Dominic van den Boogard.
For the catalogue “Early Works” De Ateliers 1998 - 2002.
Shanbhag’s paintings and sculptures form a challenging hybrid of different artistic styles and cultures. The Indian artist combines traditional oriental iconography with postmodern Western concepts of art. A recurrent feature is the question of genesis itself, the secret of creation, in which both genetics and the Hindu belief in reincarnation pass in review. Infinite Justice (2001), a satellite dish with leather water-carrier, visualises the frictions between local and global culture, while Caravan (2001) alludes to origin and uprooting.
Margot Selders. 2006.
For the solo show “The great Indian Rope Magic”.
Uday Shanbhag is a former electrical engineer who has always been affected by the exaggerated use of technology in society. At a time when science was only promoting more harm and misery, Uday made a radical change. He left his family,, his village and his innocence and moved to the city. His mission? To become an artist and direct his anger in painting. Uday creates a quasi art which forces us to question issues that consume and transform us. The root of his paintings is always a denunciation of honors - a nuclear plant that altered his home district, genetic discoveries that intrude into the sanctity of human birth, shameful biotechnological exploitations, government policies that affect humans like the displacement of villagers or the ‘Infinite Justice ' war on Afghanistan. These subjects are moulded in a sequence of symbols tense with meaning. The cow, lotus and Hindu icons serve as a questioning of faith. The foetus and the womb appear as a ghastly critique of technocracy. At the center of these ciphers, the “egg”, which reiterate the issue of creation and recreation. Looking through his early works his style evolves from from a rather classical approach when he painted portraits of the dead for funerals in his village. it is also visible in the “Una bomber Series” which portrayed the notorious anti-hero through different stages of his life until his capture. The series from childhood until this critical point is superimposed with nature and animals. The painting then becomes more graphic with the infiltration of Hindu iconography, where symbols are more prominent and are packed with meaning. The cow is portrayed as “Kamadhenu” just like it appears in Indian calendars with stickers of Hindu gods that critique the power and fallacy of religion, Here the revered animal seems comical and its association to holiness quite unreal. The lotus (associated with purity) also appears frequently like in the painting where it carries Brahma (God of creation), juxtaposed against a woman’s womb. The woman garbed in black in black is replicated as 3 mourning Madonnas while genetics dares to intrude into the birthing and cloning of babies, a thing most sacred to a woman. The concept of identity itself is questioned and this work marks a drastic change in Uday ’s depiction of the human figure. He becomes aggressive, more direct and starts cutting his subjects - the bagged foetus dangling from a womb, the beheaded babies, the crucifixion - all manifestations of genetic errors and scientific excess. Following this series, the rendition of the human form starts to disintegrate. It becomes less discernable and dissolving. The background and the figure merge into each other. Colour oozes out of the canvas. Drips emerge as if the artist himself is bleeding. Almost as a pause, Uday inserts illustration of fables that are immortalized in memory and history. As the superheroes of growing children, these become phallic symbols of potency and human might. It is natural for an artist to borrow elements from his own culture, memory and history. This however, should not confine him as being local. Uday’s work has evolved into an aesthetics that is ingrained in the local but with global echoes. We must see his paintings without the trappings of labels that bracket works into just one reading. And what is crucial in his works is the root that gets transmitted on the canvas. When you gaze over his paintings, meaning finds its own continuity and representation of form evolves gradually with time as it goes through its natural stages, like the seasons or the phases of an adolescent’s life. Thus, these paintings become testimony to our own excesses and a mirrored reflection of our own evils. How do we intend to tread is the artist’s question to us. Almost like a washing of sins a squiggly line becomes a bird which transforms into an ostrich and gives shape to the egg. It finds its place in the painting - a last supper. Colour reappears. Birth and rebirth, death and immortality are intertwined. As we know, karma is not always forgiving. This time though, Uday gives us a new beginning.
Herve Perdriolle, 2007.
Shortlist India text for Artcurial.
Uday Shanbhag, born in 1972 in Karnataka, comes from a background sometimes seen in India, although not often enough – a busy, complex career. After getting a degree as an electrician, Uday Shanbhag began his study of the fine arts, moving from Bangalore to Ahmedabad passing through Baroda. Like many of his compatriots, he moved abroad thanks to a scholarship. Since 1999, Uday Shanbhag has shared his time between India and Holland. Is it the faculty of displacement inherent in the size of this sub-continent or rather natural curiosity that encourages a trend among modern and contemporary Indian artists that one might qualify, mimetically, as Surrealist? The idea of a patchwork or rebus is perhaps more appropriate in speaking of Indian painting in general, and the work of Shanbhag in particular. The patchwork concept is very consistent with the cultural, religious, and even linguistic diversity so typical of India. In this series of works completed at the end of the 1990s, Uday Shanbagh is particularly focused on genetic research, cloning, freezing embryos, and so forth, all examined in the light of religious concepts such as reincarnation, resurrection, and the fertility goddess.
Marta Jakimowicz, 2011.
Uday Shanbhag’s concern about the world is as strong but channelled from the opposite direction of personal engrossment, empathy and helpless anger, which are nonetheless restrained by a tinge of conceptually guided distance, generalisation and analytical sarcasm. The title of his exhibition “Back to the Roots” (Alliance Francaise, May 24 to 31) referred to both his return to India after seven years in Europe and his preoccupation with the fate of farmers in his ancestral village. Although without knowing it beforehand, one would not have guessed the farmer address, the show indeed generated a feel of passively endured deprivation at the bottom of society. Introduced by the pieces with tilted scales of justice and a child running after his mother, the images suggest rough bundles of humanity uncomfortably asleep, gathered around a table with empty plates or an exploding object, otherwise rising the flame of freedom only to ostrich-like bury the head in sand. The figures, simultaneously angular and pliant, coarse and tender, sketchily abstracted and immediate, are fiercely dry-brushed until the black pigment breaks up to touch on the raw. They appear to almost slide over the background smooth rectangles cut from synthetic flooring whose cheap elegance imitates wood panelling and marble, thus conjuring a sense of two realities not quite amicably coexisting together and enhancing the hypocrisy behind it which is also furthered by the transparent mounts, by the element of interior perspective on the even field too.
Born in Sirsi, Karnataka in 1972, Shanbhag completed a diploma course in Electrical Engineering before pursuing a diploma in painting from Bangalore in 1996. He then went on to study creative painting at the Faculty of Fine Arts, M.S.U., Baroda in 1998 and Kanoria Centre for Arts, Ahmedabad in 1999. He resided in The Netherlands between 1999 and 2007 where he held six successful solos. Shanbhag was also the first Indian to participate in the prestigious artist-in-residency program at De ateliers, Amsterdam between 1999 and 2001. He now lives and works in Mumbai. ‘Back to the Roots’ is an intense monologue reflecting on issues relating to identity and existence. It was triggered when Shanbhag returned to India in 2007 and saw the plight of farmers in areas surrounding his ancestral village. His response was articulated in the form of this present suite of work which depicts blurred, shadowy figures set against a dramatic backdrop of psychedelic colors alluding to the trance-like state most of us exist in, oblivious to the reality our countrymen face. Through these works, Shanbhag delves into the struggles of the farmers and explores their identities while also drawing parallels to his own struggles and traumas.
Leandre Dsouza/Claudio Maffioletti, 2011. For Art Oxygen breathing Art Works.
En]counters: The Fluid City | Kuberanige Niru Beku (The Sea God Wants Water)
Focusing on the symbolic and functional meaning of water for the Kolis, Uday Shanbhag inscribed the invocation ‘kuberanige niru beku’ (The Sea God wants more water, in Kannada) at dawn and dusk on the sands of Juhu beach. Through this auspicious incantation, he pleaded to the Sea God for good weather and good catch for the fishermen as they embarked on their daily journey. During the day, the artist set up a tea shop in one shack on the beach, where he listened to stories of the Kolis and entertained the passers-by in a relational performance. The time spent with the fishermen and the daily incantations was documented in a 10-minute video.
For ArtSlant, Our India Watch list.
Uday Shanbhag shows his topics in a way that makes us feel a bit uneasy. We feel uncomfortable because of the stark reality and the place we, as human beings, take in that reality. They often deal with questions of life and death, body and soul, power and impotence, guilt and innocence, or tradition versus western canon. Issues in which it is not easy to choose sides, or that make you feel as if you may just have picked the wrong side. The tension in the painting is caused especially by the fact that the ethics of the topic and the aesthetics of shape are in constant conflict with each other and that is why we want to look at the paintings again and again.
Rashmi Mala. 2013. For Saqoiatees.
For ArtSlant, Our India Watch list.
The uneasy and misfit outbursts of this artist is well composed with conceptually rich gestures. His recent paintings are instinctual marked by its subjects. Some of his performances even go to the extent of slogan like vividness. The disturbing facts of farmer’s suicides, real estate scam of Mumbai and the ever conflicting rural and urban of the post colonial nation is confronted in a graffiti like directness. Uday’s interventions are rather intelligently positioned in public domain. One of his recent performances, “How to milk the holy cow” is an anguish representation of the mainstream political corruption. A recent exhibition “Back to the Roots” (Alliance Francaise, May 24 to 31, 2010) referred to both his return to India after seven years in Europe and his preoccupation with the fate of farmers in his ancestral village. Although without knowing it beforehand, one would not have guessed the farmer address, the show indeed generated a feel of passively endured deprivation at the bottom of society.
Conor Fagan, 2014
The 32nd annual Symposium of Contemporary Art in Baie-St Paul North of Quebec City..
Uday Shanbhag’s painting styles are a virtuosity of techniques and abilities. For the Symposium he decided to in his words “use minimum effort, for maximum effect.” It was interesting to watch him work, as his particular notion of time is so different from the typical North American’s attitude of Go Go Go. In the end he created what I think are interesting understated paintings that use three layers of color and form depicting a scaled up and simplified version of the passion flower.