Interdisciplinary Printmaking – Dimple B Shah
Printmaker, Painter and Performance Artist
My journey in arts and performance evolved from my interest in traditional theater. During college days in 1995, I had participated in a major production of plays and worked with independent theater groups. This exposure helped me to gather thorough knowledge about the backstage and onstage work. I’ve learned about the history of theater in India and internationally. At this point, I was planning to take up this medium and wanted to make my career in it, but I realized that my inclination was towards arts and various art forms. That led me to take fine arts as a career.
After graduation in Commerce, I took a completely new direction and completed a Diploma in Painting and Visual Arts and then developed my deep interest in Graphic (Printmaking). In 2001 I completed my Post Diploma in Printmaking.
The urge to study more made me apply for various scholarships and luckily I got Commonwealth Award and went to a nine months residency at Glasgow Print Studio.
I worked in several residencies for seventeen years and gained immense experience. I have participated in various international collective exhibitions and print biennials and some of my works are held by Indian and International collectors.
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These printing Wooden blocks are handcrafted by skilled craftsmen of India.
I outline my art practice as multidisciplinary, as my art has evolved through practice in the various medium like performance, printmaking and many others. In recent years my focus is to blend this medium of art into an interdisciplinary language.
To me performance and live art, as a medium of expression, involves elements of time and space of my subconscious impulses, with the same time frame; it fulfills the dual-purpose of engaging the body as a mean of communication and drawing audience response directly and instantly.
For the past two decades, I developed my language of expression by merging and working independently in this medium, working live art performances, trying to build a community of artists based on public projects.
I have done roughly more than fifty performances, all over the world and in different cities in my country focusing on socio-political and ecological concerns, relevant historical facts of different cities and women’s issues. All my performances served as a comprehensive study, dealing with social issues in a visual expression along with video installation.
Printmaking became one of the most suitable media for me to unfold the complexities and issues that I address in my work. The process of building the work through juxtaposing or overlapping layers can be mapped in the complex structure of socio-human issues addressed in my work. From the past few years, my artwork has focused on identifying “Self” both in macro and micro level.
My work can be summoned up as a process of metaphoric distillation and can be applied to all major areas of concerns and issues: socio-political, ecological, environmental, psychological & philosophical and existential.
As an individual part of a social structure, having to navigate through all socio-political repercussions and develop perspicacity on human-related issues, having to cope with emotive response of alienation, insecurity and fear (products of our “Post Modern” era) the duality of exploration is reflected in the concepts underlying my prints as well as in performance works.
Catharsis, Purification, Purging, Healing, Filtration, condensation, and extraction of Pure/Self, are key elements in my works. The major areas of my concerns are humanitarian whether they are related to war, migration crimes, women or socio-political issues.
All these thoughts and ideas go through a distillation process (psychological or physical) such as curiosity, doubt, and philosophical questioning. It starts with collecting the source and data, to extract a purified element out of it, and then all this goes in an alchemical jar (metaphorically to mind and body) to extract the Essential (purified element) which helps one healing experience and catharsis.
My journey as an artist developed from philosophical questions and became more complex when I was exposed to the reality of prevailing social structure, like the first-hand experience of 2002 Gujarat riots, in Baroda Gujarat, where men, women, and children were brutally killed, tortured and their private parts cut open, burnt etc. This affected drastically my thinking process and as an emotive response, I performed ‘Saffron Border’ in 2003 at Kanoria Art Center and Bangalore Kala Mela Festival.
As previously stated, I went to Glasgow print studio residency for nine months and after experiencing Glasgow I felt a hollowness void space in whole set up process. I turned toward my own roots, exploring both western and Indian alchemy, looking for answers, for healing and catharsis.
This residency was fruitful in evolving my perspective, presenting me the elements of healing and use of natural materials like milk, salt, turmeric ash etc.. That I still use. This residency led to my solo show at Glasgow Print studio – ‘Dichotomy Between and Body and Mind’ and later after three years with ‘Katharsis in Forbidden Zones’ which was about how one could achieve catharsis and also get healed, with installation, painting, and video performance.
While I was developing my performance area I was simultaneously working on Printmaking and it was like a meditative performance. As I mentioned before, Printmaking has the ideal tools to bring various layers to the thinking process, through juxtaposing and overlapping, and I can add several dimension of thought in one complete picture.
This is the ongoing process of my research, to build a language and bring complex structure in a frame.
I am experimenting with different techniques not commonly used together. My approach is usually multi-plate photo etching and silkscreen. The main reason for liking these two mediums is because in these mediums there are more scope and possibility of working in detail and I can get the results with maximum precision. These mediums (etching and silkscreen) also give me the possibility to work in many colors, as many as 11 to 12 colors, and I can also use photographic and graphic images with intricate detailing.
I chose to specialize in printmaking because it involves an innovative process of exploring the medium (e.g. creating multiple layers to structure the work) through a range of printing techniques such as silkscreen, photo-etching, offset and lithography. Also, making more than one original, through editions, answers my need of reaching wider audiences.
In my works the accidental quality is quite rare, my print works are usually preconceived ideas which come from preparatory paintings. To print, I have to plan the plate making process thoroughly in order to get the exact result I have conceived. Lots of calculations on how many plates I am going to use, how it has to be worked technically, how many layers, colors and which images will be overlapped, are some major challenges while matching the image that I have conceived.
I really enjoy the combination of Painting, Printmaking & Performance. It really helps me to bring out my ideas into a different visual language. I feel the printmaking process as a ritual act because it requires immense focus and high level of discipline. I enjoy the challenge of preparing plates according to my requirements, with precision. It becomes both a challenge and a pleasure to mold zinc and iron plates by exploring all possibilities and techniques to get the results I want.
During my Master’s second year I had taken one big project for my final display. I wanted to make a print with 11 to 12 colors, so I prepared multiple plates as required with all possible techniques including aquatint, photo etching, gum bite etc.. When I printed the first proof (which was one laborious process of 3 hours of inking and wiping and top rolling the plates), I could not get the result I wanted and I took over 100 prints without succeeding.
I wanted to know what was wrong and analyzing the whole process I came across with one mistake, so I corrected that and then I get one of the best print till date. In this whole process, I learned many things by making this particular project.
I work with various alchemical elements and essentials as the base to analyze different stages of purification.
The main concern in my work is to visually address issues of my subject “purification” and understanding how we achieve the idea/notion of Utopian land and Self. This idea is being visually worked with the help of references taken from an old alchemical process. I am using old format to analyze, explore and understand our present-day issues with contemporary language and modern perspective. I use images and text as a metaphor, and they are juxtaposed to meet the requirements of the work. The images are inspired from various sources of my research on this subject mixed with my own ideas.
I have also used my own performance images in my works involving myself going into the process of purification to understand it. The imagery that has evolved in my paintings is a combination of surreal and minimalist. Once, I have used directly copper etched plates with gold foils as part of one installation, instead of taking any print out of it. I would like to go beyond the boundaries of traditional printmaking and explore more possibilities.
TOP recommended book:
In this book, you can find the tremendous pictorial richness of rare prints, engravings, lithographs,
and maps which had a wide market in 18th- and 19th-century British India.
The greatest difficulty for printmakers is having to depend on established Print Studios or have to own their setup for working. In India, there are few studios where an artist can go and work, and most of them are not updated with the latest facilities, usually, they have just basic facilities and is difficult for artists to achieve desired results. Most of my photo etching plates are done outside from commercial block maker and are very expensive. Although I have worked in different printmaking studios still I have not been able to establish my own.
This article was written by Dimple B Shah and all images copyright © dimpleshah 2019
You can get to know her on her Facebook page.
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