Throughout a career now spanning over fifty years, Menon has steadfastly remained a pioneering figurative painter, often in defiance of current trends. Her work metamorphosizes the visual matrix of our times through her use of a renaissance-like technique, which has earned her the sobriquet of ‘Wanton Fabulist’ from New Delhi based curator and critic Gayatri Sinha. The exhibition features over 40 paintings and drawings from the artist’s oeuvre, including a set of new large-scale works on panel exhibited here for the first time.
Throughout her artistic career, Anjolie Ela Menon has re-envisioned her role as an artist and has produced various bodies of work toward her aim to defy categorization. Menon’s early paintings, mainly portraits, imply inspiration from the likes of Modigliani, Van Gogh, Amrita Sher-Gil, and M. F. Husain. She comments on her approach of using flat areas of thick bright color with sharp outlines, which were done "with the vigor and brashness of extreme youth."
Menon’s studies in Paris in the 1960s exposed her to the techniques of medieval Christian iconography, particularly Byzantine art. A period of experimentation led to a muted palette of translucent colors, by her layering thin glazes of oil paint onto hardboard. The finely textured surfaces were further enhanced by burnishing the finished work with a soft dry brush, creating a glow reminiscent of medieval icons. As her style continued to evolve, Menon developed the distinctive features of early Christian art - namely the frontal perspective, the averted head, and the slight body elongation - but took the female nude as a frequent subject. The result is a dynamic relationship of eroticism and melancholy. Menon developed her artistic approach of distance and loss in her later works through her thematic depiction of black crows, empty chairs, windows, and hidden figures.
This current exhibition covers many diverse themes but re-visits various phases of a 60 year long career in art. Both memory and imagination are at work to create a large body of paintings. The pastoral series is inspired by the rural community where her studio in Delhi is located. The goatherds and indeed the goats are ubiquitous in her neighborhood, the almost biblical figures of the tribe reminiscent of a bygone era. Shakti is an Indian word that denotes Woman Power and the series ‘Divine Mothers’ celebrates not holy deities like Krishna and Jesus, but their mothers, who, like mother Mary are often objects of worship in themselves. The Namboodiri priests from the temples of South India have been an oft repeated subject in Menon’s pictorial narratives and are seen here in abundance. Menon has been known for her icon like portraits and a suite of these small vignettes embellish this collection. Five maquettes of the large panels recently hung in the Mumbai international airport are shown here, a collaborative work between Menon and the renowned late photographer Robyn Beeche. Also on display are a group of rare early works garnered from collectors in and around NY.