Critics’ Picks

View of “Ether is all that is,” 2017.

View of “Ether is all that is,” 2017.

New Delhi

G.R. Iranna

Gallery Espace
16, Community Center, Near Surya Hotel, Sujan Mahindra Road New Friends Colony
January 22–March 8, 2017

In his latest exhibition, “Ether is all that is,” G. R. Iranna examines the fragility of life through holy ash. His interest in using religious material to ruminate on existential questions was apparent in his recent contribution to the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, From Ash to Ash (all works cited, 2016), a giant egg of cinders that references the origin of the cosmos in classical Hindu philosophy. On view in this show are paintings and installations that feature the sacred residue of ancient fire-based rites, alluding to the cyclical inevitability of birth and death and the impermanence of matter, including the self.

The ash-on-paper work Heaven on Water achieves an evocative quality by facilitating a restrained but soulful dialogue between its surface and the faint lines of powder arranged on it. Meanwhile, the three-part series “Ethereal Beauty” offers works that resemble complexly patterned carpets in the form of singed ash-on-paper tapestries as well as vividly painted blocks of ash; both reiterate a desire to replicate the care and intricacy that characterize rituals. Along with the carpet, other idioms and media from Iranna’s oeuvre that recur in this exhibition are arboreal motifs and the tarpaulin base on which they are rendered—in particular, The Tree Disappeared into Ether and Lofty Tree bring to mind his 2014 New York show “Tempered Branches.”

Apart from the diptych Beautiful Burning Tree, with its silver foil highlights, the most striking piece on display is Loved Ash, in which ash blocks are set into the framework of an old-fashioned mirror, meant to expose the absurdity of vanity and ego in the face of mortality. This earnestness does sometimes go overboard: One work spells out a sentence from the Upanishads in embers, making a fetish out of the eschatological that is almost banal.