In hidden geographies, Ray postulates canonical ideals of beauty and the sublime by distilling her memories, photographs, observations and experiences of landscapes, both urban and natural. Her painterly idiom combines an unconventional color palette with a dense network of gesture, impasto and layering techniques that is direct, emotive and visceral. Process is key and the varying viscosities and uneven layering of paint creates cracks, crevices and ridges, exposing the painting’s substratum in areas, while obliterating it in others. Paint is poured and mixed in thick folds onto the surface of the canvas so that it striates, streaks and eddies, producing imagistic manifestations of natural and organic phenomena like foliage, riverbeds and sky. At other times it is painstakingly applied with a palette knife in small segments across the expanse of the canvas, to construct fragmentations.
In Tsunami (2011) - a small-scale painting - Ray captures the force of that "wave" in the formal construction within the picture plane, rendering it spatially expansive. Another work of intimate proportions, Orange, Rising(2011), uses color as a starting-point of the investigation into spatial construction. A central orange “figure” is flanked by amorphous forms, whose edges dissolve on the verge of concretizing into form.
In paintings like ‘Til Death Do Us Part (2011) - a diptych which spans 10 feet from edge to edge - Ray tackles immensity of scale. The two panels in the painting are rendered almost identical, but with gestural differences. In contrast to other works from the series, the artist explores a shallower space in this painting, using a dual color under-painting as the tonal base and building upon it with the inter-positionality of three colors - blue, white and ochre - on a unified spatial plane. The Sublimation of Desire (2011) - a triptych which extends across 15 feet - references historical styles like Impressionism (Monet’s garden at Giverny) and Post-Impressionism (Van Gogh’s intense color and paint application). The three panels manifest continuity and yet flux. Foliage and the impression of water and light are built up through multiple layers of thick, impasto treatments and motley shades of purples, greens and yellows that proliferate the canvas. The image recalls a French or English garden, but the application is process-driven. The underlying metaphor for desire is evident in the rich, cadmium reds that peek out from just below the surface. This warm undertone pulsates, aiding formal unity of spatiality, depth and patterning. The resulting painting is a dense, patchwork lattice and kaleidoscope of color. By extension, the feminine psyche and the synergistic tension between actual (physical) and imagined (fantastical) desire are the impetus forForbidden Pleasures (2011). More loosely this painting ties into the notion of the Garden of Eden and the forbidden fruit (rendered in the painting as the repeating alzarin crimson element). Each fruit has a different rendering: at times it is crushed, bleeding, or drained out. While the fruit takes on metaphorical meanings and has an element of foreboding, in the context of the abstract painting, it also provides a visual counterpoint to the lush greens that bathe the canvas. The entire painting is an amalgamation of marks and gestures, of paint directly out of the tube, poured or dripped on, that construct a final image of a garden. As such the metascapes of Sharmistha Ray are suspended in time between mythos and reality, between abstraction and its opposite, exposing an intimate and charged topography of the subconscious mind.
Born 1978 in Kolkata, India, Ray lived in Kuwait before moving to the United States in 1997. She holds a dual degree from Pratt Institute (M.F.A. in Painting / M.S. in Theory, Criticism & History of Art), and is a recipient of the Joan Mitchell M.F.A. Grant (2004). Ray held directorship positions at Bodhi Art and Hauser & Wirth, before returning full-time to painting. She lives in Mumbai.