Jeram Patel’s art has always been ‘against interpretation’, and by its very nature has constantly repulsed any attempt to define and describe it, in terms of locating it in any specific context. This, then, can be attributed to the very characteristics of his kind of art, where the verbal and visual are at a loss to come to terms with each other, and each looks at the other with a certain suspicion. But this dichotomy is not to be stretched too far, as we all know that to critically appreciate works of art, be they figurative, abstract or experimental, one has to approach them with certain words as well, in order to fathom and decode their basic and essential nature, and if possible the sources of their forms and images. The purpose of this is to establish their identities, if not in whole, at least partially, so that one may forge a relationship no viewing is possible, let alone of its being worthwhile.
Since this relationship in terms of art history, or the world of art is also to be explored, a critic, viewer or lover of art is bound to search for parallels or similarities, or a certain pattern, while discussing the works of an artist. We know that time and again Jeram Patel’s links with surrealism, and with auto suggestional ways of working have been proposed, and it has also been pointed out that his forms and images emerge with no bearings of narration or resemblance. Any identifications or parallels can at best be intuitive, or some kind of guess work, as the works themselves are not willing to reveal their true identities. For instance, in an essay on Jeram Patel’s work in the book ‘Contemporary Art in Baroda’ (edited by Gulammohammed Sheikh and published by Tulika in 1997) it has been suggested that “Art for him is a matter of eruption of the pictorial surface; by opening it up or demolishing it, he makes contact with the numen…..this mode of working, of making forays deep into the psyche, corresponds with surrealism. Jeram’s drawing begins in an unpremeditated way as an act of forgetting.” This piece then goes on to propose that “with no apparent relation to the outside world, these forms well up on their paper in their amoebic formation and disintegration with no end or direction - sometimes these forms are figured into primeval creatures emerging from an abyss, or suspended in some dinosaur time, silent and anguished. If dismembered, they resemble limbs and organs in the anatomical drawings of a medical book, or a decaying carcass, with half revealed bones strewn in an arid landscape. Sometimes a nib, a spoon or clinical tool, becomes itself among such limbs, bound within steel edges in a way comparable to Joan Miro’s phantasmagoric forms that were sometimes made by turning mechanical illustrations in science books upside down to see in their silhouette strangely animate creatures.”
One may agree or disagree with such observations about Jeram’s work, but there is no denying the fact that to approach it one has to do so hesitantly, and with some caution. It may sound paradoxical, but it is true that the art of Jeram Patel, which looks so assertive and energetic in its total formation, has to be explored in a dis-assertive manner. And by stating this, am I not myself suggesting that with forms and images which are so strong, yet unidentifiable, Jeram has succeeded in making them visually so overpowering and enchanting that one is simply mesmerized by their visual content? But then there is another riddle to solve. If he is not a maker of the art, and has faith in auto-suggestion only and lets the form and images emerge as they please, or as they come on the surface, while he is working or demolishing or destroying something (as he himself suggested in one of his statements), then there can be no room for the modes, methods and techniques being at play in a conscious manner in his works. But we know that this is not the case. Statements by him or by others may suggest something different, yet Jeram is a skilful painter, and one may even attribute to him the notion that the very tools and methods of his work are in themselves the concepts and bearers of ideas. Once we accept this proposition, we are bound to look at his works somewhat differently. And I for one have always seen in them, forms and images as potent signifiers of certain moods, tensions and relationships. To some extent he is a kind of surrealist, yet he does start with preconceived notions or concepts. It seems that in the very process of working, some sort of ‘orientation’ takes place, and he manipulates forms and images, until they reach a final shape and finish. It seems that without such a thing happening, the force and power of his works would not be energised, and would lack the movement they possess. It is this capacity to energise the lines, images and forms that separates Jeram Patel’s work from that of fellow artists, who seem to have a kinship with him. Laxma Gaud alone had perhaps forged a bond with Jeram in this regard, though his total repertoire is quite different from the latter’s.
Jeram’s choice of black has also to be taken into account. Right from his blow-torch works in wood, to his drawings and paintings we find that the presence of black has dominated other colours, and the black, in his drawings particularly, has remained the colour for unearthing the happening in the sub-conscious, and for reaching down into the primeval darkness.
In his recent smaller drawings too, it is black which dominates the white surface. In some there are solid masses of black, and in some we find fissions and fissures. In some there are literally hair-line splits in the forms or images, which get scattered like splinters, emanating from a kind of blast somewhere in time and space. These splayed forms are not dead; they seem to carry a kind of living force with them….And here again, we encounter a paradox. Black in most societies and cultures has been related or attributed to death, to loss, to the forces which suppress life and are called forces of darkness. In these drawings, we do get the feeling of death and of primeval gloom, but the forms seem to ‘sniff’, we feel compelled not only to look at them, but also to listen to them. And this extraordinary quality makes them interesting and intriguing. Besides, as suggested earlier, we need to appreciate the skill by which these scattered, splayed forms are finally arranged or get their placement on the white surface.
Every artist’s visual vocabulary brings back certain memories and associations to the viewer, with its colours, lines, forms or figures. Some of these associations can be common, but some may be so varied and strange as to make one only curious. Yet, we know that corresponding images and forms at least point towards certain connotations emanating from visuals created by the artist, and they should not be dismissed and rejected outright. So if one were to suggest that some of the forms ofJeramPatel’s vocabulary correspond with certain enlarged thumb impressions, or dried up whirlpools of a pond or river, as one of my friends proposed after seeing Jeram’s work, I am not surprised. Because, I can see that through some such suggestion one is perhaps trying to read the movements and nature of Jeram’s drawings. Be these auto-suggestional, gestural, or simple products of certain moods, the lines do play a significant part. And without appreciating these lines, the ‘poetics’ of Jeram’s drawing cannot be understood.
Even the solid black masses of his drawings and other works carry at least a few discernible lines, and in some of his drawings we find that the part lines play is much more vocal. The encircling lines of certain forms, or the broken lines of a bone-like structure, or forms like plants, snakes women, lizards, bees, etc. give the works ‘the dignity of explicit aesthetics’, as Jeram himself has suggested.
At the same time, the use of the white surface in his works cannot be ignored. The role of white, particularly in his drawings, has to be taken into account, when we discuss the aesthetics of his work. The impressions made visible through the white surface have an unquietness which only the sensitive use of the white can provide. And here again we see Jeram’s extraordinary skill at work, a skill without which it is impossible to derive any aesthetic pleasure from a work of art.
If Jeram’s fellow teacher and artist for many years in Baroda, Nasreen Mohammedi (who also worked in black and white) was precise and meticulous in the measured, tenuous lines of her drawings, mapping her visions and emotions through line alone, Jeram, by contrast, may be seen to be some kind of anarchist in the violence with which he makes or demolishes his structures. Yet who can deny that, in the final analysis, he also applies his measuring skills with unerring craft, never spilling his colour or lines, in an unmindful manner.
In his recent works he is perhaps even more careful not to disturb or demolish the rhythms created by his lines and forms, and allows their rhythmic patterns to move freely, even gently, at times, on the picture surface. The face of the forms and line smay not appear to have changed much from his earlier works, as Jeram has never sought to outdo his own forms for the sake of a superficial change. Yet, works of his different periods, viewed together, would reveal those subtle yet formidable shifts, which have always occurred in his works. One would perhaps notice at this time that the lines which encircle one another inside a form, have changed their course, and differ from earlier works in their more harmonious movements. And the total impression is of things being at peace, and not in conflict all the time. So these are less encounters of the agonised psyche, or agonies thrown open from dark areas. But this is not to suggest that Jeram’s creative anxieties are less operational here. They are functioning here as well, there is no doubt about that. The tenacity with which Jeram has always used the tip of the nib is also very much in evidence, and his concerns with his explicit aesthetic have also not diminished but, in fact, seem to have increased with the passage of time.
Once again, one cannot but admire Jeram’s sincerity in not resorting to shortcuts. He has always gone along his chosen path impervious to the pressure of market forces, or to new trends in art. In his recent works as well he has remained faithful to the drama enacted by his mute, and ‘sniffing’ forms, in a forlorn place of time and history. This has always been a neutral place, and the artist in him seems to suggest, each time he has done some work, and exhibited it, that we need some such neutral space in which to reposit our experiences and findings, for a viewing and re-viewing of our inner turmoils and desolation, so that the fury and sound of advertised spaces will not be able to swallow our true visions.
We know that this stand and perception has become even more necessary and urgent because of the increasing pressure and demands of the times we are living in. Thus the neutral space created by Jeram has to be viewed carefully with an objective eye, so as to get the maximum from the reservoir it has created of protest, anger, compassion, dignity, creativity, and uniqueness of the handling of tools in their formation; and its undiluted presence.
Published in the Art Heritage Catalogue