Surrounded By Infinity…
Some weeks ago I received the visit of a few young men. They told me that they were painters, that they had founded a group called 1890; they showed me a manifesto and they invited me to see their work. We were together several times after that; I spent long hours before their oils, drawings, collages, prints, sculptures; we talked, we discussed, we laughed and we remained silent. We are friends.
At the beginning I was puzzled by the name they had adopted. I confess my antipathy for numbers, initials and labels. 1890: a date or a code? A meeting place: the number of the house where they had gathered to draft their manifesto. 1890 is neither an aesthetic formula nor a political or moral password. In reality it means nothing. And in this deliberate absence of ideological meaning I find the significance of the movement. Because 1890, which pretends not to be a school, is a movement.
A movement which affirms itself as a will of change and, at the same time, refuses to define the sense or the direction of such change, does it not imply a contradiction? Perhaps it would be better to say: a paradox. These young men make me think of those adolescents running from their homes, moved by an irresistible impulse. They don’t know where they are going but they know that someone, somewhere, something awaits them. We call it love, death, art, truth, fraternity, self-knowledge, unity with the Absolute, revelation, revolt. It has all the names and none. These young men hear the marvellous call: they rise and abandon family, gods, and native town without looking back. They go in search of the Encounter.
To say that we don’t know with entire certainty where we are going is a proof of lucidity. The unexpected would be if somebody actually knew it. Does of any our pedagogues, moralists, leaders or philosophers, know it? The paradox of the movement, moreover, is not new. Many centuries ago it was illustrated by Zeno and his famous arrow which does not advance but nevertheless moves. Vibrating and still, the arrow is always at the same distance from the target. No; 1890 is not a figure merely designating a meeting place. It is an arrow shot by a group of brave young men. Each aims at a different target- and that target is the same for all. The target is unreachable. We are surrounded by infinity.
These young men surprise me with their lucidity. They know that art is a passional activity and that it is born out of a vital urge; to create is, above all, erotic play and combat, in the widest and the most powerful sense of the word eroticism. But they also know that art demands a sort of asceticism, a rigour without complacency. The creative act is based upon a radical criticism. Criticism of the world and criticism of the artist and his means of expression:
Criticism of the world: Let no one seek in the works of this exhibition the external reality of contemporary India or, least of all, her traditional face. Among other things what links these young artists is the same horror for folklore, for photographic or didactic realism and for aesthetic and religious patterns proposed to them by tradition. They aim precisely at the destruction of those images, at the invention, or the discovery, of another reality- perhaps the true one hidden under appearances. Frequently the images of these young men are atrocious. They are also pure. There is neither rancour nor hate: their work is not a judgement but a vision. The task of the artist is not to judge the world but to reveal it. And sometimes to transfigure it.
Criticism of the artist and his means of expression: What counts is not what the poet or the painter wants to say (that which is called his ideas) but what is actually said by the painting or the poem. Neither didactic art nor aestheticism. Neither beauty (what is beauty?) nor myth, or history: the artist by himself in front of the canvas. His judge is not the State, the Church, the Party, the Museum, or the Art Dealer (incarnation of the great malignant power: the market). His judge is his work. Before it the true artist feels an absolute and permanent responsibility. To paint well, to write well, to be able, elegant, gracious, profound, surprising, entertaining, dramatic, elliptical, direct, mysterious- in brief: to have talent, is not very difficult. Perfection is not enough either. Art demands more- and less. The moral of the artist: to demand from oneself more and more- to explore oneself, to fight one self, to give no respite for oneself- to double and to multiply oneself and to come back to unity- buffoon and saint and libertine (neither of them a serious profession). Self-vigilance and self-abandon. Each painting, each poem: a total and unique experience, a testament. And each day: to start again a daily sentence and a daily embrace with the Unknown. Art is a rigorous passion.
It is not difficult to find in the works of this exhibition the echoes, the prolongations and influences of universal contemporary painting. These young men, with a full conscience, have grasped modern language. Who will dare to reproach them? There is no other language, it is the only one alive. And how not to see the frequency with which that language ceases to be a prescription and becomes a sign of self? Furthermore, what is called tradition is nothing else but an ensemble or succession of works. That is, of inventions and variations on those inventions, contemplated from an ever-changing point of view: the present. Even if the art critics and historians feel themselves installed in eternity. Tradition: change. 1890: breakthrough and re-start.
The true subject of this exhibition is the confrontations of the vision of these painters with the inherited image. Contemporary Indian art, if this country is to have an art worthy of its past, cannot but be born from this violent clash. I do not affirm that the first exhibition of the Group 1890 is already the new Indian painting. Neither are these painters the only ones, nor is their work final. I affirm that this exhibition is one sign of the new time, a time that will be of criticism as well as creation.
Something precious is being born with these artists.