In her recent solo show, “Just like that,” Sheila Makhijani’s ongoing romance with line and color took on a pared-down, simplified form. This was particularly evident in A misty beginning, 2022, a suite of thirty-six small-format dry pastels arranged in a six-by-six grid. Soft powdery blues and pinks, reminiscent of sunsets in the monsoon season, dominate the top rows, giving way to horizontal panels of lemony and mango tones before finally descending into darker shades of earthy and muddy browns. The presence of uninterrupted fields of color reflects Makhijani’s reluctance in this instance, as she put it to me, to “torture” color through the application of lines, which she uses freely elsewhere. She diverged from such restraint in other works— for instance, in the arresting orchestration of tonalities in Everyone is thinking of that, 2022, a suite of two rows of eighteen pastels. Rendered on colored paper, the intersecting planes look like large shards of stained glass glimpsed through a giant kaleidoscope. The effect is accentuated by the underlying paper’s shades of orange, red, and bright blue that peek through her chromatic constellations. Her diagonals and chevrons possess a sense of speed, heightening the chromatic thrust.
Makhijani’s abstraction is rooted in the material world, particularly in the urban environment that she observes around her. Her trademark meshwork of lines evocative of railroad tracks, scaffolding, or fences was evident in You look different all the time, 2022, and in As if I would know that, 2022. But other works, such as A misty beginning or the oil-on-canvas BLUE ALERT!, 2021, appeared to pay a more specific tribute to landscape. The artist recalls being mesmerized by the sheer expanse of the American landscape on a road trip to White Sands in New Mexico in 2015.
Makhijani’s oil paintings are altogether more gestural in nature than her geometric pastel compositions. In these densely worked canvases, notably the large-scale What were you thinking, 2021, or the smaller Sometimes it spills over, 2022, paint is thickly slathered on with a palette knife and brush in impastoed surfaces. Short daubs of paint often alternate with broad strokes to create a pulsating medley of textures. The artist typically uses alizarin crimson or crimson lake as her first layer of paint, and patches of these colors sometimes remain visible as flashes of dark red out of the furious flurry of brushstrokes around them.
Makhijani delights in injecting a sense of playfulness into her exhibitions, as demonstrated by the installation What now?, 2022. In the corner of a small room, soft, bulbous, and brightly colored toylike forms were suspended from the ceiling. Fashioned from thick woolen material, they were strangely reminiscent of the knitted cocooned creatures the artist made at a Khoj artists’ workshop in Modinagar, India, more than two decades ago. Makhijani’s sense of humor also extends to her sometimes cheeky titles, such as Often I am not like that, What can a yellow do, or Ho ho ho, all 2022. In this vein, Stop fidgeting!, 2022, serves, perhaps, as an admonition to her wayward lines, but also wagged a finger at us, the possibly impatient viewers.
— Meera Menezes