The work in this exhibition continues Iranna’s explorations of the constant struggle between the organic forces inherent in nature - and humanity as part of nature - and mankind’s attempts to temper and direct these vital forces in both the physical world and within ourselves through social constructs and systems of indoctrination. Whether through the taming, reorganization, and exploitation of our natural environment, or the subordination of the individual will to political or religious superstructures, Iranna sees this constant human need to dominate and suppress as the root source of much of the environmental chaos and socio-political instability that proliferates today. The exhibition is comprised of a new cycle of large-scale canvases and works on paper, hinging around the recurring motif of roots and branches, depicted either majestically unfurled and in bloom or hopelessly tangled and muted to the point of near total abstraction. This is Iranna’s fourth solo exhibition with Aicon Gallery, and his first in its newly expanded New York galleries.
Raised in an agricultural family in India’s Southwestern state of Karnataka, Iranna studied in a Gurukul institution during his youth, which combined a modern education with traditional teachings and spiritual guidance. An emphasis on human virtue and discipline led to an intense contemplation of the conscious and subconscious workings of the human mind. Upon moving to New Delhi to study art, Iranna began to translate his personal investigations into the nature of consciousness to an understanding of human nature at the collective and societal levels. However, the rapidly urbanizing and expanding environs of one of India’s oldest population centers presented an array of contradictions and anachronisms, amongst which it could seem impossible to identify any unifying or guiding principles pertaining to the development of shared human ideals, even in a society rooted in ancient traditions. This would be the backdrop against which Iranna would stage a career-long artistic exploration into the structures that human beings design for themselves to theoretically keep the more chaotic and unpredictable manifestations of our nature under control.
Surrounded by the works in this current exhibition, however, it quickly becomes apparent that despite our efforts to tame ourselves and the world around us, the relentless push-back of nature is a force that cannot ultimately be dominated. Despite our millennia-long attempts to impose human order on our environment, the natural realm relentlessly proliferates in ways that range from the stunningly beautiful to the chaotically awe-inspiring, both of which - as well as many states in between - can be seen in Iranna’s canvases depicting magnificent sprawling canopies and densely tangled roots and branches. In other works, one can see how humanity’s attempts to organize itself mirror this range from the natural world. In the past, Iranna has pointed out, through his series of painted monks engaged in nonsensical ritual, how our struggle to control or repress human nature through political and religious structures can go horribly awry, resulting in the very chaos and violence they were meant to contain. Similarly, in this exhibition one can see glimpses of houses literally piled upon one another in a manner that can appear alternately beautifully abstract or claustrophobically terrifying. In other works, such as Heaven on Water (2016), Iranna uses ash as a primary medium to create a completely abstracted landscape, the stillness of which seems not only to remind us of our ultimate ashes-to-ashes fate, but to convey the sense of peace embedded in this fate, when our perpetual struggles to control the uncontrollable in ourselves and the world around us may finally, perhaps blissfully, come to an end.