When this exhibition was conceived, legendary Master K. G. Subramanyan was at his peak. The news of his death after a brief illness on 29th June in Baroda brought a sense of despair and gloom for us. Through this exhibition, Aakriti Art gallery & Seagull Foundation for the Art offers its homage to the venerable Master. An exhibition of the Master is always a veritable feast for the senses, even the angels would stop in the middle of their flight end enjoy his eloquent and spirited reverberations. In the present body of work, one may notice the capacity of harnessing single forms to plural functions which has been the hallmark of Master’s work and is visible here in the present show as well. The practice imparted his work a private, even reclusive character, and the push of this compulsion against the narrow range of overall effect is what gives Master’s paintings their sway. However narratively inclined many of these pieces done in either ink on handmade paper or coloured gouaches or reversely done on acrylic sheets, their importance as a whole is that they remind us of one occasion of permanence that seems to lurk in an elucidation. Ultimately it is the Master’s sensibility that gives these works their distinction- We can certainly think painting, but he showed that one can also paint thought, including the exhilarating and delightful form of thought that is painting chronicling his impressions unfolding perspective on life as he sees it through a literal prism. It gives us a feeling of catharsis, purification of soul. In all the paintings Master’s empirical method makes itself felt as support of underpainting and the like are more or less visible. These worked palimpsests underscore the importance of drawing to his enterprise, even while confounding this initial perception of its holistic nature. In the present work, faring that he might become too adept at this language and so sacrifice that sense of unlaboured freshness which has defined his work so far to questions of veracity and substance.
Even at the age of ninety two, he was at the peak. His paintings were done on walls, on glass, acrylic sheets, handmade paper, and canvasses. The quality of his attention, the unlikely subtlety and boldness, the harmony he created of tensions, ambiguities, volume, light, elusive moments speak of an alienation, a simulacra. The presence of the painted surface on these handmade papers is sheer because the perceptual components of the images are woven into the surface exposing the phenomena of sheer surface where the existential meets the topical and the present moment are fleeting, the lights announce as they pass by . In the ‘reverse paintings on acrylic sheet’, figurative references, always elusive become less and less direct as in the other paintings, simultaneously the implied vantage point become more ambiguous. The whole process of his recent work represents a physical engagement with technical aspect and the psychological meditative aspect which always elevates. The large ‘Untitled’ sized 24x 30 inches- tilts away from the viewer , its central spine receding toward the top as it courses across everly spaced parallel, horizontal black lines establishes a kind of non spatial field , where illusionistic flatness a white grid in the lower right quadrant struggles to counter act. He considers his jagged figures- fierce goddesses with as much relish and pith as a canny, a leitmotif of animals such as monkeys, dogs or lions, enticing horned goats to be actual objects positioned on a stained field. Juxtaposed to the whiteness are a few darker lightning like brushstrokes that reveal the keen sense of instinctive balance and inner vivaciousness that are true hallmark. “My main interest was once in the passage of the objective to the abstract. Abstract to mean here an image of relative anonymity. Which allowed it a variety of interpretations. Gave it the ability to play various visual roles.” -He once said in an interview to Prof.R. Sivakumar in Scroll. Theworks embody a strong sense of drama. For the most part scenes are depicted from a low vantage point, so that the figures loom over the viewer, fabulous in stature. On occasion, the viewer cannot help feeling while viewing the paintings that the proscenium has broken down, not to let the viewer enter, but to permit an entry from the wings. The diagram that joins the matrices is never an optical effect, which appears as chance, accident or the involvement of figures that are isolated despite the subtlety of their aggregates. The important fact is that they do not consign the painted figure to immobility but on the contrary, render an astute kind of amelioration rather than being the basis for a dynamic compositional system or a clearly labeled marker of the psyche and thus becoming increasingly autonomous .The whole body is ripened by solitude extended by a repertoire that resonates with multi-layered images and forms. The exhibition acts as a reliable and clear sighted guide to that exploration of our innermost mind as well.
Since 1950 until his retirement from teaching in 1989, he helped in shaping the aesthetic vision of the art departments at Maharaja Sayajirao University and Visva-Bharati and inspired and mentored generations of artists and scholars through his prolific writings, lectures, and art. In his early life he took part in the Quit India movement and was imprisoned. Later he went to Santiniketan and studied art under Nandalal Bose and Ramkinkar Baij. His role as a Master practitioner was paramount, bristling with his contribution all over with unyielding restriction even when he was in his nineties. He truly heralded a genre through his wit, scholarship and brilliance, appearing at a critical juncture of our art movements. In a pictorial world that is vividly rich in colour and detail, his imaginative and extraordinary narrative outpourings continue to grasp us with a certain magic realism, captivating us in thrall. He has been able to choose a spectrum and create a symphony with predominating colour as a keynote, the texture laid with luminosity, imagination and precision both by unique brilliance of his colour technique, recalling vast fields of painted space and evolution of form. The humanity and enactment of the human gesture in the Master’s work, which infuse them, may be traced in some magnitude to his own understanding and the love for humanity he imbibed early in his life- the world of our human experience, the beauty of human concern is a sacred value for a cultivated mind of his stature. They create their own untimely rhythm in these works, in what we feel is coolly an objective way to attempt to regain the freshness, craft and intellect of early modernists, particularly the academicians. The venerable Master once said “When nations grow old, art grows cold”. In its prudence, steady development, benign lucidity, and range of historical inspirations, he saw these academic images through a very modern lens of fragmentation, abstraction and an existentialist’s concern for self-realization. The result is a telling hybridization that should be seen as one of the more erudite achievements in contemporary art in the past four decades. There is a lot of truth in the commonly held view of K.G. Subramanyan as a bridge figure between avant garde and the emergent radical Indian Contemporary Art, but it is also an oversimplification. He repudiated avant-garde in the early sixties in the thick of modernism totally. “The kind of education we impart makes people despise manual arts and skills” He once said.” The situation can only worsen in the context of the country’s new economic objectives which will make changes quicker and more drastic and in the process the present art panorama is sure to be devastated” Despite his vast contribution in the making of a language that marks the emergence of an Indian contemporary art in the sixties that denounced western brand of abstractionism and created a vocabulary that remained one of the legacies to younger Indian artists who had looked at his art and then moved from it along very different paths carrying with them the bits of poetic effusion of his work.
Though he continued to paint largely in gouache more like that of the paintings of the mid to late 80’s and later, we are encountered by “those enchanted places”, “those delightful spaces” he never wanted to be any more precise. In other terms, in another language, this would translate as the minimal hypothesis of logic of the subconscious, that our psychic symptoms have causes, origins even that the dreams do not cheat with metaphor, and so it pays to be meticulous and rigorous. These works gradually emerge and arouses our reception, only by identifying, tracking down and laying bare the supreme workings of a great Master and precepts that are scattered far and wide. Whether this integral humanism, sustained only by the sheer energy of despair, does not fail to recognize at least one major resource which exists, almost visibly, in the very fact of our language. Here in this exhibition painted spaces are mainly large to relatively small formats, working with closer to the surface with a sense of intimacy in small and a sense of distance and space. Some of the works have a sense of monumentality and markers used instinctively to stimulate the surface. Within these painted spaces there is intense application of mind, a narration, nuances; obviously, the energy made visible reaches a certain grandeur, and one has to watch closely the expressive visual modulation of the colour grid into which are woven interlocking planes which are so fragile that they may go unobtrusive . In fact the experience becomes meditative. Instead, he restored these through whisper and gesture, emblem and citation that form into a covert assembly through his unique brilliance of colour technique, recalling vast fields of painted space and evolution of form. Its image and its verbal signifier. reality and illusion, between irony and tragedy appeared with surprising agility. The various constituents of the paintings are overtly acknowledged accompanied with a cool literalism. The markers here are distilled and then examined as all these fascinate and for us the viewing takes on various roles of spectator and participant, reading a text as well as writing, remarkable and attached. For him to define the space which is established on the outer edges orchestrating a visual breath as it were a living curious, deviant palpitating thing. This is celebration here,
Socialization , joyous discourses. Here is domain of cultural poises. We shuttle between the different spaces, each mode captures an aspect of the idea, and the complementary versions overlap. May be appropriate to say not that we purloin the image but that as language. While he applies a stroke, the gesture is like a toss, breathing like the painting of a poet , it purloins us. It covertly ties the subject into its text and distances from its self as a representation but a vision before which one recites out , even with the perceptible and sensible objects whose action crumbles our love and affliction. His work gradually emerge and arouses our reception, only by identifying, tracking down and laying bare the supreme workings of a great Master and precepts that are dispersed far and wide in the vast sea of intersexuality that has been able to gather those legacies and make them blossom in such a way as to give our life to something original and sublime. These are works not to be locked away only for posterity or for academic rigueur. These are spaces for us to enter and fathom unfathomable depths.
There is a stripping away of layers to reveal complex infrastructures of his work. A certain austerity, these paintings celebrate their artifice, and sweeping brushstrokes seem genuinely felt, warm and intimate. On the other there is something to observe in these works, even if it is not what we may commonly think, and even if seeing what we commonly see may blind us to another truth, a ‘more true’ truth that is none-the-less there, though its mode of being there may not resemble anything like a fixed contemporary presence. He had an ability to state the most enduring truths in a style that is measured and patiently gathers a luminous energy as we navigate feeling invigorated of our senses. His spontaneity and ability to create compelling compositions are features that we get to see in this show. His work reinforces the sense that the evocation of a quiet, nondenominational inwardness that trembles the soul and stir poets.
The other new paintings have considerably more staid but gentle messages. Usually a single colour figure on a white ground, they read as particularized symbols of a universal if entirely nolatarian language and are splendorous. They assert their own beauty first, meanings follow- different perspectival readings are impose from image to image , so that we seem to peer down into paintings , but what concerns here is this absolute proximity, this co-precision, of the field that functions as a ground, and the figure that functions as a form on a single plane that is viewed in close range proceeded with the somber, the dark, or the indistinct face on the grid , the panel that is stark. The search is spontaneous and bodying forth of feeling, delivering the pleasures of a gesture in a personal or expressive idiom and at the same time transform figurative markers that ends a sentence into minimalist visual experiences which is particularly his genius and thus postulates that patrocentric use of language is motivated toward idealizing the subject , defining it so as to mark contradiction , then alternative strategies that could lead to a decentering of it may include the discursive use of a plurality of codes and readings disruptive of set conventions tracing the invisible points of origin. Its almost like a meditative search that these important issues are raised. He does not reconcile us but gives us the gift of the irreconcilable of the mind and the desire for elevation. The beauty grows in time when on this beautiful constructed and thoughtful show , revealing the enduring of a great mind. The impact is immense.
The exhibition can be viewed from Monday to Saturday, 11 am to 7 pm excepting Sundays and is also available online at www.aakritiartgallery.com.