Matters of Art Logo

Marked Terrain

Artist Satish Sharma exhibited his mixed media paintings, sculptures and photographs in a recent exhibition titeld Marked Terrian at Sridharani Gallery, Triveni Kala Sangam in Delhi (January 12-21, 2023). MOA reproduces critic and curator Georgina Maddox’s essay on this show.

As the pandemic lifts, mutates and alters our lives forever, its impact on all aspects of our existence is incalculable. The socio-political, along with the emotional and the everyday are altered in the new normal. This has of course had an impact furthermore on a deeper subconscious level.

Art in many ways is the emotional thermometer to measure social alteration and it is within this arena that we approach the art of Satish Sharma whose talent unfolds in a manner that may appear abstract and non-narrative on one level however his obsessive mark-making is a ‘visual vocabulary’ that he employs to impact a deep subconscious sharing that gives vent to his social unease, his moods his obsession with aged and discarded objects and surfaces gives vent to his feeling. One may consider it his own personal visual language. As he creates layers of thrown colour different mark-making giving rise to an abstract language that is visually powerful yet psychologically and intellectually coded. His use of masonry and baking tools brings to the surfaces he works on a fresh and unexpected texture and emotional appeal.

Satish sometimes likens his mark making process with that of tribal artists, however it is only on a visual level that one may compare the works, as they have different significance and meaning in the two contexts.

In an ancient context, mark-making by tribal artist was seen as an act of sympathetic magic. Historically going back into the past the marks on the bodies of the ‘slave’ that were ‘traded’ was a ‘stamp of ownership’. This is especially true of the trade in Ghana and other parts of Africa. The tribal communities in India have developed their identity in close purlieu to the natural resources around which they have developed their cultural traditions, economy, social life, religious myths and techniques of production. With the passage of time they have developed a symbiotic relation with their local environment. For them land is not merely a source of livelihood rather a ‘representation of their cultural identity and existence’.1

Landscape of Flesh, sand, lime powder and oil colours on canvas, 36 x 72 in, 202

In a postmodern artistic context Satish has behind his work several years of the history of Abstract Expressionism, Art Informel, Color Field, Minimalism, Op art, and Postmodernism from which his artistic practice draws its strength and relevence. In the recently published essay at Princeton University titled Rothko to Richter: Mark-Making in Abstract Painting2 sourced from the Collection of Preston H. Haskell author Kelly Baum (Haskell Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art) writes of the showcase of the work of twenty-three American, Canadian, and European artists. The exhaustive list includes, Willem de Kooning, Richard Diebenkorn, Helen Frankenthaler, Jack Goldstein, Hans Hofmann, Franz Kline, Joan Mitchell, Robert Rauschenberg, Gerhard Richter, Mark Rothko, and Frank Stella.

The twenty-seven paintings range across a spectrum of styles, from the spirited and gestural to the placid and restrained, to the austere and mechanical. The vast majority are demonstrably abstract. Artists have engaged aspects of mimetic and non-mimetic painting in the same works of art, leveling the hierarchy that had long governed their relationship. They have toggled between abstraction and representation, creating abstract, semi-abstract, and representational works of art simultaneously.

In that respect in a very post-modern and contemporary context, Sathish’s artwork exists between the extremities of tribal markmaking and the intellectual non-mimetic act of painting that was the hallmark of the abstractionists. In this context one may note that “mark” is a product as well as a process—more specifically, it is an end that cannot be separated from its means. His works incorporate a contradictory approach of action painting and the meditative practice of Zen Buddhism that transfer energy from the body and mind of the painter to the artwork. His process also involves a minimalist and maximalist approach, where he does not necessarily plan his work but an addition and subtraction lead to the final artwork.

In the framework of Satish’s work the marks are made by every-day objects, combs, brushes, needles, wires, metal scraps and other sharp implements. He further complicates his process by working with construction material like sand, gravel, saw-dust, marble-dust, lime powder and cement. The intention behind this is achieving different consistency and surface feel in the work, rather than one which is purely painterly.

Graded Terrain, Sand, lime powder and oil colour with metal scrapes on canvas, Triptch 72x108 in, 202

Recently he also began experimenting with powdered pigment as part of his painting space. His work ventured into PU Foam during the Corona lockdown period as it was an easily available material during that time and he discovered that working with it was ‘quite rewarding’. His tools vary from masonry to carpentry, cake making to sewing and he also works with conventional painting tools like brushes on and off. This variety of unconventional implements lends his canvases an unexpected quality.

Satish’s approach is once again not intended to overstate or emphasize the process behind his practice of mark-making or to ‘dissimulate’ the presence of the artist’s hand, instead it is to bring to the work the spontaneity of his approach. There is something very organic about his process where the work grows in an unpremeditated manner and evolves as he continues working upon it. While the artist has a vague idea what he is looking to convey in the artwork he does not take a pre-mediated approach. Instead, colours, shapes and marks emerge from the work itself as he engages with it, which gives the whole composition a fresh and self-actualized feel to it.

This process operates very well for the smaller and medium sized works, but with the larger works, like the triptychs and quadtych—where the artwork grows up to a set of four panels, he does require a slight sense of pre-planning, given their size, the amount of material required and the sense of balance is needed to ensure continuity; however Satish surprises one with the revelation that the works were created as a spontaneous process-where one canvas led to another and the size just enlarged over time. In that respect Satish values immediacy, virtuosity, and expression rather than a structured and planned approach—this was essential to the Abstract Expressionist movement to which the aforementioned artists belonged.

While Satish’s formalistic approach is non-narrative, there are elements of the socio-political that enter his work, for instance in his series the Landscape of Flesh he draws his inspiration from the controversy surrounding the abortion rights in America and also the issue of Martial rape that was being fought at in Delhi high court, where he was disturbed by the regressive position taken by competent authorities. Correspondingly Grey Terrain was made during withdrawal of America from Afghanistan and the ongoing war of Ukraine and Russia.

Grey Terrain, Sand, lime powder and oil colour with metal scrapes on canvas, Quardrip 72x144 in, 2022

The dotted lines that Satish employs convey the impression of a political map and quiet often when one looks at the scarred and lined surface of his canvas one is reminded of the aerial view of an atlas of existence. The atmospheric perspective creates the illusion of depth, or recession, in his paintings where the modulating colour simulates changes effected by the atmosphere on the colours of things that are seen from a distance.

Satish’s painting thrives on a combination of opposing variants, what he calls a ‘contradictory approach’: The vigor of action panting is softened by a meditative process, minimalism is heightened by maximalist expression, non-narrative articulation is supported by a back story, constructivism meets with acts of destruction. His art is not one thing it is many at the same time. His intention is to bring the visual back to the mainstream in art rather than the idea and the concept. He would like to open viewer’s eyes to the inherent qualities of the material and its surroundings and reflect on their relationship.

One may gain multiple readings from Satish’s work and perhaps that is the beauty of an abstract work. Abstraction is a ‘continuum’, in that it keeps changing slowly over time in its own organic manner, with its private intuitive meaning that evolves with each experience of viewing it.



1. Rep resentation of Tribal communities in India (

2. Rothko to Richter: Mark-Making in Abstract Painting from the Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960 | Princeton University Art Museum

3. What Is 3. Abstraction in Art - Definition and Examples | Ideelart

4. Now you can buy pocket friendly art for your living room - The Hindu

5. Georgina Maddox and Artist Satish Sharma during an exhibiton Trails... News Photo - Getty Images. Trails of Materials – The Maddox Project (

More Features


One Art Fair Many Voices


The Conscious Voices of Vida Heydari Contemporary


MBIFL 2023: Celebrating the word, visual & performance


MAP opens to public in Bengaluru


Prayers Whispered into the Gathering Night


Marked Terrain