In Pranav Sood’s paintings, charismatic figures mingle in front of geometric, patterned backgrounds. Bold and vibrant colors abound, interacting in dynamic ways. The plethora of colors and patterns imbue these paintings with activity and movement, such that at first glance, they appear chaotic. There is so much activity across the canvas that your eyes struggle to decide where to look, making it difficult to decipher which elements are important. On closer inspection, narratives emerge and the figures in the paintings become symbolic. In this way, the paintings are like dreamscapes; a frenzied blur develops meaning with attention.
Sood is an immigrant from Punjab, India and a graduate of the MFA program at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. In August 2020, he moved to Bushwick. Yet his paintings seem a natural fit in his new home, at times recalling the sensibilities of this city’s rich pop and graffiti art traditions. It’s no surprise that he chose Bushwick as his adopted home. He said that the nearby Bushwick Collective, a neighborhood street art project founded in 2011 by Bushwick native Joe Ficalora, drew him to the area.
The vibrance in his paintings fits the style that the Collective has become known for, though they are clearly also influenced by many traditions from his native country. Before moving to the United States for graduate school, Sood attended the Government College of Art in Chandigarh, India and participated in a 15-day intensive under Vijay Sharma, a master of traditional Indian miniature painting. The influence of this style is apparent in his undergraduate work. The characters in his undergraduate paintings are depicted with more realism than in his current work, and Sood appropriates a flattened perspective that is common in Indian miniatures.
There are other Indian influences at work too, most apparent in his prevalent use of patterns. This influence, Sood said, is both consciously and subconsciously applied, drawn from the world that surrounded him in his youth.
“When I was moving out of my house back in India, I was washing my hands, looking in the mirror, and I noticed there were tiles on the background; there were patterns there, little flowers and things,” said Sood. “There were also tiles on the floor, patterns there. I came into my room, my bed sheet had patterns, my curtain had patterns, my couch had patterns. Even on the ceiling in my house, we have embossed patterns, even on the cupboards. There are patterns everywhere.”
These influences have made their way into his current work in perhaps unexpected ways. In graduate school, Sood began experimenting with new styles, applying an approach to color inspired by the work of Bridget Riley and Josef Albers. He began to infuse these traditional patterns with influence from modern color theory and op art. This manifests in his newer paintings in a plethora of patterns, from colored polka dots to cubes, interacting with shifting color gradients, drawing our attention to different elements and establishing a sense of depth.
While making his newer pieces, he retained the narrative elements of his earlier work, but these narratives steadily became more abstract and playful. Where his earlier works seem to depict memories, his later works appear more as dreams. Humanoid characters mingle with anthropomorphic lions, serpents and amorphous blobs. Through their interactions emerge themes of love, desire, family, aspiration and longing.
These thematic changes paralleled formal changes. The muted color palette and realism utilized in his early paintings were replaced by brighter colors, mosaics and cartoonish figures. He stripped the realism present in his earlier paintings away with the intention of drawing more attention to the thematic content of the paintings. Specific faces become outlines of emotion.
“I started reducing the characters in such a way that only the things which are important for the painting, which are actually expressing something on the most basic level, are there,” said Sood.
Sood said that by abstracting the figures in his paintings he hopes the meanings of his paintings become less tied up in the personal experiences that originated them. They also imbue the paintings with a sense of dynamism and energy.
The result is a unique style that filters Indian art traditions through a pop lens. To my eyes, the bright colors and playful characters populating his paintings are reminiscent of those you might find in Keith Haring’s work. Like Haring’s, Sood’s paintings are busy, active and exude an ebullience, even when they deal with darker themes. There is a pervasive sense of optimism in these images. In “I find peace in you” (2021), two lovers are sheltered from a treacherous outside world, finding solace in each other. In “I accept” (2021), a man sits upon a flaming cauldron. Embracing the flames, a smile graces his face.
These paintings, both of which were painted just this year, seem appropriate for the current moment. As the COVID-19 virus continues to spread in large numbers globally, including in Sood’s home country, a hopeful outlook in the face of chaos may be just the message many are grasping for.
Pranav Sood’s work is currently on view in Pattern, a group exhibition at Abel Contemporary Gallery in Madison, WI (open June 4-July 18, 2021). His work was last shown in New York in ArtOut at DorDor Gallery in April 2021.
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