature of feelings and moods as seen through the prism of ancient Indian aesthetics.
Color Wisdom: Chandrika Marla’s Paintings
Runs through Sept 5, 2015
202 E. Wisconsin Ave.
Lake Forest, IL 60045
The Space Between, acrylic on canvas, 44 x 30″, 2015
Her Silence was Golden, acrylic, Japanese handmade paper and oil on canvas, 30 x 30″, 2013
You’ve Changed, 38 x 30″
That Moment of Confusion, 24 x 20″
Start With Goodbye, acrylic, Japanese handmade paper and pigment on canvas, 24 x 24”, 2014
It’s Greener on the Other Side, 30 x 30″
I’ve Got A Secret, 30 x 30″
Grey Illusion, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 30″, 2012
Chandrika Marla in her studio
Top: One of These Mornings, acrylic on canvas, 38 x 30”, 2015
Diane Thodos is an artist and art critic who lives in Evanston, IL. She is a 2002 recipiant of a Pollock Krasner Foundation Grant and is represented by the Thomas Masters Gallery in Chicago and the Traeger/Pinto Gallery in Mexico.