The Indian artist NS Harsha on how his latest paintings embody the notion of ascent, an idea he says has been hijacked by religion, why he prefers flatness to perspective, and why he has a duty to be mad.
By Harry Thorne
If you read about Mysore-based artist NS Harsha (b1969), you will learn that his intricate paintings are founded within ancient Indian custom. You will learn that he has revitalised the tradition of the Indian miniature, and you will learn that he is reassembling icons of Hinduism in a contemporary setting in order to instigate a certain revaluation. If you talk to him, however, he will tell you that this is not the case.
Although, as one would expect, Harsha’s exposure to Indian culture has left him with a reverence for traditional values, he is not heavily indebted to any specific ritual or ceremony, nor is he interested in the imposition of religion on the masses. In fact, he is an artist who admires minimalist abstraction, draws reference from Japanese manga, and entertains a certain irritation at the manner in which religion has claimed a monopoly over a number of qualities inherent to the human condition.
One such quality is ascent, an idea that Harsha considers to be as significant to the drive for modernity as it is to the steadfast tenets of religion. It is to our ceaseless pursuits of ascent, he says, that we are kept in momentum, and it is in this belief that Moving Upward, Harsha’s first solo exhibition at Victoria Miro’s Mayfair gallery in London, is founded.
Harry Thorne: The show is titled Upward Movement. Can you tell me a little about its origins and your early interests in ascension?
NS Harsha: For the past 20 years or so, I have been a great observer of different happenings around mankind and the human, but about three years ago I had a bit of a hit, that point where you want to re-establish your existence in relation to other things. It was then that I began to put a lot emphasis on the idea of ascent. It has become such a beautiful phenomenon because, even in the modern world where we witness high-end science, ascent is still the key word. Though here it proposes upward movement, whether you dive deep into the cell or you dive deep into the cosmos, it’s all about ascent to the next level. Upward movement could really be deep inside. So the works are about the human interest in this ascent, because that’s what keeps us in momentum, constantly.
Once someone told me, “It’s very spiritual”, and I said, “I have got to be very honest: deep inside, these paintings have nothing to do with spirituality.” Ascent has been hijacked by that religious gang, and I want to hijack it back into this form that is independent because, ultimately, ascent is an embedded phenomenon in the human context. Whether you want it or not, your mind is equipped to always looks for it. Although it does have these very heavy religious inclinations, I have nothing. It’s very unfortunate when it’s completely taken into the Hindu framework, because when I look at it, it has got its own journey and its own thing happening.