Reflections

Captivating stories and experiences of Rahul Kumar, Category Head – Arts and Collectibles – Mojarto

“One of the things I enjoy most as part of my work is to meet artists and people associated with the art field”.

A Relationship between Arpana Caur and Subodh Gupta that you did not know!

I met Arpana Caur, the renowned artist and an amazing person at her residence last week. She runs a small gallery and an Art Academy at the Siri Fort Institutional Area in Delhi. During our conversation, Arpana Di remembered the good old days when Subodh Gupta held his first ever solo exhibition at her gallery…that’s right! She was fondly remembering Subodh when he was a young artist, hadn’t even stepped out in the big art world then, and held his first ever solo show at the ground floor of her academy. She completely admires how he has risen to be the most known and celebrated contemporary artist of the country. Subodh Gupta and Arpana Di used to work in Garhi Studios where she also witnessed the moment when Subodh and Bharti (now his wife) met for the first time! She saw their relationship grow and turn into a beautiful matrimony.

What many of us may not be aware of, also, is the commendable work Arpana Di does for the less-fortunate members of the society. She supports the running of a vocational school for the under-privileged girls that was established, singlehandedly, by her mother. Here, they learn courses for beauty treatment, sewing and embroidery, and basic language and computer skills. She proudly told me that in about four to six months the girls begin to earn and at times they surpass their parent’s income. What captivates my heart is that a substantial portion of her own income from art goes into running the school and her mother’s contributions to few other charities.

While I was sitting with her, a computer mechanic was instructed to refurbish a donated desktop machine such that it could be put in working condition and she could donate it to one of the girls who had started to operate the machine well!

I am left with no words to describe the beautiful afternoon I spent with her. And of course, I must mention the most refreshing lemonade and mouth-watering goodies I got to devour.

Why Your 4 Year Old could not have done that

Perhaps one of the most tedious and disconcerting tasks of an art critic, or an art lover, is justifying and validating the value of a piece of art, be it in terms of its price, quality or appreciation.

Abstract art is quite possibly the art genre most tirelessly and unequivocally butchered by its unsuspecting audiences. But, there is a worldwide populace disenchanted, disconnected and often disgruntled by the wine sipping, air kissing, artsy collective who allegedly ‘understand’ art. There ought to be misstep somewhere in the dissemination of abstract works. Here are some of my top reasons why I believe that a child cannot produce a piece of modern art.

Abstract art by virtue of it being abstract, does not have any reference to external elements. It is entirely non-representational. The best part of abstract art (or art in general) is that it does not have a single meaning, or a single story assigned to it.

You may see a black dot on blank wall and think of it as a reservoir of dark energies; someone else might find it decorative, and others may consider it suitable as a collector’s item.

Apart from the limitless ways of deconstructing a piece of art, there is a history, a premise, causes and triggers, socio-political stimuli for a piece of painting that makes it remarkable for its time.  One such example is of the nineteenth century Russian artist Kazimir Malevich’s, famous ‘Black Square’, 1913.

WP-BlogThis was the first time that such a painting was created that wasn’t meant to be something else.

Malevich famously wrote in a handout to accompany its first showing in the exhibition ‘The Last Exhibition of Futurist Painting 0.10”: “Up until now there were no attempts at painting as such, without any attribute of real life…Painting was the aesthetic side of a thing, but never was original and an end in itself.”

His intentions were clear and deliberate. He wanted to leave behind the reality and instead create a world of shapes and forms that was to him exclusively art for art’s sake.

In his 1927 book “The Non-Objective World”, he wrote: “In the year 1913, trying desperately to free art from the dead weight of the real world, I took refuge in the form of the square.”

As much as child-like creativity could have inspired these ‘avant-garde’ ideas in Malevich, it is very unlikely that a child’s black square will be born of similar thought.

Within the historical context, it is also noteworthy, that when Malevich premiered the Black Square, the world was going up in smoke – it was the middle of the First World War with the Bolshevik uprising and the October Revolution that would follow in a few years time, extending the climate of unrest. Malevich, and the Russian art crowd, although used to cubist and futurist work, had never seen anything like the ‘Black Square’. Malevich created a style so new, so completely unheard of, that it became a movement. Resonating directly from the turbulent times he belonged to, Malevich gave birth to Suprematism.

It is a style that tried to remove itself from rational thought and reality, and instead focus purely on paint by representing colour and geometric shapes.

It was an icon that ironically wasn’t an icon. There is no meaning assigned to it and therefore there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to look at it.

It is in the artist’s vision and thought, during a particular period of time that makes it a masterpiece.

Aesthetic Pleasure

Beauty is the Perseuasive Force that Pushes Man to the Realms of Aesthetic Pleasure.

Pleasure and pain are the two outcomes that man finds as an outcome of his every action. If the energy invested in an action is less than the energy released by the result, the action brings pleasure. But if the energy invested in action exceeds the energy released by the result, the action causes pain. The quantity and quality of our pain and pleasure depend on the ratios of these two but aesthetic pleasure is different. It is not the pleasure that fulfils any physiological or bodily need. This pleasure is different from all pleasures associated with the ego of man.

In aesthetic pleasure, chaos and tragedy communicate satisfying emotions not due to the situations but the presentation of the situation. Our Upanishads emphatically advocate the importance of the journey over its destination. They say that “it is not the road but walking which is important.” In art too, it is not the product but the process which is significant.

6thOctFamous sculpture artist Eva Hesse in her sculpture ‘SEVEN POLES’, said that it was an attempt to structure the chaos because the material used was the industrial waste and the forms were an amalgamation of mechanical and organic forms.  The aesthetic pleasure which her creations shared with the spectator lies not in the material but making the material dance to the tunes of her ideas.

In the state of aesthetic contemplation spectator has to reconstruct his self in the light of his creation he is absorbed in. During this reconstruction the spectator finds the pleasing resonance of the manifested emotion of the artist, he blossoms into a delighted self. In Indian aesthetics it is known as Rasa Swadan. Anandvardhan in Dhawani theory has strongly recommended that Rasa Swadan is a result of Vyanjana (suggestion) which touches the deeper levels of the spirit of the spectator. Indian artists, be it in the famous folk paintings or the current modern paintings, have always infused their work with this aesthetic pleasure.

Be it a painting or poetry, this suggestion is the essence of an artwork or a poem because the painting or the poem does not contain the message of the artist in a very open way but is wrapped creatively and awaken spectator can unwrap and find the treasure. Thus aesthetic pleasure is a treasure hunt in a painting or a poem.

The World as Artist sees it

Man has been termed as a Social Animal. The word social not only refers to the society but also to the environment which nourishes the physical and metaphysical aspect of man. As man grows in the power of perception of his spirit he develops an appetite to share the essence of what he contemplates in response to the world around. Poets, philosophers and artists are the people who enable the society to see and feel those dark corners of the world where the light of knowledge lies ignored.

The artist churns out the reality to seek the gems that reflect the spirit of times. His creative urge bestows on him the power and insight to dive deep into the illusionistic whirlpool. In this struggle he finds the blossoming of his volitional aspect. Famous artist of India, Abanaindranath Tagore termed this ability of the artist as a social force that enables mankind to builds the bridges between the past and the present and between the present and the future.

Susan K Langer, the famous American philosopher was of the view that for an artist this world is a treasure of symbols. He first invents them and then invests them in his creations. An evolved spectator who has the ability to decode the meanings of these symbols can alone find entry into realm of such creations.

Subodh Gupta's Sculpture

Subodh Gupta’s Sculpture

When contemporary Indian sculptor Subodh Gupta was seeing the long grey yellow brass tumblers, he may have seen them as the teeth of his unborn creation. This is how an artist looks at the world around. Atul Dodiya another eminent artist of India could use the shutter to open the shutter of many minds. His shutter series was an attempt to enable the mankind to experience the oneness of human spirit.  Thus the world around has been the most important means to cultivate the human spirit.

Poet PB Shelley in his famous poem ‘the Skylark’ asks the bird to teach him how to fly in that selfless frenzy the view of which transforms the attitude of the onlooker.

“Teach me half the gladness
That thy brain must know
Such harmonious madness
From my lips should flow
The world should listen then
As I am listening now”

Journey Towards abstraction

Change is all that remains constant in the world. The ocean of Art too changes, grows and expands wave after wave. The world of art has seen several departures from the traditional to accommodate new ideas and more progressive thinking. One of the most striking and drastic of departures was the journey towards abstraction in art.

The literal comprehension of the word Abstract is suggestive of something evasive, difficult and not easily grasped. As a visual language Abstract art speaks the language of the spirit. It is not merely concealing the identity of form but of representing the spirit of forms. It does not attempt to represent an accurate depiction of a visual reality but instead use shapes, colours and forms to achieve its effect. When the art speaks the language of heart; style, technique, form everything becomes immaterial. What the Chinese art could say in a small paper with few ink strokes perhaps the large canvases could not. Time stands witness that there have been many isms and styles in art and all of them possessed the charm to captivate the heart and engage the soul. This piece eulogises one such movement; the abstract art where no word exists but reverberates with chants that strike a chord with the soul.

Susan K Langer, the famous American philosopher rightly observed that in music it is the abstraction that touches the depths of our soul more than anything.  Many affirm that Art can or should be like music –just as music is patterns of sound, art’s effects should be created by pure patterns of form, colour and line. Abstract art seeks to represent not the material world but the spiritual. To enjoy abstract art the spectator needs to be more concerned with the fragrance than the form of the flower. From this abstraction the spectator gets empathy to enter the abstraction of his own spirit. When an artist manifests this state of inner roaming, the forms seem to be melting in abstraction.

Abstract Painting by Famous Indian Artist Ram Kumar

        Abstract Painting by Famous Indian Artist Ram Kumar

Ram Kumar the famous Indian artist could successfully demonstrate the spirited resonance of his inner abstraction (link to Neena singh) about the beauty of nature.  He translates the landscape in to a melange of lines, planes, blocks; melting in tones of blues and yellows to capture the spirit of nature. The natural textures of tree stems, stones remind us of creations of artist Ambadas. His preoccupation with getting beyond the surface into a formless, abstract reality, distinguishes him as an abstract artist. His works are influenced by the constant and innate movement in nature.

Paul Klee's Painting

2Sept-Ambadas

Paul Klee the super realist artist took much of his inspiration from the art of children. His work brims with elation. Though they do not fit into any ism but still in his abstraction one can find an attempt of playful childishness and a sensibility of great sophistication. Abstract art is the learning to unlearn, the discovery to rediscover. Abstraction has its own fragrance; so long as man enjoys his exploration of the unknown realms of his contemplation abstraction will bloom in myriad hues of human sentiments.

Between Sight and Insight

A creation is an offspring of sight and insight. Bharat Muni, the most eminent Indian aesthetician termed sight as the Vibhaav which means determinant and Insight as Anubhaav to get the resonance of vibhaav. If intellectual knowledge is sight, the intuitive knowledge is insight. A poem or a painting maybe inspired by a sight but it cannot gain spirit unless the insight of the artist associates with the sight.

Rabindra Nath Tagore has rightly said that a painting, unless it leads the spectator to the inner world of the artist fails to be an art work. Reality when reflects through the intuitive prowess of the artist becomes a painting. Once a lady visited the studio of famous artist Matisse to purchase his artwork, she found two arms of the lady in the painting not identical. So she pointed the weakness of the work to the artist. Matisse said it is not a lady but a painting, not the sight but the insight.

Woman Painting by Famous French Artist Matisse

 Woman Painting by Famous French Artist Matisse

Edward Bullough cited psychical distance as the main factor of the artist’s ability to transform sight into insight. According to him artist is more powerful in keeping distance between his self and its affections, that is between selfish self and the universal self. Thus he gets the ability and strength to transform reality into a creation. Sometimes the spectator fails to get along with the boldness of the artist because his distancing power is lesser than the artist’s.

In Zen theory there is an important principle of subtle profundity, according to which an artist needs to be simple, humble and receptive to enter the depth of a sight. If there is vanity or complexity in the perception of the artist he cannot find the true spirit of the sight.

There is a lot of subjectivity in the approaches of artists to formulate reality. But one thing is common in all and that is the spirit of the artist exposed. So an insight is virtually the spirit of the artist and a true work of art is an exposure of it.

Anantkantish Koomar Swamy told the West about the versatile insight of Indian artists who could infuse life even in the lifeless materials, who could create spirit without caring much about bodies.

Art for Social Cohesion

The famous Chinese philosopher Confucius was of the view that the main purpose of art is to cultivate those human virtues that foster intrinsic social harmony. George Rowley believed that the Indian approach to life and art was religious, the western approach was conceptual and logical but the Chinese approach was aesthetical and ethical. They believed in the existing and eliminating the unknown. Therefore in their art they could discover and associate their own spirit with the spirit of mountains, rivers and trees and birds.

For Taoists, art was the most reliable road to nature. They believed that the most important power of art comes by synchronizing the opposites. Thus Lao Tzu said,
“… Difficult and easy complement each other.
Long and short contrast each other
High and low rest upon each other…”

Lao Tzu's Painting

In art it is the spirit of the artist that finds oneness with the material and blossoms into a volitional experience of taste and beauty. During the act of creation artist experiences his spirit melting forms of his creations. An Unknown Ancient Celt describes this transformation as,
“I am the wind which breathes upon the sea,
I am the wave of the ocean,
I am the murmur of the billows,
I am the ox of the seven combats,
I am the vulture upon the rocks,
I am a beam of the sun”

17Aug-Mona_Lisa

Contemporary ‘Mona Lisa’ Art

These experiences of transcending the barriers of his own ego enable the artist to become the heartbeat of social cohesion. Art has the rare power to infect masses. Therefore in the contemporary art situation ‘Mona Lisa’ represents the mysterious woman not of France but of the whole world. The disinterested pleasure in art and beauty indirectly carries the essence of many religious philosophies of the world. In Chitrasutra of Vishnudharmottra Puran it is written that artist is a Yogi and his creation is a prayer. The Zen theory of China echoes the same in the words of Buddha,

“The mountain colors are the pure body.
The voice of the mountain stream is the broad, long tongue.”

It is evident that art may take any form, style and size but its fragrance lies in social exuberance. An artist must create in a selfless frenzy without worrying for the light it will bestow on mankind. These words of Tagore resonate with this idea when he writes about the wish of a star,

“Let me light my lamp”, says the star, “And never debate if it will help to remove the darkness”