x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

New artists make a great impression

Art Select has gathered artists at different points in their careers in order to display the nascent talent of rising artists.

The work of Jaideep Mehrotra on display in the Art Select exhbition.
The work of Jaideep Mehrotra on display in the Art Select exhbition.

Unusual is the exhibition that gathers together disparate works from artists at varying stages of development, but that's what First Impressions always set out to do. A show organised by the Dubai-based art institution, Art Select, it has pooled the collective talent of 23 artists from across India, Pakistan and the GCC. The star of the show is, however, a more experienced hand, as if a beacon for the rising artists included in the line-up. Jaideep Mehrotra is a renowned Indian artist and self-taught, having embarked on professional life in business before giving in to his more creative urges in the 1980s. Mehrotra has four large acrylic paintings on display in First Impressions, all of which were taken from a recent solo exhibition in Delhi called Growing Panes in Solitude. Much of the work for the exhibition was concerned with urban spaces, in part, he says, because while he was preparing for the show in his home city of Mumbai, it suffered the November 2008 terrorist attacks.

The four works here are sombre, near-claustrophobic images of city spaces. Stacknation, for example, is a blurred look at three junked cars piled on top of each other, Reflectology is the painting of a part-shattered window, the two remaining panes reflecting a criss-crossing of telephone wires, one empty pane merely an abyss into the murky space behind it. "Are the panes dividing lines or protective barriers, a sanctuary from external or internal conflicts?" challenge Mehrotra's notes on the subject. Given the context in which he was working at the time, it's an intelligent probing of his urban landscape.

Of the remaining 22 artists exhibiting in First Impressions, there is too much material to tick off one by one. But much of the work on display shows the strength of the contemporary art appearing from their respective regions and the standouts are as follows. Revati Gangal is an Indian artist, who has held solo exhibitions in Mumbai before, as well as participating in several group exhibitions. One of her untitled pieces here is of a woman reclined on a pillow and sleeping in a patterned, green dress. Nothing too challenging, you might think, but does everything have to be? Gangal's is refreshingly simple and peaceful work.

Alissa Fulton is another young artist, born in Hong Kong and who has since lived in Mexico, India and Dubai. One of her works in the exhibition, shows the head, and the intense eyes of a woman. Fulton's inclusion in the exhibition isn't surprising given her deft use of light and charcoal, which is impressive for such a young artist - she only turns 18 this year. Many of the artists in the exhibition have followed suit and chosen women as their inspiration. The Omani artist Leena Alsafoor is an interior designer by day and based in Dubai, but here she has three large, bright pastel canvases of unnamed women. Her participation in First Impressions is one of the few times that she has exhibited publicly, but hers is a colourful, elegant style that confidently stands out.

As does yet another study of a woman, by the Pakistani artist Samar Zaidi. This piece, too, is untitled, and the female subject unnamed, but there she stands dressed in white, brushing her hair and staring quizzically out of the canvas. The painting of her visible hand, in particular, is Lucien Freud-like in its bare detail. It's one, perfectly still second captured on canvas, allowing the viewer to share an intensely private moment.

Another prominent exhibit that warrants mention is the work of Lalit Vikamshi, an Indian artist whose experimental pieces concentrate on layering dots. However, it is somewhat reductionist to sum them up like this. In fact, his clever, exact compositions create three-dimensional, human shapes that loom out of the canvas - in fact, it seems rather like an especially arresting type of Magic Eye painting for adults.

One of Art Select's directors, Ambika Vohra compares the impetus behind the exhibition to that of sentimental parents: "When children are born, it is common to place their handprints in a book and keep them for posterity, for those are literally their first impressions." This exhibition, she says, is comparable in recording the nascent talent of rising artists, and in giving them their own window of opportunity. It's an opportunity that the artists on show here well deserve.

First Impressions runs at the Grand Hyatt Dubai until Thursday.