"... and I look into my depths
And am astonished - as is the boundless sky
When at the dose of day, at sunset's obsequies,
It gazes at earth's darkling landscapes and is awed
By the luminous self-projection of its stars".
Landscape has often been used as the perfect vehicle for metaphor in the visual arts as well as in literature. For this reason various examples of the metaphorical use of landscape easily spring to mind when looking at Jyothi Basu's most recent work. Personally, I am initially reminded of certain drawings by the French artist, Andre Masson. To be specific, those landscapes in which human forms and sexual organs project, seeming to say something about the upheavals that occur in nature, life's cruelty, the ferocity of sexual desire; themes which are not quite those of Basu. The landscapes of both artists, however, are ultimately a celebration of the greatness of art and the greatness of life. Masson's works appear within the context of Surrealism and are the continuation of a long artistic tradition which we could call 'fantastic' and which includes Hieronymous Bosch, Arcimboldo, de Romper, Grandville, etc..Some of Masson's drawings have the revealing title Terre Erotique' and others are rocky landscapes inspired by travels in Spain and France, or landscapes with exotic vegetation inspired by the tropical island of Martinique. These drawings verge on the calligraphic and suggest, as David Sylvester thought, a knowledge of classical Chinese painting.
Basu's landscapes have at first a phantasmagorical quality, that suggests a Utopian vision of a distant future and permits a reading which is completely immersed in the 'fantasy' tradition just described.
As in Masson's work, or in Russian filmmaker Tarkovski's masterpiece, Solaris, we find ourselves in a world which is a living entity, reflective and unfamiliar. In any case, the ideas that emerge from Basu's landscapes have, probably, more to do with the microcosmos than with the macrocosmos. I am not personally acquainted with the artist but I know that he was a member of the Radical Group, a group of Indian artists that emerged from Baroda, an extremely important city in the context of the visual arts in India. The group, which numbered Anita Dube and Krishnakumar amongst its members, very quickly revolutionized, in the eighties, artistic practice in their country, moving away from a practice which had, up until then, essentially political ends. After the death of Krishnakumar, the group disbanded and Basu moved to Kerala, and did not paint for another seven years. When he started to exhibit again, towards the end of the nineties, we found in his paintings, among other things, a bearded figure, very like the artist, placed in strange, leafy landscapes. This figure has now disappeared from his work, but not the possibility of reading his paintings as allegorical self-portraits. Ranjit Hoskote wrote about this new phase in Basu's work, saying that its central theme was the death and resurrection of the ‘I’, and interpreting his work as referring to his rebirth as an artist. Hoskote seems to have hit the nail on the head, because Basu entitled these works Resurrection Series, painting or drawing in them, flowers, cacti, tree trunks, fruit, but also boomerangs or storms, suggesting things that are cyclical or that become renewed within some sort of dynamic order. He also painted, e.g. in Gap of Power, landscapes which are broken up by precipices. These seem to allude to the period in which he did not paint, transformed into a geographical phenomenon in his mental landscape. In Resurrection of a Lover, one of these first.
The second painting in this sequence is Order Breaks from Within, in which the columns we saw in the previous work now shoot vertically and horizontally across the canvas. As they do so, letters, numbers and hieroglyphics appear, and the harmony which existed previously starts to give way to a new type of situation. Finally, in Sleeping Fear and Sleepless Ancestors (2005), we see up close what may have been the distant floating city we saw in the previous canvases. It is an immense space filled with strange figures and constructions that suggest idols and temples from an unknown civilisation. One can see lights and groups of what seem to be people. Perhaps these are the sleepless ancestors that can provoke the fear of sleep, as referred to in the title of the work. This new landscape is immense, a plain full of activity. A metaphor, perhaps, for the rich period of creativity in which the artist finds himself. The world presented to the viewer is governed nonetheless by its own rules, hidden from us. More than a topographical representation of a particular place, we find ourselves confronted with a Active construct which does not tell us about a specific event, but, rather, presents the supreme state of mind of the artist, The construct can explain to some extent this state of mind, but not its underlying principles.
Basu's paintings and pastel works are constructed in such a way as to. increase their phantasmagorical, dreamlike atmosphere. His colours are intense and non-naturalistic. They suggest, at times, flowers or lights, as if the painting were a living being from which all of these things burst forth. Curiously, the surface of his paintings gives off a vibration not unlike that achieved by the American painter, of British origin, Malcolm Morley. Morley creates his paintings with small square units. In Basu's landscapes we find wide open, immense skies that contrast with the level of detail on the ground. The artist's mind, and our own minds by extension, are converted into something vast and unpredictable, but which we can attempt to decipher perhaps in the way that biologists, geologists or naturalists observe the world. Also, however, we can delve into these landscapes without any specific intention, as one might nervously penetrate the depths of some strange forest. Basu creates a fiction which refers to the work of American poet Wallace Stevens, especially to that period in which he wrote Notes towards a Supreme Fiction. For Stevens, poetry should be abstract
(Basu's painting is figurative but it does not refer to specific things), malleable and should give pleasure. This conviction can perhaps be found in the new creative period of this most unique painter.
Translated by Jonathan Brennan