The new work from Sandeep Mukherjee in Spell at Pitzer College’s Nichols Gallery has the feel of jazz. Subtle visual undulations of acrylic ink intoned in a pulsing rhythm of quantized marks invoke flights of improvisation. Mukherjee deftly interweaves the poetic and the conceptual, information and gesture. Duralene, the tough synthetic and translucent substrate Mukherjee works on, immediately lends luminosity to his paintings. Three large-scale compositions in the atrium-like gallery space strike a delicate balance between chance and risk. Sections of black acrylic gesso thinned with alcohol become flat black surface lacking painterly marks or brushstrokes; they form a toothy, velvety texture. Sweeping arcs articulated in small ink strokes rotate about fixed points. Smaller spirals and mountain and valley shapes interpose themselves between earth and sky. Ink runs off into small pools so concentrated that they are very nearly sticky black, reminiscent of the way Sam Francis ran his colors from a dense ooze to the subtlest glaze in one continuous motion.
Mukherjee’s work elicits the vibe of a 1958 recording of Miles Davis and John Coltrane burning down the house at the Newport Jazz Festival. Miles’ and Trane’s rendition—one of many—of Ah-Leu-Cha, Charlie Parker’s great Bebop standard, explodes with bursts of improvisation laid over the quick tempo of the drums.
Three smaller etched works on the first floor of the gallery offset the exuberant energy of the larger paintings. These quiet compositions are executed in white gesso on duralene. Painted on the backside of the duralene, facing away from the viewer, the gesso is perceived through a scrim of translucence, like a milky glaze. Folds which hint at landscape are elegantly etched into the white surface.
Cosmology and Quantum theory also play a role in Mukherjee’s work. The ink marks in the larger works embody discrete levels of information. Suggestions of radio telescopes scanning the sky, searching for heavenly bodies, coalesce in the radial arcs of Mukherjee’s suggested space.
The five small works in the upper level of the gallery incorporate muted colors and black and white with one exception. Yet there is incredible energy packed into each of these compositions; a sense of flow and movement is evident in sinusoidal curves and plant-like tendrils. This new work—which significantly departs from his figurative work—lives up to show’s title, evoking a powerfully visceral enchantment.
Spell at the Nichols Gallery at Pitzer College, first floor of the Broad Center, 1050 N. Mills Ave., Claremont, (909) 621-8000, www.pitzer.edu. Museum hours Tues.–Fri., 12PM–5PM. THROUGH March 22, 2008.