If the essence of expressionism lies in the plastic modulation of naturalistic form according to the disctates of an inner vision, and the similar deviation from the colours found in nature in favour of a spectrum where their vibrations symbolise the tensions of the psyche, Paramjit Singh is an expressionist. And the deep absorption with which he seeks to crystallize his inward moods in compositions which will adequately express them, coupled with his mature craftsmanship, makes him one of the most significant expressionists among Indian artists today.
Paramjit was born at Amritsar in 1935 and after leaving college, studied at the Art School of the Delhi Polytechnic from 1953 to 1958 where he learnt from Sailoz Mookerjea the basic truth that in art what matters is not the thing seen but the way it is seen. After teaching for a while in the audio-visual department of the National Institute of Community Development at Mussoorie and at the Mother’s School, New Delhi, he joined the Jamia Milia, New Delhi, in 1963 as art lecturer and has been working there ever since.
After exhibiting earlier with the group which called itself “The Unlknown”, he held his first man show at the Triveni in 1967. In the LalIT Kala Akademi’s annual exhibition of 1970, his “Stone on the Wall” won the national award. In the Akademi’s Triennale, 1971, three of his paintings were accepted. His works have been acquired by the National Gallery of Modern Art, Chandigarh Museum, Lalit Kala Akademi and by several collectors in India and abroad.
Among the European expressionists Munch and Nolde have impressed him most. In the deep stillness of his evocations, their dramatic use of light and abstract treatment of shapes, Paramjit’s work has affinities with that of Chirico. The solid objects levitating in space remind one of Magritte, but it seems he came across the work of the Belgian long after this feature had emerged in his own compositions.
Paramjit is a lover of landscape. But while the impressionists followed the transformation of the landscape from moment to moment under the elusive effect of light, of the flutter of leaves in a slight breeze, he sees it under the light of eternity. He abstracts the timeless reality of a scene by purifying it of such accidental effects. His hills sit with the weight which they have gained from the shaping of vast geological strata by an immense span of time. The stillness of ages is cherished by the stillness of the objects in his compositions.
He moulds his objects by colour, scarcely ever using the line as such. The colours do have some genetic linkage with the actual landscape, for he has noticed that, to the observing eye, a spread out stretch of earth and sky reveals innumerable colours and tones. But from these, he selects the spectrum for the particular composition, flooding large areas with one colour or another. Thus transformed, the colour spectrum of his canvas ceases to be naturalistic. But it reflects faithfully the creatively transforming inner vision. Further, it gains for the canvas the status of an experiment in abstract colour harmonies, in spite of the fact that Paramjit never destroys the image and in fact strives all the time to gain for it a monumental quality. With this strongly affirmative colour spectrum he uses light, with an apparently natural source, to gain intensely dramatic effects.
The latent love of abstraction, controlled by a strong anchorage in earth and her forms, comes out in his preoccupation with rocks and boulders. He moulds their forms and volumes with the patience of a sculptor working on abstract compositions. He detaches them from their natural sites and floats them into a blue sky for an exciting choreography of their own in space. Formerly he used to do lot of still life studies. Nowadays he incorporates them into his abstract landscapes where they help to further accent the stillness. Still he feels a human presence in these scenes, he scarcely ever introduces human figures into them. In the “Purple Figure”, the figure, like the painter who created it, seems to be a medium for communicating to us in the mood of the sun-drenched courtyard, for the human figure too seems to be immersed in the experience of a non-human presence.
There is a brooding evocative quality in these paintings, a palpable inner resonance in the vibrant colours, a monumental solidity in the formal arrangements, a sense of mystery in a deserted house in a vast plain, a window opening on to bare earth and a line of hills. There is also a danger of monotony here, of the vision fading to leave a mannerism. But Paramjit is profoundly earnest and sincere and one can be certain that the moment this happens he will change over to new types of expression. However, his is a nature that matures slowly and surely like the geology of the landscapes he paints and the evolution that can be immediately anticipated will more likely be in details -- not the internal perspective and vision; in gaining further transparency and vibration for her colours, in attaining more subtle balances between naturalism and abstraction in his forms.
Published in Roopalekha, Vol XXXIX, No 1