B.V. Doshi’s dreamlike artworks take the spotlight at Art Basel

Vadehra Art Gallery brings a collection of paintings, sculptures and drawings by the celebrated architect to Art Basel
B.V. Doshis dreamlike artworks take the spotlight at Art Basel
Remnants of Memories VII, 2021Vadehra Art Gallery

Vadehra Art Gallery returns to Art Basel this week, offering the world a rare glimpse into the dreams of Balkrishna Vithaldas Doshi. In a collection of paintings, sculptures and drawings, curated as a presentation titled “Labyrinth of Dreams”, B.V. Doshi imagines a surreal architectural landscape entirely devoid of the technical limitations of the physical world.

“His mind is really free, and he is creating an imaginary world for himself,” explains Doshi’s granddaughter, Khushnu Panthaki Hoof, who is herself an architect, and also curator of his exhibitions. “It is really a very pure form of expression for him.”

Doshi doesn’t have any formal training as an architect, and learnt most of his craft while working as an apprentice to Le Corbusier. “He didn't know how to talk in French, and even his English was very poor,” Hoof reveals. “So they communicated in a very cryptic language, where Corbusier would sit next to him and draw to explain very basic things, like how you move through a space and what you experience.”

Also read: At 94, B.V. Doshi is awarded the RIBA Royal Gold Medal 2022

Remnants of Memories V, 2020

Vadehra Art Gallery

Doshi’s deft weaving of shape, line and colour comes together as a surreal world that is immediately recognizable, but uncannily eerie—not unlike how dreams tend to distort even the spaces we find most familiar. Some shapes suggest doorways; others suggest windows. There are portions that look like roads, segments that look like they could be roofs—but it is all implied. This is where Doshi’s mastery shines—the paintings aren’t about the form at all; they are about the spaces that these forms suggest to the human mind. As a viewer, you are an equal participant in the processes of Doshi’s imagination.

“He does not look at lines as something that is static,” says Hoof, adding that “for him, the line and the paper are alive, and he is just a medium. He is actually travelling through that landscape that he is creating on paper.”

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Remnants of Memories VI, 2017

Vadehra Art Gallery

Interestingly, Doshi’s career in art precedes his architectural practice by several years. He was studying art in Pune when his teacher asked him to consider a career in architecture–specifically after noticing his aptitude for depicting line and space. He enrolled at the Sir J.J. School of Architecture in Mumbai in 1947, but never completed his training; his formal introduction to architecture came later, in 1950, when he met Le Corbusier in England.

The commonalities in his approach towards both mediums is unmistakable–the manner in which he seems to collapse time into a single moment, evoking memories of the past as he crafts the worlds of the present. “Doshi is known for using traditional ideas and forms of architecture and transforming them into his unique modernist practice, in the same way he takes inspiration from Indian miniatures and other traditional art forms when creating his artworks,” says Vadehra Art Gallery director Parul Vadehra. “He draws inspiration from buildings and experiences from childhood and creates these beautiful drawings, canvases and sculptures that are meant to evoke deep feelings and memories for the viewer as well.”

Architectural Dreams VI, 2021

Vadehra Art Gallery

Also read: A look at what has kept BV Doshi busy during lockdown  

Over the last few years, and especially during the pandemic lockdowns, Doshi has started paying special attention to his artistic practice, and is experimenting with various techniques in metal sculpture. As sophisticated as the forms are, there is a playfulness to them that communicates the infinite worlds that populate Doshi’s mind. If the link between his art and architectural practices could be summarized in a single sentiment, his granddaughter says it best: “If he had a chance, he would like to build like his paintings.”

Art Basel is being hosted at Messe Basel in Basel, Switzerland till 19 June.