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When I first came across Aditya Verma’s work (also known by artist name Ratyaditya), it was a different world. Much has shifted in the socio-political landscape of our world but the effectiveness of his work remains quite the same. As a consequence of Instagram’s misguided and (mostly) misplaced censorship regulations, Verma’s work disappeared from my timeline. His art returned to my feed through some cosmic tunnel, compelling me to investigate further. His work is unmistakable. It makes a small home for itself in your heart and every time you lay your eyes on it, its raw vulnerability plucks on those same strings. Today I want to confess that as much as I believe myself to be observant and detail-oriented, I had not noticed until very recently that Verma makes paper and canvas-based artworks in addition to his body-based paintings, which is what had intrigued me from the beginning. If anything, this only speaks to the remarkable nature of the Indian artist’s body-based practice. Recently, I connected with him over a phone call to learn more about his creative journey, one which is both layered and lateral.
When you spend some time with his immense portfolio, you begin to notice the way the artist treats space and colour, and how this treatment spills over from his two dimensional into his three-dimensional artwork. In conversation, Verma discusses the beginning of his body painting saying, “I sort of got my first entry point you could say, into how it feels to be painting on people, at a photoshoot some years ago (2016). It was a very professional shoot and a very professional setting, there were many people, but yet I was able to understand so much of the people I was painting on, and vice-versa. So, for me, it has never meant painting on someone as the canvas, where I am imposing my ideas on them. It’s very relaxed process. I never go into it with a set rule or a concept idea that I have to get out, or, you know, a map of sorts of what has to be painted. It all depends on what the person tells me about the life”. Emphasising the live nature of his medium, Verma continues, “What I think sets it apart from everyone else is I do not paint my ideas on people. If I had to do that, I would just paint on canvas. If I have to see people, show people their stories and then document it and show it to other people, I like to paint on people”. From the beginning of 2017 onwards, he began putting out calls to action to collaborate with willing models for the body-based works which have now become an essential part of his repertoire.
Verma’s body work lies at the intersection of multiple modes of expression - painting, sculpture, photography and even movement. The most obvious medium used is painting, which is transposed into a sculptural experience because of the three-dimensional nature of the human body. Thereafter, in the process of documenting the work, the camera becomes a tool which adds perspective for the viewer, one which is choreographed and calculated by the artist and there we have the fourth mode - movement. Verma says, “I like to call it documentation, not photography, because there is nothing creative about it. There is no creative direction to it”. While this may be his honest sentiment, the photography nevertheless becomes an integral part of the viewer’s experience of his work. His approach to documentation, whether creative or not, dictates the engagement between subject and object, and in that regard the artist still has room for growth and discovery.
Verma is an artist with many inspirations. With a deep love for modern masters like Joan Miró and Pablo Picasso, he finds his range in melodious composition, dissolving the lines between positive and negative space with a skilled playfulness. He says, “I can only create. I cannot take any sort of credit and my mentor would always say whenever you create an amazing piece of art or something which you are really proud of, always assume that (there is) a higher power behind you, helping you”.
Verma continues to discuss his interests and influences saying, “I think my work is at the intersection of individualistic and collectivist art. I studied both. I studied European art, taking prime examples of individualistic art, and I studied collectivistic art as well. A good example of this is Gond art, which I have studied earlier on for some projects. I was covering Gond art because I had to design a campaign which was pan India. So, when I got to central India, I came across Gond art and I was very attracted to the vibrancy of the form. And when I read a little more, I got to know that in any Oriental art, there is the idea that everything has a role or importance and based on that the total picture is formed. However, in European or individualistic art you have a primary subject and a backdrop formed around it. To reconcile those two is what I try to do in my work - having neither a collective idea or individualist perspective, which is a very grey area and it’s very hard to see what is beyond this binary”.
His practice and approach are also guided by his musical interests, specifically his sitar practice. The artist shares, “In classical music, there are two things. One is harmony, which is set in a scale, which is based on your beat. You will have a section which will be a composition, which will be based on beats. So, you'll have a cycle of one, two, three, four, and then in progression, faster or lower, depending on what taal you are playing in. We have the teentaal, which is a cycle of 16 beats, and then we have ektaal, muktaal and those are all divided differently. The second portion is alaap, the introduction of a raag, which is a slow melodious composition but it is not set-in time. So, this alaap the artist has to find how to, you know, undulate and weave through. Alaap is basically your emotion and intuition about a raag, it’s like introducing a person to someone. My art is similar, non-linear and intuitive”.
The young artist has an impossibly busy schedule, working a day job in an advertising agency and balancing an art career and personal life simultaneously. He is currently based in New Delhi, India.
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