Mehlli Gobhai

Energy Diagrams
Mehlli Gobhai (1931-2018) pursued the objective of formal structure with a singular focus during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Renouncing his festive polychrome compositions of the mid-1970s, he adopted an austere palette of black, white and brown, occasionally relieved by saturated greens, terracotta and poster reds, ecru, and burgundy. In the spirit of an architect or surveyor, he used the plumb string, mapping his canvases by reference to the clarity of its line and the arc of its swing. Figures, vestigially present in his paintings of the mid-1970s, receded, leaving behind only their sharp, geometricized outlines. The imageless image, built from horizontal, vertical, diagonal and tilted lines, took centre stage. Fields of darkness contended with shards of illumination, as he moved towards an evocation of axial linearity.
By 1979, Gobhai’s works assumed the form of energy diagrams, marked by scalar weights and vector forces. The quadrilaterals in these paintings are often shaped according to the golden section, a universal mathematical and geometrical ratio found in nature, architecture and music – in spiral venation, the pyramids, and the compositions of Claude Debussy and Erik Satie. Fittingly, the route to these paintings was laid through preparatory cut-outs, collages and drawings reduced to the taut interplay of line and curve.
Experimentally, during this period, Gobhai used oils and acrylics as well as casein inks, dry pastels, aluminium powder, and conté. During this period, recognition came to him in the form of two major museum exhibitions in which he was invited to participate: ‘Marking Black’, curated by Madeleine Burnside (Bronx Museum of the Arts, New York, 1980) and ‘Hard Line: Drawing as a Primary Medium’ (Islip Art Museum, New York, 1984).
Ranjit Hoskote & Nancy Adajania
(Curators, Mehlli Gobhai: Epiphanies, Chemould Prescott Road, 2021)

Chemould Prescott Road

Established by Kekoo and Khorshed Gandhy in Mumbai in 1963, Chemould is one of the first exhibition spaces in India focusing on modern and contemporary art, that presents works by the country’s most prominent artists across interdisciplinary and experimental mediums. Through its online viewing rooms, artist projects and significant presence in global art fairs and programs, Chemould is also at the forefront of international art platforms. Since its inception, Chemould has pioneered the early careers of today’s leading artists including S. H. Raza, Tyeb Mehta, Bhupen Khakhar, Atul Dodiya, Anju Dodiya and L.N. Tallur among others. Through its institutional collaborations, Chemould has coordinated the mid-career retrospectives of artists like Jitish Kallat at the National Gallery of Modern Art Delhi (2017), NS Harsha at the Mori Art Museum (2017) and Mehlli Gobhai at the National Gallery of Modern Art Mumbai (2020). In conjunction with its exhibitions, Chemould shares the visionary work of its artists with audiences worldwide through the production of catalogues, artists books, editions and monographs; providing insights and unique access to their oeuvres. Through its wide-range programming the gallery has introduced important women artists to the public who stand as crucial feminist voices in contemporary Indian art, namely Mithu Sen, Pushpamala N and Shakuntala Kulkarni, and artists including Shilpa Gupta, Nilima Sheikh, Varunika Saraf and Reena Kallat, whose body of work confronts aspects of today’s socio-political landscape. Parallel to their representation, Chemould’s programme focuses on Desmond Lazaro, Aditi Singh, Bijoy Jain and Lavanya Mani, who present a range of investigations and approaches to material. In 2007, the gallery moved to a large loft-like space in a historic building on Prescott Road. Under the current directorship of Shireen Gandhy, Chemould has placed works in various private and public collections of leading international museums including the Guggenheim Foundation, the Tate Modern, the Kunsthaus Zürich, the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, The Cincinnati Art Museum, M+ and The Art Institute of Chicago. Now in its fifth decade, Chemould plays a vital role in India’s contemporary art landscape: the gallery holds a robust program, and supports and showcases the careers of some of the most influential contemporary artists and estates from across the country.