Walking in Barcelona’s Espai B Galeria, Rithika Merchant‘s playful yet precise lines are immediately captivating. She depicts creatures that are humanoid in flat and floating world. Her repetitious line is used to build up pattern and fill in form rather than rendering them in space. Her large drawings are made on sheets of paper set in a grid or geometric design that symmetrically break apart the compositions with solid white lines.
A recent transplant to Barcelona, Rithika’s drawings seem at home here with the vibrant mosaics and whimsical architecture of the city. Beginning in the late 19th century, the Modernisme movement defined a Catalonian aesthetic in Barcelona. With a rich history of tile work of Moorish influence integrated with a visionary use of organic forms inspired by Art Nouveau, a fanciful urban space pouring with detail defines the present-day city. Being born in Mumbai, having studied in New York, and now living in Barcelona, Rithika has a unique worldview that is both conceptual and crafty.
Rithika’s characters are set in simple landscapes, allowing her obsessive ornamentation to shine. God-like creatures are repeated through her drawings, and build up to form narratives and reveal a personalized mythology.
Titanomachy, or the Titan War, makes reference to the Greek stories of battles fought between the family of gods before the existence of man. There is no clear winner in Rithika’s drawing, and the gods exist in a static moment before the action of battle has been resolved. Here, the gods are a green woman-creature and a woman on bucking horse. There are two seem like opposing forces, one trampling the other, but both make reference to the natural world. The greenish woman has big eyes like an owl, a woodland creature of the night. The reddish woman seems to ride with the sun, filling the night sky. An octopus, a creature known for its intelligence, blocks her sight. The horse seems to be taking the place of her female sex organs, and her body appears muscular, looking like a man entering battle. The rearing horse seems very phallic in this reading, its mouth spitting a cloud in ecstasy.
Rithika’s Deus Otiosus, Latin for neutral or idle god, makes reference to the concept of an unacting or hidden god who takes no part in ruling the world. Here, the greenish woman-creature is seen again, and her depiction as a kind of bird in a nest is clear. Her hands form an open circle, at the spot of her Sacral Chakra, also the center of the image where four corners of paper converge. She sits in a region above the blue sky, in some kind of radiant vortex illuminated by her head. Her decorative face makes her immediately recognized as the trampled character from Titanomachy. Her face is distinctly labial, and sits in waiting or meditation.
The more that these drawings are examined, the more narratives can be drawn out of them, even if not exactly what the artist intended. Like characters in a dream, the explanatory process is what is important, rather than an objective or correct understanding of the symbols.
A Pagan or polytheistic worldview anthropomorphizes natural phenomenon. These kind of warring god myths were widespread through the ancient world and Middle Ages, found in the mythological traditions that spanned European cultures from Babylonia to Scandinavia, often having to do with the creation of the world’s features and humanity. Rithika’s appropriation of the mythological process allows her to create fictions that speak to human nature and dredge the subconscious for her own identity (and the viewer’s).
Drawings by Rithika Merchant are currently in Espai B Galeria’s “B-space” or back gallery where they keep a collection of works from artists that they have featured. Floor-to-ceiling displays of art are packed into the B-space, whereas their front gallery gives artwork the buffer of white that is the typical style of an art show. However, the B-space is what the gallery is really about—-keeping an abundance of work on display so that the art-seekers will find work that captivates them and a variety of Barcelona artists are kept accessible to the public.
Rithika has a number of activities to her credit, having shown in group and solo exhibitions in galleries across Europe and in New York, Mumbai, and Montreal. Rithika studied in New York at Parsons The New School For Design, graduating in 2008, and also attended the Hellenic International Studies in the The Arts program on the island of Paros, Greece.