Millennium Post

Agile hands inert stoneware

Art lovers in Kolkata will rejoice and perhaps lap up these iconic creations in stoneware that came out of the discipline of agile hands of Jyotsna Bhatt, writes Uma Nair.

As a young writer in the 1990s, I used to visit Art Heritage's Summer Show. Just to pick up one ceramic vase/pot by Jytosna Bhatt which I could get for as humble as Rs 300-500. Ceramic shows were few and far between but Jyotsna had an elegant simplicity, a language that seeped through her clay to create conversations that stoked time and space.

Passion, power, and penetration
Jyotsna's solo show that unveils at Gallerie 88 in Kolkata is a deluge of delightful creations – each one unique in its sustaining power of knowing the difference between what can be produced mindlessly and what can be created with passion, power, and penetration of insight and aesthetics. I use these words because the world of studio pottery in India is filled with pretentious potters who know next to nothing and pass off as great practitioners with gullible media lapping up miniature mediocrity as great works of ceramic art. Even more ludicrous when India Art Fair gives a wall to lesser junk made in the name of avant-garde art.
In Baroda based teacher and high priestess Jyotsna Bhatt's agile hands, inert matter — stoneware, signature matte glazes, and minerals — seem to awaken, smoke, stretch and settle into a position of poise and reflective reverie.
Jyotsna makes platters, cats, vases, bulbs and small artefacts that are not just utterly unique but are the embodiment of 21st-century Indianesque modernism. Yet rather than consciously follow the dictates or philosophies of an aesthetic school, she draws inspiration from what she sees in the garden around her: the quirky expression of a cat in sleep, the beauty of an opening bud, little vignettes from nature, all with a hint of antiquated murmurs make for a heady sojourn.
Limited colours humble elements
These 50 odd stoneware creations are interestingly made with an extremely limited palette of colours: burnt terracotta brown, teal, and ash grey on a few variants of bulbs or platters or cats or quasi-vases. It is possible to read them as parallel to – a syntactical device, a way of allowing disparate elements to sit alongside each other. It allows Jyotsna to make coherent groups of work in a way that the connotations of nature's effusions can speak in an age when ceramic art is fashionable but produced more out of the dictates of superficial whimsy rather than enigmatic or studied intimations. This sense of objects being part of a much larger world is what makes Jyotsna stand out as an urban studio potter who teaches techniques and shares recipes of glazes with her students over years of workshops and travel. These 50 works created over 2016-2017 echo their own accommodation with modernity.
There is an affection for the city of Baroda, her little garden as a place to make, which sets her apart from the deep, emotional investment in crafts in the state of Gujarat. We can inherently sense a feeling of a completely different sensibility from that of ruralist craftsmen. We can see the genesis of a silent yet robust urban potter, who is at home in a contemporary world and comfortable in her own skin considering the fact that she has been firing pots since 1960s.
Bulbs and Cats
Jyotsna's pots reveal an intuitive instinct for powerful concision, for the paring of bulbous forms, that give us nature's ripples of flowers blooming as well as grained sandy textures, minimal yet minute to the detail of functioning in humility to the essential timbre of creation.
Her cats are creatures of feline flavour –their bending bodies earning iconic stature through their sustained power of naturality manifest in subtle innovations of shape and smiling cadences. Their smooth surfaces, their dappled stripes or smooth strokes tell us of the articulation of Jyotsna Bhatt's hands.
When you look at her yoked little jars with a slight Victorian accent you know that her work is venerable and filled with a quiet vivacity. The bulbs she creates either in teal or a velvet wine tone are symbols of what is the everyday reality, what is practical and beautiful in repose. To look at the bulbs in this collection is to know that pottery is an ancient yet deeply expressive tradition – and Jyotsna echoes that ferment.
The lounging cats asleep or wide awake tell us that pottery for Jyotsna is a direct, playful expression of the physical body of the maker and beholder – a connection through form, design, and purpose.
When asked about her process and her preferences for firing she says: "The firing and temperature range I used for this show, are both oxidation and reduction atmospheres, I used wood and gas firing, ranging from 1260 C to 1280C."
"I have always had a preference for matte and satin matte glazes with mottled colour tones. Colours for me had always been a softer natural tone variety. I reduce my firing using copper oxides and their carbonates, tin oxide and titanium dioxide. As for oxidation firing or what I call normal firing, I like the play of ash and flames on the works, which enhance the forms, so accordingly let them be an open body (without any glaze or glossy surface)."
At Gallerie 88 in Kolkata Jyotsna Bhatt the teacher, the thinker, the quiet worker offers her work as a palpable connection to the union of art and utility through a creative beauty found only in a guru's hands.
Jyotsna's quietly productive and widely influential life as a teacher of ceramics has seen her become one of the best known and most beloved potters in the nation.
Her gentle yet unequivocal mastery stands alone as a unique and compelling vision endowed by tradition's rich history and by the intimate nobility of her own creative spirit. Indeed art lovers in Kolkata will rejoice and perhaps lap up these iconic creations in stoneware that came out of the discipline of agile hands.

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