In recent years Mario D’Souza’s artistic practice has progressively brought together disparate elements of his lived experience. Born and raised in the Indian city of Bangalore, D’Souza arrived in Paris in 2001 to study at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, subsequently remaining in France to live and work as an artist. Displaying the traits of a life lived across and between two cultures, D’Souza draws upon the duality of his experience to create a body of work that combines drawing and sculpture with assembled materials and objects. He devotes particular attention to colour and to the quality of the materials he selects, be they noble or poor, as well as to their texture, feel, and visual impact.
Inspired by Indian culture, Western art influences and the spiritual resonances of both, he draws upon these sources with spontaneity and generosity of spirit, melding the here and now with the bygone and the elsewhere, avoiding clichéd interpretations to express originality and insight in his exploration of the concepts he borrows from both cultures.
Attempts to define D’Souza’s work have often employed the terms ‘baroque’ and ‘conceptual’. Yet neither of these apparently paradoxical terms do justice to the complexity of his work which explores complementarity, expresses a notion of transversality, and emits an energy that seems to circulate through and between the works, spaces and people. It would, however, be misguided to view his particular strain of cultural hybridization as a passing fad or a déjà vu in this era of globalization. D’Souza’s work is seductive and provocative; it teases, delights and perturbs. A profusion of colours, ornamental details and organic forms combine with a subversion of everyday objects to provide the sensation of a shimmering decorative aesthetic. Yet this initial impression belies the artist’s very personal connection with the plasticity of forms and materials, fulfilling a physical and intellectual need to sustain his distinct relationship with the world. D’Souza’s quest is not to flatter the eye but rather to plunge into the language of forms and materials, seeking the substance within that reflects an individual reality composed of the multiple strata of existence accumulated in his inner self, as in each of us.
Mario D’Souza has been artist in residence at the Mobilier national since autumn 2016. Within in its vaults he has found a trove of rare delights with which to expand and develop his practice. The rich heritage that the vast collections of drawings, objects, sculptures and furniture represent is also a living heritage embodied by the human repositories of knowledge; the many highly skilled craftsmen and women that animate its workshops today, bridging the distinction between art and craftsmanship. Given extensive access to the collections, D’Souza has drawn inspiration from some of the greatest historical examples of French craftsmanship and material culture, along with the many non-European additions to the collections built up over the centuries of early globalization following the Renaissance. Far from being overwhelmed by such treasures, in these objects D’Souza has found resonance with the contemporary themes that inspire his work. The artist’s studio - a former apartment beside the entrance to the Mobilier National - provides D’Souza with a space for experimentation; altering, adapting, and transforming the objects, materials and furniture garnered from his forays into the collections. An intense stream of production has resulted, the artist experimenting with the objects he positions, hangs, and frames in relation to the spaces he fills. D’Souza reveals himself to be bold, curious, and unorthodox in his approach, often attempting new combinations through immersing himself in the decor of different contexts, epoques and milieus. His actions illustrate a belief that whatever the time or place, objects and existences are connected and interlinked with one another, created and recreated in a perpetual cycle.
The Flow exhibition, displayed at the Château d’Oiron from June to October 2017, displays some of the results of his recent inquiry. In this exquisite location where contemporary art and cultural heritage inhabit the space with complementarity, D’Souza has chosen to make himself at home, imbuing the chateau with his unique blend of bold impertinence and discrete understatement. His work is embodied with a sense of flow that occupies the spaces. His visual vocabulary, at times profuse, at other times reserved, festoons the rooms with drawings, fabrics, and sculptures, along with some thirty objects and furniture items that have been appropriated, arranged and reassembled, all loaned for the occasion by the Mobilier National.
This notion of inhabiting a space is found under a completely different guise at the Galerie Municipale Jean Collet in Vitry. Mario D’Souza has again decided to make himself at home, seeking an ideal home while acknowledging the impossibility of finding it. Creating an equilibrium between public space and the private space devoted to creation, through his work, he invites the public to enter into his personal space. For D’Souza, strictly speaking there is no private space; all that exists is a notion of space. It is therefore permissible to create it everywhere. Like the present catalogue, the exhibition is an invitation to spectators and visitors to enter into his creative space. D’Souza is somehow telling the visitors, “you are at home, but don’t forget that you are in my home”. We therefore inhabit the artist’s space, at home or among others, each of us able to connect with fragments of ourselves.
For this exhibition, D’Souza chose to work with second hand objects and furniture acquired from Emmaüs. For the artist, this is not in contradiction with the splendour of the objects at Oiron; in exploring both grandeur and simplicity it is life itself that he seeks to capture. Majestic or modest, his functional objects are infused with a human energy, an essential flow, whether they are imbued with age-old skill or simply bear the superficial traces of past use, ready to be restored to life in a different way.
The three rooms that constitute the gallery have been conceived of as three moments of immersion in D’Souza’s personal journey. In the entrance, the large rug upon which a series of bolsters are arranged creates a sculptural form anchored to the ground; this appears to be communicating with an aerial sculpture composed of drinking straws. This welcoming space is a place of beginnings, offering the possibility to sit at the outset and see things as if through a mist, of the past and of a distant India, questioning the functional or observational nature of the installation. The drinking straws - simple and colourful objects used throughout the world as a vector for circulating liquid and air - provide a common and universal thread. Their intertwining, superimposed fragility expresses here the interwoven nature of our existences forged of multiple encounters and experiences.
In the second room which can be seen as a European space, a furniture set composed of a carpet, a round table, and chairs sets a familiar scene. Upon the wall opposite, a drip of colour runs downwards, while a series of some thirty drawings on coloured paper juxtaposes stopped drips with vine stocks. The stopped drip is a recurring motif, a way of capturing time while replaying it incessantly. It is a vital impulse, a momentum that springs forth, rather like the grapevine, which has been used time and again in different cultures to symbolize constancy, the renewal of the breath of existence. In the large gallery space, construed as a place of dreams and sensations, the artist draws upon the interaction between the works and a desire to extend the boundaries of perception. Large, brightly coloured wall panels are positioned on the floor. Symbolizing barriers that have been removed, they become the platforms upon which partially dismantled pieces of furniture are placed: a table, chairs, a chest of drawers, a cabinet.
Once again, each object has the potential to become a sculpture. By attaching drawers, a tray, and seats to the walls, the artist invites the public to imagine putting things back in the right place, mentally reordering the furniture.
This is reminiscent of the way he asks questions of himself, reflecting upon arrangements to be made and remade over and again.
For D’Souza, his work mirrors his life; it un dergoes a process of constant evolution. Some distance from the windows, large swathes of fabric in solid colour form drapes, their reverse side lined with Indian patterns, enticing visitors to pass first along one side and then along the other, evoking the obverse and reverse of any situation whether spatial or conceptual. Dispersed across the walls and furniture, a series of 80 drawings on coloured paper appears as a blossoming of possibilities encompassing memories, movement, and divergence.
The human ear is a recurrent motif among the stones, vegetation, and rock-like structures pierced with iron rods. As with the foetus which symbolises conception, D’Souza considers the ear to be essential to existence.
Visitors are thus led to penetrate a body, a spirit, and a personal history by making their own experience resonate. Just as the artist, in his approach and particularly with this exhibition, listens to the people who interrogate and explore his work. If you want to hear you have to listen is an invitation to consider the notion that fundamentally, our lives are not so different from one another’s after all. It is the various components of our existences that are set out differently. In being attentive to this recurrence (of life events), and to the other in whom a part of ourselves is revealed, this singular space opens up an additional fictive terrain.