Monday, January 2, 2012

Sanjay Patel at the AAM

Deities, Demons, and Dudes with 'Staches: Indian Avatars by Sanjay Patel
November 11, 2011–April 22, 2012

Rama fights a demon in an illustration from Ramayana: Divine Loophole by Sanjay Patel.
I was thrilled to finally get over to the Asian Art Museum (San Francisco) to see this show by Pixar animator and author Sanjay Patel. I loved his work in Ramayana: Divine Loophole (2010) and was happy to see it at a larger scale. The Asian has his work on display in a second floor gallery, which focuses on the Ramayana and Patel's production methods, and a large mural on the first floor adjacent to the fabulous Maharaja: the Splendor of India’s Royal Courts exhibition. The mural depicting the royal procession of a Maharaja is spectacular, with elephants, camels and elaborate costumes galore.  One gallery of the Maharaja show specifically focuses on these processions, including a long and detailed period scroll showing an entire procession from beginning to end (and an instructional video on how to dress an elephant). The mural both benefits from and enhances this experience. Characters from the mural were also used on promotional banners on the exterior of the museum.
sketches by Sanjay Patel
The upper gallery has blow-ups of Patel’s work, and a video interview describing his working process. One wall is covered with rough sketches from the mural downstairs, and the rest are from his books: The Ramayana and the Little Book of Hindu Deities (2006). The influence of the Pixar style is very much in evidence, as many of the illustrations reminded me of concept paintings I had seen for The Incredibles. I also couldn’t help thinking of Nina Paley and Sita Sings the Blues (trailer).  Although both are based on the same classic myth, and there are some similarities in the style of illustration (probably due to the extensive use of vector graphics), the two works have such different goals and execution that any similarities are purely on the surface.

There are several good interviews with Patel on-line, including this one in Smithsonian Magazine, and this one on the Vector Tuts+ blog. I am also indebted to Patel for making me aware of the work of Charley Harper, whose stylized wildlife drawings were a big influence on him.