Anupam Sud was born in 1944 at Hoshiarpur, Punjab but spent a substantial part of her childhood in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh. By 1960, her family had migrated to Delhi where she pursued a Diploma in Painting from the College of Art (1962-67). She was the youngest member of Group 8, a printmakers’ collective started by Jagmohan Chopra (1935-2013). Between 1971 and 73, Sud joined the Slade School of Art, London, under the tutelage of Portuguese artist Bartholomew dos Santos to further her study in printmaking. For nearly three decades after her return from London, she taught at the Printmaking department of College of Art, New Delhi. Sud’s practice largely focuses on various intaglio processes and printmaking techniques composing themes focused on the human figure. Over time, her practice has evolved to include other mediums such as painting, charcoal, pastels and ink.
In her five decades of art practice, she participated in numerous group and solo shows across the globe including her first major solo exhibition - Graphics and Drawings: 1971-89 in Art Heritage, New Delhi; her first retrospective Transgression in Prints: Anupam Sud, Four Decades at Palette Art Gallery, New Delhi; and the major retrospective The Soul (Un)Gendered organised by Delhi Art Gallery, New York in collaboration with Kiran Nadar Museum of Art in 2019-20. Sud is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including the British Council Scholarship (1971), the President of India’s Gold Medal (1973), Sahitya Kala Parishad Award (1976, 1980, 1984, 1992, 1993), study and travelling fellowship in printmaking at the Centre for International Contemporary Art (CICA), New York granted by the Alkazi Foundation (1990), Charles Wallace Research Grant (1998) among others. Sud currently resides and practices in Delhi.
"Printmaking can never be totally predictable. It is like a sunrise over a landscape. You know what is about to unfold but never cease to be surprised by the revelation."
Working daily for over five decades now, Anupam Sud’s artistic oeuvre defies any easy classification due to the sheer volume and diversity of her practice. She is perhaps one of the most distinguished Indian artists, especially with her contribution to printmaking and her sustained enquiry into the human form and its existential predicaments. A committed artist, she has also been a compassionate teacher, an inspiration to generations of students. Anupam was encouraged by the attention given to her work by Somnath Hore (who was brought into Delhi to set up a printmaking department at the College of Art) and later, by her teacher Jagmohan Chopra (founder of Group 8, the first collective of Indian printmakers). Silently and slowly subverting the archaic notions of male supremacy and puritan idioms of modernism, she evolved a pictorial language stamped with her idiosyncratic vision, marking her vantage point, soon after returning from the Slade School of Fine Art, London, in 1973.
Anupam’s prolonged ruminations on the process of etching have perhaps become emblematic of her life itself–the realisation of transient time, the need to cultivate patience and restraint and acknowledge the presence of dualities such as light and dark while living each day to encounter adversities, working towards resolve.
Darkness and obscurity could be considered essential metaphors that prepare the way for the manifestation of light. If one were to subject these values to a formal analysis of art, it becomes clear that they are constituents of the emanation of “chiaroscuro”. An illusionistic device of contrasting light and shadow, it is an effective aid for an artist, or a filmmaker, capable of piercing the heart of darkness. Anupam has over the years mastered the technique and administered it to an almost meditative investigation. But what are the sources and meaning of the strange life drama in the artist’s world, caught between conflicting forces, theatric vows and broken words?
Her journey from ‘the plate to the palette’ has been a story both exemplary and singular. Her watercolours and mixed media works in their intimate scale reveal the joy of spontaneity and impulsive effusiveness. In her large-format oil paintings, she responds to the fluidity of space. Her eye and hand traverse the expanded visual field with brushwork that is tactile and palpable, by thinning oil for layering the surface with illusionistic pictorialism. Drawing continues to enchant her and remains the driving force behind her articulations.
Anupam’s symbolic and imaginary universe is a dimly lit stage, where men and women rehearse their scripted roles and seductive power. Impersonating mythological and everyday characters, they adorn or strip their bodies in the never-ending costume drama of life. Viewers encounter in her work the dynamics of relationships amplified either by a tender touch, unspoken communication or the impossibility of a dialogue. With a perfect physique and stoic expression, and lacking identity markers, her social subjects are often placed in a noirish and uncanny urban setting, an atmosphere forbidding in its emptiness, yet suffocating by the looming threat of an ever-present gaze or erosion of personal space. Such an emplacement of humans, especially women, makes them appear extremely vulnerable as they encounter impending dangers and the vicissitudes of destiny.
Sinister and enigmatic, Anupam’s compositions are presented in the manner of a puzzle or a game governed by the logic of speculation and sheer chance. Word puns and visual clues in the form of half-open chest of drawers, half-visible words, stumbling dice, broken grid, or headless torsos are important in the staging and decoding of her stories. Despite being figurative and exhibiting a great formal coherence, her works disrupt narration or elucidation, opting for a suspended closure.
Using the ploy of multiple frames within a frame, or by partially cropping windows, doors or sharp-edged objects to dramatize the visual plot, the moving in and out of the grid or passing through the frame also marks spatial and temporal passage in Anupam’s works. Mysterious moments lined with deceptive humour and mischief accentuate the relation between metaphoric content and spatial devices. The onus of exegesis is thus placed on the viewer, who is expected to traverse the twilight zone of interpretation, quite like the couple in Between Vows and Words (1995)–entrapped by the enunciations of promise, and the terms of agreement unmoored floating without syntax or meaning.
- Roobina Karode