MASTER OF THE IMAGINARY – Rithika Merchant

Sharing her time between her native Mumbay and Barcelona, city that adopted her six years ago, Rithika Merchant combines myths, legends, archaic figures of the world and integrates them into her own artistic vision, with strong, universal motifs, as genesis, liberation, fertility, transcendence and, more recently, death.

Her characters are always part of a world where the natural elements are stylized and the forms are intertwined, having as result metamorphic people, with inclusions or with vegetal and animal growths. The scales, the feathers, the leaves cover their bodies, as in ‘Twins’, muscles and bones convert in fiber and grow roots, as in ‘Imaginary Friend’, fabulous plants spring and grow from the body’s extremities, as in ‘Chimera’.

A mythological world, mixing with exuberance fantastic forms and colours, human, vegetal, animal elements, a magic world is therefore born, and parades in front of our eyes, astonished by such an abundance.

'I love detailed, almost decorative works. I like the aesthetic of desaturated colour, in the vein of old maps, and botanical drawings. I am inspired by religious iconography and late antiquity. I enjoy colour and paper that looks like it has been exposed to the sun or folded up and put in the pocket of an adventurer. My newer work is a bit darker and more macabre, but not grotesque.', noted Rithika Merchant in a recent interview for artistsay.com

The main techniques used by Rithika Merchant are: watercolour, ink on paper and gouache, in most of cases combined.

The works presented in this exhibition, ‘Encyclopedia of the Strange’, are recent ones and describe a series of fantastic characters from mythology, sometimes exuberant, sometimes macabre, with the exception of a single series, ‘Tools of Sympathetic Magic’, a series illustrating four symbolic elements of the magic: The Ring, The Amulet, The Mask and The Effigy, each related to the other three through the color palette, but through the vegetal elements as well – this time, reigning alone in a decorative harmony lacking any upsetting element.

In other respects, in several recent works, we can identify this grim, metaphysical anxiety, belonging to the great themes of death and transcendency.

The 'Elements' series, in terms of format, is a special one encompassing the primordial elements – water, fire, air, earth, to which two other are added furthermore: an ‘Eye of the Providence’ and a figurative work with an abstract theme: the ‘Quintessence’, the incarnation of everything. The works belonging to this series, made with gouache and ink on paper, are framed in embroidery hoops – and the round form is not accidental, as the circle is one universal symbol of perfection.

Claiming her artistic roots from the great tradition of the Indian epic drawings, full with fantastic characters, there is no big surprise that the list of Rithika Merchant favourite artists starts with two Indian masters: Mithu Sen and Nalini Malani. But it goes further, with titans of the figurative paintings from Western Europe – the most familiar being Hyeronimus Bosch and Arcimboldo, not forgetting about Frida Kahlo.

The art of Rithika Merchant is rich, vibrant, seducing through forms and colours, fresh and original, powerful, exotic – but thankfully depleted of decorative elements lacking symbolic value. I think her art is perfectly described by a very famous sculptor, Auguste Rodin, who said: "Art is contemplation. It is the pleasure of the mind which searches into nature and which there divines the spirit of which Nature herself is animated."

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