A Requiem, A Prayer, A Song
14-04-2015 To 30-04-2015
‘One day we’ll become what we want
The journey hasn’t begun and the path hasn’t ended
The wise haven’t reached their exile
Nor the exiles their wisdom
The only flower we know is the red anemone
Come let’s go towards the highest mural:
The land of my poem is green and high
God’s words at dawn are the land of my poem
And I’m faraway
Far away.’ Mahmoud Darwin.
Intermittently, the artist’s reality is inclined to echo the poet’s philosophies; and when that occurs, words/syntax/grammar transform into images that are laden with the poet’s anguish or ecstasy.
In A Requiem, a Prayer, a Song the idea was to invite abstract artists to reflect upon an age in which violence unleashes terror not only in conflict zones but also with equal brutality in classrooms, targeting the innocent, making mockery of peace. The other art practitioners had been for long venting their wrath and anguish through works that were identifiably ranged against this savagery. The Abstractionist spoke in a pictorial idiom more muted, for such was the language of their medium.
As Rothko said: ‘It may be that abstract art does not employ subject matter that is as obvious as either the anecdote or familiar objects, yet it must appeal to our experience in some way…. And it has its own anecdote, for every relationship implies an anecdote, not in the sense of a story, which is simply an anecdote of human action, but in the sense of a philosophical narration of bringing all the related elements together to some unified end.’
In the works of these painters spanning different generations there is, of course, a clearly marked distinction and diversity but beneath the dissimilarities there lies the glimmer of a fragile hope that there might be redemption yet, or the world will be damned, turned blind, as eye gouged for an eye. The senior artists, like Raza, Ram Kumar, Prabhakar Barwe, Prabhakar Kolte, Ganesh Haloi Amitava Das, Achutan Kudallur or Rajendra Dhawan, had lived through the travails of the Partition and suffered its aftermath. Individually each had harrowing tales about that time when the country was facing the trauma of the nation being divided and the era that followed bringing promise and hope as the newly independent country set about ascertaining its identity under Jawaharlal Nehru. The younger artists began with little illusion, having grappled with the years when the nation had lost its sheen of idealism and political rulers their pretence of it. Personal histories provide the content and context to A Requiem, a Prayer, a Song.
S H Raza often says: ‘Earth, water, fire, air and sky. These are the pancha tattvas, kshiti, jala, pavak, gagan aur samiran…: painting the five elements we use the five colours; black, white, yellow, red and blue, giving birth to a vision of nature…the artist is the medium, an executor; the dictates come from higher forces which give energy, clear perception and infuse the soul, indispensable to art.’ In recent times, Raza has expressed his anguish at the unrelenting spate of violence by quoting Kabir in his paintings, lines from his dohas that advocate peace and co-existence.
Engagement with social malaise was a recurrent theme in Ram Kumar’s early works but beneath the despair, there was prayer and somewhere there lurked a faint hope that things could get better. The architectural constructs are dismantled and abandoned and in its place there is a brooding allegorical tale that hints at the artist’s anxiety about the urban predicament in fluid strokes of black and white. Has this painting been shaped in any way by his nostalgic remembrance of things bygone or does it have references to the symbolic? You are left wondering, the image of that ephemeral something etched in your mind’s eye long after you have walked away.
The melancholic and sombre palette of Rajendra Dhawan’s work encompasses a desolate Wasteland where no flowers bloom and no birds sing. The artist’s technique and colour planes in muted greys, browns, sienna or ochre recreate a lyrical landscape that is ascetic and sparse, monastically devoid of anything superfluous. In the cathartic mood he evokes, a deep silence prevails that is almost in itself a prayer. The aerial topography is a pastiche of melting brown, green, mustard where an occasional flash of electric blue alludes to a river or a kingfisher in flight, you imagine.
In Ganesh Haloi’s abstracted landscape you can sense rather than see a mapping of land and luxuriant vegetation with wide expanses of meandering rivers. Though his works are essentially abstract he has mastered a style that weaves in the minutiae within the artistic construct, a painterly perspective that draws from his past and present.
In the case of Prabhakar Barwe, the definition of the abstract is germane (to our understanding of the term): ‘The original meaning of a form changes if another form is included or if it is repeated several times. For example, if a picture shows many moons in the same sky, as many moons as there are ordinarily stars, then our idea of the moon changes. Any change made in the original form changes its accepted meaning. We call such a form abstract.’
This definition perhaps explains why Amitava Das’s works are such an integral part of the project. The existential crisis of man has been a part of Amitava’s study for long, yet, on his canvas, the forms transcend to encompass other realities. Space and form engage in a dialogue and the invisible becomes visible. He says: ‘My art is about experiences, both the immediate and the remembered. They come in layers as in classical music’.
Prabhakar Kolte’s scripted forms are metaphorical explorations that take on a deeper significance viewed alongside Mohammad Ali Talpur’s exquisite work. Both are in black and white. Talpur says he likes to use calligraphy to put forward his thoughts on civilization and how we have destroyed its very essence with our insecurities. He quotes: ‘Kamaan mein teer daalke/Mujhko na maaro/Mujh mein tum ho…’ He explains that his motifs are reiterations, like a chant repeated over and over again. Kolte, on the other hand, usually likes to layer his composition, with coat after coat of paint, making the broad bands of sombre colours bleed, creating in the process an image both vivid and vital.
If a certain austerity marks the work of some artists in this collection, Akhilesh’s work is alive and lit up with an electric moon. The fluorescent sea of an audacious yellow is textured with a pattern of motifs that represents a parallel universe, where in the music of streetlights and passing cars, a stage is set and the concert about to begin. There is an explosion of colours that characterize Achutan Kudallur’s canvas, a riot of iridescent primary colours that illumine the swirling lines and forms in the composition. The context is rooted in Indian mythologies and the narrative articulates the artist’s philosophical position in no uncertain terms.
Jayashri Chakravarty’s work addresses the dialogue on environment / archaeology / history with living organisms. The imploding world with its alienating industrial technology threatens man and his natural habitat. The apocalypse must be halted and we must pay heed to the existential-metaphysical cry for redemption urgently and together. She has chosen to work on a project that uses the theme of germination, using plant, weeds and dried roots to create a phantasmagoric imagery that is tragic yet lyrical. The inverted landscape with its very real dark interior is a manifestation of her deep and helpless angst. The imagery of dead fish and other small living creatures are a warning to the huge ecological devastation that is waiting to happen unless we act.
Yogesh Rawal’s delicate, fragile works have a serene quietude about them that is a reflection of the artist’s own self. He is seeking a communion with not merely his own heart but also with the Supreme Being, questioning the essence of life and death. He has mastered the art of working with diverse mediums, like kite paper and wood, apart from the more conventional mediums like paper or canvas. But there is a restlessness still within as he seeks to explore newer goals, picking up a brush sometimes and then reams of fine paper.
Rajneesh Kaur’s art is about the infinite labyrinth; an exploration of a complex maze of scribbles, squiggles and zigzag lines that meet at cross sections to part. The canvas animated with mint greens, candy pinks, radiant turquoise and yellows and red create a mood of exhilaration and celebration. Here is Alice in her charmed Wonderland, gazing upon the horizon awash with glow of the rising sun. The swirl and fall of the landscape contains here and there practical things from the real world, like a cycle or a ladder but these objects too merge into the hillsides veiled in mist; existing in the pictorial space as if to only hint at mysterious trysts or romance.
Manish Pushkale’s art is an atlas that maps an imaginary world that may or may not exist other than in the mind of the artist. The forms allude to the mythical or the metaphysical but layers conceal layers and the elegant angles hint at the unfettered width of the cosmos where the pilgrim may wander, as he will. The familiar locations fade away as the artist traverses to another plane where other dimensions unfold. Flowers open their buds and bloom, birds wing their way high up in the sky and in the distance the temple gongs sound, the meditative mood heightened by his own memories of Indic culture, as he had once long ago learnt it. Samsara and Nirvana, the excavation of memory makes Pushkale’s work achieve their sense of rapture.
An activist and archivist, Samindranath Majumdar also treads the fine balance between the past and present, his art celebrating the sensuous and eternal, in equal measure. Majumdar’s topography is pure abstract, with contours and motifs that, despite their formlessness, align themselves with the predicament of man and his doomed environment. There is a tragedy about to unfold and the artist laments upon the imminent collapse of what once was. His painting with its jagged and angular shapes is nostalgic, revealing an ache for the past. He is conflicted by the memories of struggles and compulsions of ideology but he is not ready to give up, not yet.