Decalcomania Fractal: An Ode to Naren |Solo show by Viraj Mithani

Viraj's printing process begins by painting on a plexi-plate, and then running it through the press. He repeats the process with specific adjustments made to the pressure of the printing press, amounting to different results like overlapping of the image, and tailors the inks viscosity and transparency levels. The mono print is then layered with translucent images/patterns, a technique called Giclee.

The exhibition titled Decalcomania Fractal: An Ode to Naren, is dedicated to Viraj’s late grandfather, Mr.Naren Mithani (1925- 2017). As a young child, Viraj was introduced to art by his grandfather, who was a self-taught artist and a professional photographer. As his first mentor, Viraj fondly recalls his grandfather handing him a book containing works by western masters. He describes this as both a pivotal and eye-opening moment as a young artist. This exhibition is especially significant to Viraj as it is his first show in his hometown of Mumbai. The recent death of his grandfather inspired a certain section of the show to be dedicated to him. A portrait of Mr. Mithani by Viraj is exhibited. The show displays Mr. Mithani’s watercolor painting of Mahatma Gandhi, in addition to a small installation of some of his belongings. This installation establishes the similarities between Mr. Mithani and Gandhi, whose principals and ideologies he closely followed. It is interesting to see Mr. Mithani's traditional upbringing reflected in his Gandhi painting. This is contrasted by Viraj's work, while still maintaining and respecting the traditions of his upbringing; he embraces the ever-evolving world of technology.

As a Mumbai native, his series of watercolor works reflect upon the various shades of the city. Citing tiny details and repetitive patterns embellished with shiny stickers of vegetables and fruits, an interesting contrast is formed. Viraj has also tried to highlight the theory of color psychology, drawing from his background in graphics. He makes symbolic cultural references from the city in his works. For example, he references hanging clothes in his series, a common site in every Indian middle-class society and slum. Coming from a family that runs a textile business and grew up around swatches of fabrics, we can say that his practice is an intrinsic one.

Decalcomania Fractal: An ode to Naren explores the process of printmaking in a rather unconventional way, using synthetic mediums on Viraj’s prints. Superimposing the traditional media with vinyl and digital images of his work, his prints are an abstract dialogue between conventional printmaking and the new digital printing age. He uses vinyl to comment on the "plastic age" that we live in today. Advertising, being an industry that largely contributes to the rise of capitalism, is also from where he draws for his discipline. Coming from a graphic media background, his use of a commercial material layered on the mono-print reveals just enough. It creates an abstraction of the idea of this plastic era and its complexities.

He is interested in the history of mark making, which is constantly changing. Viraj grew up in a staunch Jain family, and the values taught in the Jain community are subtly woven into his works. Symbols from Jain religious text and patterns become a starting source of reference for Viraj.He then reinterprets it by using un-traditional mediums like vinyl. It may appear that he is trying to invoke childhood memories and nostalgia by using stickers of vegetables on his colorful prints, but this isn’t the case. Instead his use of these materials actually address issues like the increase of the consumption of packaged foods (ready made), the domination of technology, and most importantly, the missing of “first hand experience.” Viraj studied and worked in London and Chicago. He extracts from his lifestyle as a former student who had to live on packaged food. Establishing this relationship between the natural and the unnatural, using mediums that correspond to these challenging natures is what makes his process a progressive one.

This exhibition becomes an investigative ground to re-read history and traditions of Viraj’s practice,forming a compelling link between his family’s textile business, his grandfather’s art and his keen interest in traditional media, yet making contemporary art. These fractals of his history and his new media form the body of this exhibition and the works exhibited.

Text by Anusha Vikram, Nibedita Nath (Clark House Initiative. Colaba, Mumbai)