Mehlli Gobhai's paintings record the dialogue of spare line and burnished field: often, a gradual luminosity emerges from beneath the sombre colours that he layers, one above the other, in strata of roughened and smoothed textures, so that the painting aspires to the condition of leather or parchment sanctified by years of ritual.
For Gobhai, the act of painting in series goes beyond mere repetition, and assumes the aspects of intensification, affirmation and renewal. Serialism does not denote the exhaustion of a theme. Instead, it connotes a system of correspondences and mutations that unifies an artist's work in time. It is through serial encounter with his material that the artist re-visits a theme that has exercised him, not only exploring it within the span of a current suite of paintings, but also returning to paintings executed in the past, to retrieve and re-direct their impulses.
Gobhai's works address a specific formal problem: the split between surface and structure that is a defining characteristic of much modern painting. After the pictorial revolutions of Cubism and abstractionism, it was no longer possible to pretend that surface and structure could unproblematically be melded in the production of a representational picture space. It seemed that the painter would have to choose between rival mandates: the sensuous immediacy of surface or the austere linearity of structure. But the problem would not admit of so dualistic a solution; the greater and more stimulating challenge is to reconcile the two principles after the critique of the representational.
Gobhai proposes a resolution by establishing a dynamic relationship between surface and structure. The surface is associated, in his oeuvre, with a tactile eroticism: here, he dwells on the attractions of organic form and metallurgic physicality, charging his paintings with the feel of stone and fruit-rind, earth and leather, river-veined rock and metal sheet. Structure marks the other pole of Gobhai's personality: here, he refines the bodily human presence to the briefest but starkest notation, that of the axis, which is also the pivot around which the universe turns. The relationship of the body to the cosmos is indicated through an elegant economy of means. Surface and structure are tuned finely to each other: Gobhai's is an art of deep coloristic and textural saturation held in counterpoint by geometric precision.
The colours and textures may bear subliminal associations, but the sharp linearity and deliberate saturation remind us that Gobhai registers the primacy of the human imprint of order over the contingencies of nature and chance. These paintings function as energy diagrams, holding a set of forces together through linear symmetries, chromatic assonances, subtle allusions to the genres vestigially latent within Gobhai's abstractionist idiom, such as the figure and the landscape. Significantly, the artist often draws metaphors from geomancy and cosmology to approach his work; it is clear that he continues to regard the painting as a ritual theatre of forces that becomes a model of the universe. In Gobhai's practice, the art-work occupies a space midway between easel and altar.