The works of Sunil Padwal—comprising of found materials, self-composed photography, sketches and paintings—can be easily interpreted as a poetic thesaurus of memory, the passage of time and urbanity. His tryst with art began in school, with drawings, that continued in his college days too. A degree in applied art from Mumbai, with a specialisation in illustration, followed a stint with The Times of India, where his illustrations were regularly published. This was soon discovered by art patron Harsh Goenka, who commissioned him to work on paintings, a medium that allowed him to “break free from the conventional method of illustration”. (Saffronart, 2000)
While many artistic mediums have shaped his versatile practice, the centrepiece of Padwal’s work has largely been making sense of the goings on of a city, having grown up in the south Mumbai of the 1980s. In his latest solo at New Delhi’s Gallery SKE, following an exhibition of drawings and photographs mounted in found frames at Kochi Muziris Biennale 2016, Padwal documents other cities besides Mumbai, while continuing to focus on the mysteries and mundanities of city life.
‘Living an Archive’ is an artist’s look at the realm of the city, with its realities, illusions and abstractions, through the trope of memory, the multiple emotions linked to it, and the movement of time. It is, at best, a state of mind, other than being a physical reality. These overlapping themes, at the Gallery SKE show, find expression in a bewildering array of salvaged objects and other memorabilia, including pictures taken on Padwal’s iPhone, his sketches and charcoals.
Often, the mediums collide, merging into other another, such as a stroke of charcoal over an archival newspaper report dating back to 1922. Similarly, ink works showing a set of fish and crows have been created over pages extracted from literary texts. In different sections of the gallery, a large chest of drawers, a monumental wall work of toolboxes containing sketches, and an almirah recreating a bygone era of a family represent Padwal’s attempt at archiving multiple registers of memory.
As the cross-pollinating of mediums and objects put the spotlight on aspects of daily life that are otherwise ignored or difficult to decipher, Padwal’s new solo can be seen as a poetic rendition of how urban lives are. It’s a life that, more often than not, fails words too, the artist seems to suggest.
‘Time, history, someone’s life, personal life, present-day reality, all of it creates a free verse. A poem one has to decipher. With so much going on yet there is a certain emptiness, one has to feel it, that’s an experience I would like to share through this exhibition,’ said the artist, who counts works of Sudarshan Shetty, a group of western artists and Indian classical music as his sources of creative inspiration.
On the face of it, Padwal’s solo appears to be an assemblage of diverse objects and materials. However, as one looks closely at his installations, collages and other ephemera, meanings emerge to the point of triggering personal memories. This is made possible because of the artist’s seemingly simplistic and non-linear approach towards his subject, where different materials and mediums merge into one another—a subtle indication of how memories operate. In the end, ‘Lining an Archive’ potentially transforms into an individual’s journey, instead of being just an art exhibition, even though the show demonstrates Padwal’s evolution as an artist forever experimenting with different genres.