Prabhavathi Meppayil at Pace

Arne Glimcher has drawn parallels between the Bangalore artist and Agnes Martin - we asked her about them

Fans of our Agnes Martin book written by Pace Gallery founder Arne Glimcher should check out Pace’s latest show if they’re in London. It’s by Bangalore-based artist Prabhavathi Meppayil and, at times, brings to mind the gridlike formations Martin used in her work. Arne himself had said as much in a recent interview.

In Meppayil's work, metal wires are strung taut across canvasses, then layered in paint until they are almost unperceivable, just glinting when they catch the light. The result is a mesmeric, breathing, work that invites closer inspection, revealing more and more, the longer you spend with it. 

Meppayil comes from a line of jewellers and she sometimes uses these tools to create her wall and floor-based works. 

This integration of craft-based labour and process-based art positions her work in unique dialogue with a complex history of material and artistic production, invoking artisanal legacies, affinities with Indian culture, and Minimalist and Postminimalist concepts. We asked her a few questions about the new show.


Prabhavathi Meppayil at Pace London installation shot
Prabhavathi Meppayil at Pace London installation shot

Your work is viewed as modernist in essence but is this a Western viewpoint that perhaps misses much of the nuance? My response to lived experience, what is around me, finds resonance with a modernist approach. The nuances of the work are drawn from my context, and engage with the conceptual concerns of the art language itself, but I feel this aspect may be missed because it is often directly associated with artisanal practice. 


Prabhavathi Meppayil at Pace London installation shot
Prabhavathi Meppayil at Pace London installation shot

Do you ever feel conscious of the DNA passed down from your goldsmith predecessors, guiding you toward certain aesthetic or conceptual decisions? I am not sure about how to read this question but I could say that craftsmanship is an essential aspect of the cultural history of artisanal practice. Having said that, my work is very much located in  contemporary art practice. 

You mix paint, wood and wire in unusual ways, does that element of chance - the fact they’re a bit uncontrollable - draw you to the materials? Materials have a life of their own, it is very challenging to work with them. The element of serendipity makes it compelling to engage with them.

How do you know when you’ve made yourself present in the painting? Materials speak for themselves, their context and history, and I would rather not see myself in the work. The process and labour the work involves is the extent of the embodiment I feel with the work.


Prabhavathi Meppayil at Pace London installation shot
Prabhavathi Meppayil at Pace London installation shot

The paintings seem almost timeless but what does time bring to them in terms of decay or discolouration perhaps? Temporality is central to my work; with passage of time materials like copper will transform but it is inherent to the work and its making.

Do you find those minimalist trademarks the grid (Agnes Martin) and the use of colour (Robert Ryman) fun to subvert? To me it is a different approach; I don’t necessarily see it as subversion but perhaps a dialogue with their work.

It's been said that your use of white was so that 'it could become a space for writing'- does this seem correct to you? It is an interesting reading of my work. As you mention my work is achromatic, it is the colour of the material (gesso), so I am not necessarily engaging with the colour white. And the gesso panels are one part of my larger body of work.

Check out the show at Pace here and pick up a copy of Arne Glimcher’s Agnes Martin book here.