Jitish Kallat is an Indian contemporary artist. He lives and works in Mumbai, India. Kallat’s work includes painting, photography, collages, sculpture, installations and multimedia works. He was the Artistic Director of the second edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, held in Kochi in 2014. Kallat is currently represented by Nature Morte, New Delhi, Chemould Prescott Road, Mumbai, ARNDT, Berlin and Galerie Daniel Templon in France and Belgium. He also sits on the Board of Trustees of the India Foundation for the Arts. He is married to the artist Reena Saini Kallat.
Having received his BFA in painting in 1996, Kallat had his debut solo exhibition titled “PTO” at Chemould Prescott Road. His large-format paintings and drawings already had in them the themes that would recur throughout his work until today. With the self at the centre of an unfolding narrative, these paintings were connected to ideas of time, death, cycles of life, references to the celestial, and familial ancestry. It was only in the next three or four years that an image of the city, otherwise seen at the margins of his paintings, began to take centre stage. In those days Kallat referred to the city street as his university, often carrying within it pointers to the perennial themes of life that have remained a subtext to his work that have taken form in diverse media. “Other indigenous painters before him had flirted with international styles such as Pop (most notably Jyothi Bhatt and Bhupen Khakhar ) and the mix and match of Postmodernism (namely Gulammohammed Sheikh and Atul Dodiya), but no one had turned the textures and surfaces of urban India into the fracture of painting quite so successfully,” noted artist, gallerist, and co-director of Nature Morte, Peter Nagy in an essay titled “Jitish Kallat: 21st Century Boy”. “Parts of Kallat’s canvases appear as if they had been left outdoors during the monsoon season, other sections seem blistered and scorched by the unrelenting sun. The works usually appear much older than they actually are, aged as soon as they are born, not unlike all manner of objects and people through the subcontinent. The distressed and tortured surfaces create a field in which to submerge images while the images themselves are processed and mutilated in a variety of ways. All of which combine to create works that both participate intimately with the artist’s mise en scene and comment upon the unique idiosyncrasies of his home. Degradation, bastardisation, the destruction and retrieval of culture and history became Kallat’s subjects through the astute handling of both subject matter and technique.”
Kallat’s work has also developed in response to museum collections in the case of projects such as “Field Notes, (Tomorrow was here yesterday) (2011)” at the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai, for which he was shortlisted for The Skoda Prize in 2012, or “Circa,” at the Ian Potter Museum in Melbourne. Both these projects had several of his recurring preoccupations find their form and structure in conversation with the museum viewed both as an infrastructure of signs but equally a field of stimuli and meaning.
Often works which begin with a private narrative or an autobiographical impulse might be materialized in a form where the self remains invisible within the space of the artwork and could often be traced back by observing several bodies of work alongside each other. The theme of time, for instance, could be rendered as date in works such as Public Notice 3, where two historical moments are overlaid like a palimpsest or in works such as Epilogue, every moon that his father saw in his lifetime becomes a labyrinth of fullness and emptiness with the image of the moon morphing with the form of a meal.
Kallat is known for working with a variety of media, including painting, large-scale sculpture installations, photography, and video art. He employs a bold and vivid visual language that references both Asian and European artistic traditions, along with popular advertising imagery that fuels urban consumerism. Kallat regularly exploits images and materials chanced upon around Mumbai’s sprawling metropolis, affording his works an inherent spontaneity and a handcrafted aesthetic. He unites these various media through themes that endure within Kallat’s work, such as the relationship between the individual and the masses. He references his own personal experiences and those of Mumbai’s other inhabitants. His work speaks of both the self and the collective, fluctuating between intimacy and monumentality, and characterized by contrasting themes of pain, hope and survival.
Kallat’s paintings address the problem of painting in an age dominated by mass media, writes art dealer and collector, Amrita Jhaveri, in A Guide to 101 Modern & Contemporary Indian Artists. “Using images from newspapers and magazines, advertising billboards, wallpaper and graffiti, his works are richly layered and replete with metaphor. Kallat has reinvented the painted surface to mimic the appearance of a television still or a computer monitor, complete with its surface striations and auras.