Charles Green, critic and artist, writing on Yatri's 1998 SANSKRITI exhibition in New Delhi.
Shruti Yatri's paintings reflect two nations and two lives: India (he was raised in Agra and lived in India until he was 26) and New Zealand (he lives in Auckland, New Zealand's largest city, and exhibits there regularly). His paintings show this clearly: on the one hand, Tantric symbols and Sanskrit letters; on the other, the spatial divisions and severe monochromatic monumentality that distinguishes New Zealand art. Even in 1998, mountains, water, wilderness and sea remain an overwhelming influenc of the great New Zealand artist, Colin McCahon, who, during the 1950s, developed an immensely powerful visual language based on painted words where content was also form. Behind this, for all New Zealanders, there's the perpetual collision between Maori and Pakeha (white) cultures.
At first sight, his relationship to mystical Indian iconography is straightforward: an attitude of homage to ancient tradition. I think, however, that his relationship to this past, and the two words are crucial, is more inflected than this. It is inflected by his position inside two cultures in transition, a position that is both a personal disadvantage (it makes for invisibility) and a particular point of cultural leverage. His iridescent paints and semi-transparent glazes, laid across the skin-like surface of intimately-sized panels, don't just depict these symbols– these iconic, potent yantras. They obliterate and deface them.
This isn't iconoclasm: it's something more complex and more truthful. Shruti Yatri can see, as very few foreign visitors can, the self-destructive contradictions loose in contemporary Indian society: how rampant, crazy materialism sits side by side with crises in public education, utilities, and health care; how comatose bureaucracy intersects with karma; how frustration meets real generosity and individuals of great vision. His obliteration, therefore, is not irreverent. It's more a portrait of a culture at a point where society itself is rapidly undergoing a profound dislocation of culture from identity.
Like all accurate portraits, there's beauty (the pearlescent gold) and ugliness (the grey, worked opacity). We might look to dissident Georges Bataille, for whom clarity (the preferred quality of didactic, social realist art) was inconsistent with true communication. Bataille theorised that the passage if ideas from one subject to another required the condition of obscurity; poetry and obscurity go together. Like it or not, in Martin Jay's words, meaning is “like and endless labyrinth in which no thread led to an ‘outside' of clarity and illumination, a verbal equivalent of Bataille's informe.”
Yatri's pictures are both deeply respectful and angry at the same time. This is given extra weight by his hyphenated identity. He works in a liminal zone, a zone, strangely enough, that New Zealand painting has made its own, in which two or more navigating systems are managed simultaneously. Living as go-between across cultures so violent and exotic, its no wonder that Shruti Yatri's pictures are so insistently transcendent and black.
Bindu by Shruti Yatri: NZ Herald: T J McNamara November 2004
The Corban Estate Arts Centre continues its lively programme with these intricate and solemn paintings by an artist who combines geometry with cosmic visions. His textured backgrounds have circles and crosses imposed on them and the result combines stability and energy that reflects the attainment of poise through meditation and philosophy. This is a fine exhibition.
Elusive, sublime objects go far beyond beauty: April 1998
SEVEN PAINTINGS FROM NEW DELHI: GREGORY FLINT GALLERY
Reviewed by Keith Stewart: Sunday Star
These are exotic morsels, mysterious paintings that stretch your imagination beyond the bounds you normally expect from a serious art gallery. These paintings have the superficial enchantment of surface incandescence. Of a spiritual strangeness, but also beckon with shadows of familiarity.
Confused? You should be, because these are confusing paintings with a multiple dichotomy. The most obvious of these dual natures is the work's eastern flavour spliced on to western form, no out of place in an Auckland art gallery, but still unquestionably foreign.
Strangely, the obvious division between east and west is not such a straightforward layering of one over the other, east on west, or vice versa. The double act permeates the whole, and there is never a point at which the Indian references are entirely separated from their pakeha partners. There is less overt duality, too in the works' spiritual and material concerns. These paintings have a spirituality that is precisely mystical, a sense of the exotic, partly due to the elusive luster of their surfaces, but also in the shape-shifting nature of their images.
They are paintings of grace, beautiful objects that lose nothing by being elusive. It is that clever way that they hold the unusual and the common close together that takes them beyond beauty, to that attitude of dynamic force and contemplation.
This is a refreshing show because of its difference and the sublime moments the bestpaintings offer. Shruti Yatri, born in India now lives in Auckland. On the basis of this show, his is a talent to watch out for.
Concealing and Revealing: October 1997
TJ McNamara: NZ Herald
At the nearby Gregory Flint Gallery is the younger artist, Shruti Yatri, whose previous exhibitions have shown talents of the highest order. In this exhibition, his abilities have resulted in his most splendid paintings yet.
In his previous exhibitions, his symbols, taken from Hindu culture, myth and legend, were carved deep into textured paint so as to be almost relief sculpture. In this show the symbols have the same energy and fierce grandeur but they are placed against a background both luminous and subtle, so that they loom out of the mists of myth and the imagination. Each image has lines and streaks of colour that pour down the paintings in streams that are so irregular as the grand symbols are precise. These stream appear like the patina of countless offerings
The mystery of these paintings does not lie in the whiplash line and the monumentality of the symbols, powerful though they are. It lies in the mysterious shifts of the background which seem to glitter with mica and defy the understanding of how they were achieved.The symbols vary from the horned shape of Bulls Eye though the spread of Tree, with its arching shapes, to the tight spiral of Water Seed. Strangest and most impressive of all is Flag, where wave shapes undulate though complex landscapes that suggest many contexts. This is the life force at work. Force without a hint of false rhetoric, imbues all this superb exhibition.
NZ Herald: T J McNamara August 1996
Shruti Yatri is an artist who has succeeded in a synthesis of the thought and symbols of India with modern painting technique. His thickly textured gestural paintings are at the Drawings Gallery. The surface of these works has become more exciting and more varied as he continues to make letters from the Sanskrit alphabet into resonant images that convey with considerable force the effect of cross- cultural interaction
NZ Herald: T J McNamara November 1995
At the ASA Gallery Shruti Yatri has another impressive exhibition of his work, where he embeds tantric signs within deeply textured paint. The sweeping gestures of these paintings are as physically compelling and impressive as ever and the colour which in the past appeared simply applied to the surface has become an integral part of the feeling of the painting.Even in the absence of colour his strong signs have great force as in a spectacular group of works done simply in charcoal.The signs have rather less force when translated into sculptural zigguarats. While the paintings are diagrams of great power the sculpture sits passively on the floor, deprived of the surface energy that gives force to the painting.
NZ Herald, T J McNamara: March 1994
The work of Shruti Yatri at the Warwick Brown Gallery is a really impressive display by an artist young as a painter. His heavily textured works incorporate grand gestures supported by rich, subdued colour when he is painting in oils thought he colour become strident in two odd acrylic paintings.With the exception of these works this is a show of notable assurance and authority for a first outing.
NZ Herald: T J McNamara: November 1994
In the adjoining gallery is work by Shruti Yatri which further develops the concepts he showed in his exhibition last year. He makes grand tantric signs by dragging a scraper through mixtures of gesso and sand applied to canvas. He works with big, sweeping gestures.These are the signs of an abstruse lore marked on the earth and highlighted by colour that is washed against the contours formed by the gestural strokes and by the way the stroke itself reveals underpainting that gleams through the top surface. The paintings are particularly impressive on a large scale though the colour is sometimes at odds with the earthy textures. The bight purple of the long and complex Tatuamasi has a chemical flavour but the force of the blue and red of Om or the river-like sweep of Da amid brown and orange is undeniable. These are big, confident, powerful paintings.
Bernadette Rae: Rich Sound of Canvas: NZ Herald March 1994
The 18 works in Shruti Yatri’s first solo show, which opened at the Warwick Brown Gallery this week, are personal “yatras” or drawn “mantras” – visual representations of special sounds.
Yatri, one of just two contemporary Indian artists working in` New Zealand, is a master of fine arts student at Elam. And his work caused more than a passing ripple at the school’s end of year show in 1993. His exhibition is titled Dhvani (sounds) and each painting represents a different letter of the 50 character Sanscrit alphabet.
The works consist of an acrylic gesso base, mixed with Auckland’s volcanic sand then dragged and sculpted into sweeping curves, soft angles and sensuous planes. This tactile base is later coloured in oils. The effect is of old parchment or ancient stone and the colours are as subtly rich as a vedic chant, enlivened in occasional bright bursts, which are as clear as the chimes of a prayer bell.
Warwick Brown considers Yatri to be one of the best painters to emerge from Elam in recent years. His talent is also measured by a growing number of buyers, including both Canterbury and Auckland Universities. This is vitally encouraging to Yatri; at 42, with a wife and a six-year-old son he is two decades ahead of most of his art school cohorts. His success has been hard won. He has always combined his studies with work, at nights, as a chef.
Though born in India Yatri had an Anglican and “Oxford standard" education in a missionary school where he always excelled in art. All his schoolwork was marked in Britain and the art competitions that Yatri frequently won were also judged there. But any dream of a career in art was left behind with his school days. “Indian parents are more interested in their sons becoming doctors - it is hard to survive in India as an artist."
So Yatri went to work as a commercial gardener and in tourism before meeting the New Zealander who was to become his wife. The couple settled in Hasting in 1976 and Yatri found employment in orchards.
But fine arts still lured him and he began taking classes in the evenings at Hastings Boys’ High School. A series of summer schools - run by artists such as Carol Shepheard, Terry Stringer, Geoff Fuller and Murray Grimsdale - further inspired him.He moved to Auckland to attend classes at the Auckland Society of Arts, working five nights a week in restaurants, taking classes the other two nights and painting during the day. There was a brief stint in Australia and a trip back to India.
Another Wanganui summer school, run 'by Philippa Blair, tipped the balance. “It was 15 days and 300 people. It was such a buzz I knew I had to do something and do it in a concentrated way.” His application for Elam was accepted. "Things have become really clear over the last four years at Elam. My work is progressing and I am getting a good response. “I really know what I want and it is as if in the last years I was gearing up training for it.”
Yatri’s work is special for its ethnic veracity but is a long way from a simple reproduction of elements of old temple paintings. “India had an oral tradition dealing with historical facts and religious stories long before the written word," he says. “The oral tradition was called Sruti, in Sanscrit, or Shruti in Hindi – for which I was named. It means 'the remembered word.’” In the oral tradition each sound was associated with a deity. As the written language evolved the letters that represent those sounds also became deified.
A mantra, or recitation, is not merely words, says Yatri,” but a series of vibrations which can invoke energy if pronounced and practised in the proper way. A yantra has similar powers. “I am not a practitioner,” he confesses, “more an intrigued student.”
He also speaks of his attraction to Kali, - the mother goddess of the Hindus, of the “underlying unity of all things,” and the Tantric philosophy of balancing the male and female energies and of the cyclical nature of time. Others frequently find landscapes or other natural formations in his works - have even seen them as aerial views of a motorway system. But lf Yatri is working at some disadvantage because his subject is not always recognised intellectually, he is not disturbed by that.“People tell me they are very moved by the paintings,” he says. “They describe them as ‘spiritual’ and 'healing' ”