British artists Idris Khan and Annie Morris inaugurate Galerie Isa’s relocation with new works that play with the colour blue

Blue is the Warmest Colour

Idris Khan and Annie Morris

Written by Benita Fernando

Blue is serious business for artists. Johannes Vermeer ran into debt by lavishly spending on ultramarine; Yves Klein patented an intense hue in 1960 called International Klein Blue; Georgia O’Keeffe’s monochromatic ‘Blue’ series stemmed from her musical tastes; and, closer home, SH Raza deployed blue with startling results in his ‘Bindu’ series. The history of the colour is inextricably tied to the history of art globally. Any artist working with blue knows that it comes loaded with historical, social and cultural significance. It’s for these reasons as well as personal ones that the colour forms the basis of Galerie Isa’s newly opened exhibition in Mumbai.

The show features British artist couple Idris Khan and Annie Morris who have let blue rule their latest works. Khan created quite the buzz earlier this year when he made his India Art Fair debut with a series of blue drawings based on a ritual performed during the Islamic Hajj pilgrimage. The drawings were achieved by repeatedly stamping text. In the current exhibition, Khan uses repetition to create bands of colour that are reminiscent of American abstract expressionist Mark Rothko’s colour field paintings.

Blue is the Warmest Colour

Work titled Stack 9

“There is a cacophony of sounds in these works,” says Khan. It’s not just text that he layers though. Back in 2004, he achieved Impressionistic effects by digitally layering photographs of industrial structures by Bernd and Hilla Becher. Presently, he layers music sheets sourced from London shops to make musical palimpsests, such as The Old Tune (2019) and The Calm is But a Wall (2019). “People usually ask me what score this is. It’s Chopin but I have layered the sheets to the point where it no longer matters. I make the notations abstract; music is abstract. You can’t read them anymore and that can be frustrating for some people,” says the artist. The final effect is as if Khan has made snapshots of sound waves. Moreover, the prints are dominated by blue, hinting at all kinds of musical things such as the blues and nocturnes. Khan adds, “This blue can sort of make you happy or unhappy. It has an immediate effect on the emotions.”

Morris, who calls herself a “colour nerd”, has a similar opinion. “Blue is a comforting colour,” she says. Morris is renowned for her towering “stacks”, a form she settled on after a personal tragedy some years ago. The couple’s first child was a stillborn, and the grief took the form of sculptures that convey the experience of motherhood. Morris makes uneven spheres out of pigment, plaster and sand, which seem to be precariously placed on top of each other.

While the totem-like sculptures are polychromatic, with vivid turquoise and chrome oxide green for example, their fulcrums are the ultramarine boulders. “Blue is the colour I start with,” says Morris. Earlier this year, for Ahmedabad’s Kasturbhai Lalbhai Museum, Morris deconstructed the colour by making a stack in different shades of blue. She repeats the exercise in this exhibition with a sculpture titled Stack 7, Ultramarine Blue Dark.

The exhibition also marks the gallery’s first after it relocated from its Kala Ghoda base to Ballard Estate. The gallery’s earlier site was a compact, split-level setting. The gallerist Ashwin Thadani chose the new location for its high ceiling and spacious halls, “perfect to show artists with challenging mediums,” he says. That would include Morris’ skyward stacks and Khan’s delicate glass works.

The exhibition will be on view at Galerie Isa till February 20