The first works of many artists carry a significant hangover of their past. Autobiographical, they unapologetically serve as personal essays that unburden haunting memories. In some cases, these personal accounts resonate with the quality of the output and Jayesh Srimali’s journey is just as descriptively transferred into his artwork. Despite being deeply personal, the works convey subtlety replete with sombre tones of brown, grey, blues, and black – Jayesh’s analogies for remnants of a fire – and hints of red and bright shades added in the form of decorative village-centre flags, strings, or even spare parts of vehicles. These works are versatile to stand on their own and catch the attention of a viewer even though she may be oblivious of the painful backstory of their genesis.
When he was five, his mother burnt to death. Jayesh saw. His father died soon after. Growing up as an orphan, suffering has always been intimate and almost omnipresent for Jayesh; art has been a respite and he has channeled the medium evocatively. “Ashes. Soot. Burning. These are my materials and techniques. I cannot get over my past.” Kerosene, solution tubes, gas torch guns – he uses these to burn found material to create his pieces. Relying on burning techniques, that he has innovated and perfected over the years, he has transformed a range of materials such as table fans, windows, doors, boxes, iron balances, sewing machines, frames, old-style mango cutters, wooden kick scooters, wood powder, waste iron cuttings, discarded vehicle parts, and grills and meshes into artefacts.
In a mixed media work on door and plywood titled ‘My Father’s Love,’ Jayesh showcases a man heading out of a door with the photo of a woman hanging from his neck. His father was an alcoholic and his parents would fight a lot. “But we loved them equally. After mother’s death, father just took off the house one day with her photo hanging from his neck and roamed all over the village. We ran after him,” Jayesh shares. Other works, titled ‘My Childhood,’ ‘Keys of Life,’ and ‘My Village Life’ also revisit the early years. It appears that each nail and each little piece of scrap has been painstakingly positioned with a vivid memory informed by loss. His works do not detail the faces; they remain blank. “This way, I believe I can have a wider connect. Anyone can see themselves in my characters’ place if they so wish. Everyone has troublesome memories, no?”
His admission to Sheth C N School of Fine Arts in Ahmedabad and later studying painting at MSU Baroda almost seem like miraculous interventions to him. A visit to Delhi Art Fair while in the third year at CN broadened his perspective dramatically. “I thought here we were, still stuck with paper and canvas and the world was going places. I wanted to experiment too,” he says of that defining moment. He began frequenting the Sunday Bazaar, called Ravi-vari, in Ahmedabad and later became a regular at the Friday Bazaar, Shukra-vari, in Baroda, to scout materials.
Initially, he was intimidated at MSU. The students, he says, already had a firm grasp on artistic language and techniques and their confidence and exposure made him feel overwhelmed and ignorant. It is at this stage, when he was feeling lost and dejected, that his professors sought him out and hand-holded him. “Professors Ashutosh Bhardwaj and Indraparmit Roy chiseled me. Moulded me,” Jayesh says. He elaborates that he used to pent up his feelings and his teachers patiently counseled him to open up and define and develop an artwork from being a mere feeling to something tangible.
Other key person in his journey was Santosh, a tea-seller. “I guess he was the only other person I really opened up to and bounced ideas with. Two of my artworks are based on him.” These works were made for a competition organized by Abir Foundation and it is for the first time that Jayesh experimented with plywood because “burning canvas just didn’t work.” This is how he got into mixed media. “I am grateful for that competition because it unwittingly directed me towards a new medium,” Jayesh says.
Jayesh says his is undergoing a transformative phase especially during the lockdown. “I arrange all my found objects in the studio and observe them for hours, thinking of the ways in which one element can merge with the other. Slowly, ideas emerge. Sometimes it takes a month to complete an artwork, sometimes a year,” says Jayesh, adding that completing a piece is not a matter of time but of creative satisfaction. His most recent work with five windows took almost three years to complete. He had exhibited a version of it at MSU and revisited the piece during the lockdown.
Apart from participating in numerous group shows and art camps, Jayesh has won Ahmedabad-based Kala Ravi Trust’s Creative Steel Life Award in 2015 and the Urban Landscape Award in 2016. While the pandemic has been tough, Jayesh still hopes to return to Ahmedabad one day. His dream is to hold a solo exhibition. He does not want to experiment with new media or techniques as of now. “I guess I am still too embroiled in my past. It is not time yet,” he says. But when personal journeys collide so poignantly with professional journeys, one can only imagine more admirable output in the near future. You can see more of Jayesh’s works here.