Live performance has a particular protean power. That scene of Prabhakar creating his work and freezing Kerala’s light into the earthly tones of his colourative quest, was an image that stayed in one’s recesses. It is like watching Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s ‘Mathilukkal’ at least twice; like nipping into the National Gallery in Washington DC to look at Rothko’s haunting works every time one is in Washington DC. But in certain aspects they remain what they are, essentially static: we may change, but they don’t. In the gallery however, art is brought to life by an unpredictable element of human fallibility and circumstantial chance that can make each encounter substantially different.
In this show of the exploration of the abstract, tenor Kolte gives us nuances in colour in the way that an actor would give us different moods within a character. Abstract artists, incidentally, are very interesting on the subject of repetition. When an artist uses the hand of repetition he does it with a purposeful insight, a graphic gain perhaps of plenitude that must personify a personal pursuit.
Kolte’s works bring us that predicament, that satiety - works of art which, as one feeds one’s own developing experience into them, elude one’s grasp as they alter their shape and meaning, as well as those whose perfection one continually contemplates.
Sometimes one could think of Kolte crossing two highly charged wires, each carrying its own electrical current. One is intuition, the other is colour. In a few lines written in 1978 he said: ‘Human mind is like a mini cosmos where as a child one has to witness faithfully one’s experiences.’ Later in 1983 he followed up this train of thought with ‘I have been thinking that painting should govern my seeing’ - which brings us back to intuition and colour - historically regarded as incompatible or even residing on separate artistic planes. These are primary things that matter in Kolte’s art. Perhaps intuition because his reflective purposefulness moulds and fashions his intuition.
Colour in Kolte’s hands has clout because it’s graphic evidence of a mind at work in the artist’s hand. The non-conceptual nature of Kolte’s art renews the favouring inclination of preferring mind over matter. Kolte’s brands of coloured dictums take full advantage of abstract art’s sense of freewheeling possibility, which is its principal legacy, often using language in colour to boot. But there is a difference; Kolte’s style is a parody devoid of intellectual pretension. For him symbolism is suspect.
Colour which is his vehicle of thought, is often laid down in big patches, unbrushy but unmixed. There’s a sense of the dark and sombre being the favoured palette in the 90s, but a grounding of main or parallel streams of consciousness also seems prevalent. Colour is a graphic tool and a surface on which to contemplate so that colour becomes the metaphor for widening connotations. Over the years he has played with its planar divisiveness wither creating fragments or creating his own suffusions in the presence and absence of light.
‘I don’t believe in conceptualisation because it constricts my thought process’, said he about a decade ago. ‘Conceptual art typically downgrades colour, partly because of its blaring associations with the commercial world’, he added. But it is its absence that creates the perfect foil for Kolte’s style. Colour in this case becomes echoic, stimulating, it throws up contrasts, conflicts and paradoxes but disguises it in its garb of tonality.
It works too. The colour Kolte has brought to his art wasn’t just in his paintings, it was also in his quiet predicament in which thoughts would gestate, germinate and grow in terms of an intuitive process. For Kolte the colour of his thoughts is what possessed the power to change the actual landscape that traverses the fractional essence of the glimpse of elusive and poignant realities.
The delectable delight of vibrancy can vie with the fat felicity of flatness, it can also offer us an experience of dormancy in the mood of the stilled sobriety of minimalism. Drawing viewers beyond the frames, plunging them into widening expanses of deceptive simplicity - this is the invitation that celebrates the equivocal nature of the resolute rhetoric that melts into dissolution. The 1999 work is a soothing sooty vision. ‘Minimal art offers at least a promise of some clarity in experience’ noted the famed Haber and you reckon his words have a place here.
Spend time examining two of Kolte’s paintings and what might appear initially to be a chunk of matte black slips into a rich, light absorbent field of moss green or velvety chocolate. His paintings have no titles; so a glance at the work from the side shows that the thick paintings are all surfaces - a smooth plane of soft, lush colour laid atop the exposed paper, and made from layer upon sequential layer of paint. Looking back around at the front, another surprising optical shift unfolds: the colour-plane begins to open up into deep, seemingly infinite space. Or it starts to close off into a visually impermeable mass. Two dimensions become three, three evaporate into four. Perceptual meditation assumes qualities that could be an amalgam of realism and fantasy, both speaking so profoundly in closeness that they result in the startling and serene.
Does Kolte think beyond geometry? This was a question that was asked to him a few years ago. He thought for some time and said: ‘When we think of layering and shading, it defies geometry; maybe geometry restricts me so I prefer to forget it.’ And one looks at his earliest work in the show of 1995. There is a hint of geometry as well as a symbolist arc. So one thinks of what came after geometry and symbolism. The exploitation of geometric shape and form wasn’t the only way to supress the subjective emotions of the artist, which New York made into a modern cliché in Expressionist art. We come to the perceptual phenomena of light and space in Kolte’s art, there is a lyrical cadence of the raga, so much like listening to Bhimsen Joshi’s resonant timbre singing the librettos of Malhar. Space ‘inside’ a painting of Kolte flows ‘outside’ and vice versa in his works of the 90s. The boundary between them is erased. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that the boundary is all there is - that the space’s objective form is the articulation of a boundary, stripped of its common function as a dividing line but created for its power of subtlety.
The implications for such a spatial conception are as much philosophical as formal. For it is supposed that a work of art is the outer expression of an artist’s inner life, what does it mean when terms like ‘outer and ‘inner’ no longer apply? What does it mean when body and soul are inseparable? Gone is Aristotle’s universe, where matter is the container for an idea. In its place, matter and idea are one.
In a copper toned work, you experience being inside and outside simultaneously. Because it happens where the dynamics of a thought seem exposed, the wondrous experience assumes emotional and psychological colourations. A reflective feeling of ease mingles with a refreshing sense of unfinished possibility. You also ponder about Kolte’s ability to reflect restive surfing just in terms of the idiom of thought.
In a grey meshed work of 1995, Kolte adds the poised modern simplicity of Brancusi in his strain of thought. The hint of light that laces the work in a streak of white throws up optical images of headiness. The work recalls a design that allows daylight to tumble into the building through glazed windows. But it also engenders a feeling of exuberant escape, as if a powerful, invisible force is bursting forth from inside the confined space and out into the city. Perhaps it’s hard not to think of the delirious, luminous pageantry of Ganesh Chaturthi in Mumbai, filtered through the artist’s unique sensibility and metamorphosed into an erudite vocabulary.
‘Nature first created then looked, this is my belief’ wrote Kolte in 1993, ‘which is why I too have been possessed by the same natural instinct for a long time, to paint first and see later rather than see first and paint later.’
If colour and perception become a palpable presence then you tend of the legacy of the meditative sublime that reflects an exquisite silliness and just about everything between mind blowing intensity, unforgettable depth and sometimes poignant perception.
‘I feel that colour also has oblique possibilities’, said Kolte when quizzed about his tenor of tonal references. It gives us a haunting perspective when we play with it; if we keep it straight it becomes rudimentary. Colour for me is a culture, so it goes beyond a language, it is like an ethos, an ambience, a rootedness of intent that we carry with us all the time.’
How does Kolte then nuance his works in moods that we have to respond to? How does he create pools of limpid silence even as his materials? ‘I think years ago after my short flirtation with installations, I was in the quest of finding my own self, I wouldn’t say it was a case of loss of identity, but it was a quest for finding an authentic language, to frame the sensibility within the human predicament.’ In that quest it is as if Kolte wanted to explore the terrain between the old and new, personal and private, what is understood at a global level but practised at a level that expresses an eagerness to communicate.
Kolte pushes his frames beyond colour and beyond time, creating islands of rumination that contain the sophistication of cosmopolitan visage. In the reigning trope of a crowded epoch and the charade of everyday pretensions, the artist creates within the crisis of the embattled city.
Part of the reason is that Kolte’s works are slippery and dense. They resist easy analysis, yet hold the allure of the unknown. That settling sense of mystery is what engages long after memory.
Age cannot wither them, nor custom stale their infinite variety: they are my life’s benchmarks and among my dearest friends.
Colour gains in inspiration. In the place of Zen riddles and mystical moorings, you’ll find planar fields of a masked nemesis. But they all display a visual vocabulary associated with a fast, non-notational and lucidly earnest rendition. A curator had once written ‘colour holds pictures together, and through it they command a room.’ And so be it.
First published by Vadehra Art Gallery, 2006.