Artist Mohan Sundaresan: Woven Paintings

Artist Mohan Sundaresan: Woven Paintings

The Weaving of Two Canvases into One

By Emily Jaeger, Features Editor

Emily Jaeger

Mohan Sundaresan, born in India, is a painter largely self-taught. In 2011 Mohan’s first solo exhibition was held at the La Jolla Historical Society. He has exhibited at UCSD La Jolla and The Escondido Center for the Arts. His work may be seen in galleries and commercial locations in San Diego and Los Angeles.

Mohan Sundaresan, whose paintings are featured in the April issue of The Woven Tale Press, describes his work as “an invitation to openness.” While Sundaresan has worked with sculpture, aluminum, and found construction materials, his most renowned creations are his woven paintings. Each of these works entails two separate paintings on canvas, which Sundaresan then cuts into strips and weaves together into one. The resulting paintings feature at least one checkered orb that appears to float on a warped grid. The orbs and spiraling colors are celestial, engaging the viewer’s imagination with imagery reminiscent of star births or graphs of a planet’s gravity bending the fabric of outer-space. 

Mohan Sundaresan, Humble Beginnings, 52.5" X 62"
Humble Beginnings, Mohan Sundaresan. 52.5″ x 62″

Born in Bangalore in 1945, Sundaresan began painting at a young age, decorating handmade toys. Later, he moved to the UK and then Vienna, Austria, where he worked in fashion design for twenty-eight years until finally emigrating to La Jolla, California in 1989. Although Sundaresan had been living in the San Diego area for over twenty years, he was only recently discovered by his now best friend and agent, Steve Medoff, who was instrumental in sharing Sundaresan’s work with a wider audience. 

First, Mohan Sundaresan paints two separate canvases. He uses no brushes, preferring to paint with his hands.
First, Sundaresan paints two separate canvases. He uses no brushes, preferring to paint with his hands.


Mohan Sundaresan weaves together two separate canvases
Then, he weaves together two separate canvases.

Sundaresan’s experience in fashion design is apparent in the way he approaches canvas as a textile that can be cut, woven, and shaped into a new object—in this case, a painting. Additionally, the singular focus on the circle recalls fashion branding or the cohesion of variations on a theme in a seasonal line. Completely self-taught, Sundaresan’s influences span multiple artistic genres, including music, poetry, and proverbs. Indeed, it is a proverb that provides the conceptual background of the circle, a gem either in hiding or in plain view in each of his paintings: “We are all gems, but we are the only jeweler that can make the gem a jewel.”

Mohan Sundaresan cutting two paintings into wavy strips
Sundaresan cutting two paintings into wavy strips.

Sundaresan’s association between the gem and the individual turns each painting into both a self-portrait of the artist and a self-portrait of the viewer. It is apt that the gems are very plain—in Sundaresan’s metal-work they are often just a simply carved circle—because this allows any viewer to become the gem. The different colors and shapes that inhabit the gem’s surrounding environment play with mood and tone, guiding the viewer in an almost meditative process. In almost every piece, the gems are surrounded by haloes of light or brighter tones, imbuing each gem with a sense of discovery. 

Sundaresan’s work in aluminum seems to explore similar geometric patterns to those in his woven series. However, instead of swirling grids, his aluminum pieces allow for more of a brushstroke-like quality, for flowing lines to orbit the central gem:

Mohan Sundaresan, Aluminum #4, 16" x 48"
#4, Mohan Sundaresan. Aluminum, 16″ x 48″

Indeed, the true joy of viewing Sundaresan’s portfolio on his website is surveying the great range of his artistic development. Sundaresan is generous with behind-the-scenes photographs portraying his process of combining two paintings into one, and his geometric manipulations of the canvas strips—which lend to the curvy, gridded landscapes surrounding his gems. His gallery of Early Woven demonstrates his development from even, right-angled grids to more curvy shapes. 

Mohan Sundaresan, #16, acrylic on poster board woven, 16" x 22"
#16, Mohan Sundaresan. Acrylic on poster board woven, 16″ x 22″

Another section worth exploring is Paper, where Sundaresan, who paints everyday, showcases more experimental works. Since the paintings in Paper do not involve weaving, Sundaresan is able to quickly explore different painting techniques to incorporate into larger projects. Here, too, his use of white and lighter colors bursting from deeper tones lends these works a sense of revelation and wonder: the moment when the viewer accepts Sundaresan’s invitation to openness and discovers something new in their self portrait.

Mohan Sundaresan, selections from Paper
Mohan Sundaresan, selections from Paper

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