"All art forms have a therapeutic effect on both the ‘rasika’ and the artist,” says Odisha-based artist Kishore Sahoo. “My art gives me a sense of belonging and identity. Therefore, for me, it is not a mere profession. My artistic expression takes me to another dimension of the world and makes me see a world that others can’t. It’s a form of self-reflection without closing my eyes in meditation. Art gives me a sense of self-fulfilment, whereby, during and after the process of creation, I feel less negative stress.”
On June 25, Sahoo’s exhibition of paintings and drawings, LifeimitatesArtimitatesLife, opened at KamaRia Gallery. This is not the artist’s first show in Malaysia, and he has also been part of numerous group and solo exhibitions in Puducherry, Chennai, as well as Bhubaneswar, which is near his birthplace of Santhapura.
“It was in Kuala Lumpur that I had my most successful exhibitions. I have spent many residencies with Sutra Foundation and presented more than seven solo exhibitions so far. I have a good following of my works in KL. My last solo Leela (2018) was at KamaRia and based on the pastoral god, Krishna,” he says.
Having always had a talent for art, Sahoo developed his skill with encouragement from his father and teachers. “My parents allowed me to enrol at BK College of Arts & Crafts, in Bhubaneswar (Odisha). The founder and principal was the late Dr Dinanath Pathy, who, after I graduated, continued to be my mentor. He was closely associated with Sutra and that is how I met Ramli Ibrahim and the Sutra dancers,” he explains.
Sahoo’s latest creations are heavily inspired by Sutra Foundation, especially its energy and essence. “I have been artist-in-residence at KamaRia a number of times. Living at Sutra and KamaRia elevates my creative experience. I know this and I can vouch that the artistic life at KamaRia right in the middle of a city, with its pet menagerie and the flora and fauna inspires one to create. It has continued to provide me the creative impulse to delve into an important source of my inspiration, which is nature.”
Strongly inspired by the outdoors, Sahoo’s works explore different themes. For instance, he was once taken by the mega mendung motif on Javanese batik fabrics. “For LifeimitatesArtimitatesLife, I have put myself as the protagonist within the context of nature. I want to capture nature in all its beauty and abundance, which is almost Fauvist in intensity. There is an underlying subtle message [in] the fauna and flora whose beauty and presence we always take for granted. I am connected with plants and animals and [believe] nature has always been our greatest teacher,” he explains.
LifeimitatesArtimitatesLife comprises 16 pieces — eight large, four medium and four small. Sahoo spent the two years of the pandemic working on them. For him, the subject leads the medium. “I am a figurative painter and, for this particular series of works, concentrated on acrylic on canvas, including several smaller drawings in ink and wash. I also work with watercolours, but did not submit any work in this medium. I prefer watercolours for landscapes and cityscapes. I need to understand the work before deciding on the medium.”
Sahoo’s Guardian Spirits features domesticated animals, and Kindred Spirits has more of these creatures with a dancer. The works evolve to feature the dancer or man with wilder animals, such as the white buffalo in The Pied Piper, and eventually lions, deer, peacocks and birds in The Law of Karma. Even the colours transform from more pastel and muted shades in paintings with cats and dogs, to spirited and vibrant colours with works that feature tigers and monkeys. The movement from domesticated to wild is apparent, presenting nature in its myriad forms.
Another element apparent from LifeimitatesArtimitatesLife is the idea that nature is all-encompassing. Some pieces show the human form covered with or intertwined with greenery or more natural elements. For instance, Contemplation has a meditating figure with a blanket of lush leaves and dangling Heliconia lobster claws covering most of his body; Self Portrait of Feral Friends sets the artist with black and white vines interlaced. Destruction & Regeneration has a human holding a chainsaw, surrounded by wild creatures and almost trapped in snaking branches. These pieces can be interpreted in numerous ways, but what stands out is the notion of flora overwhelming and somehow complementing fauna.
The vibrant colours and bold strokes are what draw the eye to Sahoo’s works. “I am basically romantic and I tend to take in the flow of life at a rather gentle pace. However, I am aware of global issues such as climate change, deforestation, environmental degradation and global warming, and how nature is functioning on diminishing returns.
“Mother Earth is suffering and yet she endeavours to continue giving us sustenance for our everyday life, day in and out. We take her for granted and forget we owe our existence to her. We forget that only by respecting Mother Earth are we able to create a safe space for ourselves and for all living beings. My abundant foliage and colours are a stark comment on the beauty of the biodiversity of nature. As an artist, I feel helpless to change the world where nature is being exploited unscrupulously, but this doesn’t stop me from sending the message that life and art are co-related.”
When asked about his plans, Sahoo insists on living in the now. “One of the lessons of the pandemic is that one must live life to the fullest in the present and be grateful for the things one has. Planning for the future is always good but we know that, given the present situation with regard to wars, climate change and other insecurities, it is vital to live life to the full by the day.”
'LifeimitatesArtimitatesLife' will run until July 25 at KamaRia Gallery, Petaling Jaya. By appointment only. For more information, call 03 4021 1092.
This article first appeared on June 20, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.