Keshav Malik essays

Before I begin to ramble about Rameshwar Broota’s world one thing must be said at the very start, namely, that his art is not built upon a ‘great’ idea, but upon a minute, conscientious realization, upon the attainable, upon a craft. And this, if I may say so, is a compliment, not the reverse. It is at as it were he has very naturally pledged himself to an humble seeming but difficult beauty of form, one that he could oversee, summon and direct. Only so did this beauty, that of dynamic form, deign to come, that is when everything was prepared. It is for this reason the stark simplicity of his maturest compositions, with not an iota of the eye-hurting alien detail sticking to them. It is how in the eighties and nineties his most individualized work began. By this time all received or routine wisdom of art had become of little use to him. The nick blade technics he had invented for himself were increasingly directed to, and brought forward, an astonishing feel of aliveness to his compositions, and as is surely matchless. As far as his art was concerned the man had become the master of himself.

The painter is by now supreme for his brevity, of statement, and also able to grasp the smallest detail with a hawk’s eye. But we may well ask, all that painstaking labour in aid of what cause?-- those states of inward being writ large as life. Sharp indeed is the edge of his visual designs and quite like those of a honed scimitar. And he dividing and ruling his canvas most like a master strategist, ushers us before what is essential and not a mite more, not a dot in excess in any work. But still the feeling of incompleteness does not arise even from so cut to the bone a reality; rather, one magically seems to stand before a whole. Each of the portions, in his pictorial configurations, would seem to vibrate in unison, and our viewer’s eye does not even for a moment have to wander over the canvas in search of a work’s ostensible purport. Rather, the eye is spell bound, the impact of what is presented overcoming us most like a tidal wave. The painter, full of the vital abundance of his inner knowledge of what is what, penetrates into the meaning of those of his subjects that inhabit his imagination. This rare, extraordinary intuitive aspect gives to his work a quality, a clear accuracy, at the same time as, the clairvoyant greatness which rises to indescribable perfection in his earlier masterpieces, like Silence, the Traces of Man etc; and now also in the latest compositions. For him to create images means to seek eternity in the corporeal or in the countenance. Increasingly, decade by decade, he has shed the inessentials, and thereby has an unerring focus on the permanent, the abiding, the heart of the matter alone. Of course, only his manner, or call them his evolved methods, speak of all this, never he in person. Oh never so. There is nothing overt here, each signal being as if unintended, as if being a part of the root creation. As I say, this work reduces itself to the abc, or the elements, or the fundaments of the stuff of what is given to us. Yes, these most concrete of works make us no allowances, give no concessions. Their rigour should be alarming to those timid of soul. But there you are, that is, with a fait accompli. Are you prepared to stand up to these non-pretty pictures of the truth and nothing but the whole truth, and one that does not allow you any escapes, any ease or dalliance; nor no sop, no make believes, no spiritual palliatives? If so this work is for you - for it braces, for it makes you, your inner senses, alert and wide awake to the inexorable basic reality. With this genre of work, there never may be any facile praise or mutter of kind words. Its, so to say, harshness has the sting of a fresh, kicking life. It has the kind of freedom as really comes of letting go of illusions.

Since an artist’s responsibility is to activate, this our present artist does superbly. The activation is done by craft. The artist has learnt to put all his materials in such a way together that it produces power, if the work has power, it can transform. The magic of power is instantaneous in the painter’s figures as abstracts. Then, since he has the power to transform, he has been able to dominate reality. And being able to dominate reality he can change the way people see things: so then, power, activation, transformation. The strongest artists take people out of themselves; they have no reference points that are easily translatable in terms they expect. If you are allowed to negotiate with what is supposed to transform you, then you will never understand what was supposed to happen to you. You will be negotiating, not experiencing. That is why seduction is very important in art, that is, to be taken out of yourself. With Broota you are being disarmed right away. Our commonplace reality appears as a kind of servitude after that very impact. Well, this is what artistic seduction is.

So what interests me in artists, like Broota, is the power to activate. To be able to dominate your reality by image, and so with all its telling nuances-that is the real battle of art. Artists have to be good magicians, manipulators of the contours of the world in all its dimensions, but this can involve complexities and contradictions. Oh, of course, artists have untold centrifugal and centripetal forces to contend with. So Broota.

An artist of this order has to be a thorough craftsman, conversable in his chosen medium, and he at the sometime has to be moral. By morality I mean he has to be true to the components he is using; he has to understand the attributes of the materials that are being orchestrated. Perhaps, even like a composer, he has to know what his instruments can do, what the field force will be like when they are placed together--- or displaced. But still the artist should not be intimidated by prescriptive notions about how things can be put together-he shouldn’t be afraid to experiment. To improvise, you have to have the skills that ensure you against thinking only in terms of what might be workable. I believe artists themselves must be pulled out of self, so that they can begin to examine from another point of view their own premises. If I may say so our painter has fulfilled all these conditions. I’m witness to his step by step transformation from acorn to a sturdy ---you know what! His artistic instincts have never left him, even as his inner vision has matured from a given level atop a higher level. But how could all this have been except for the power of being able to distance himself from his achieved selves. Well, that is a kind of morality, is it not ? at least as it applies to his total dedication to the muse.

It is himself that, in truth, Rameshwar Broota remakes. He has been forever making and remaking himself in an effort to surpass himself. And this he has done, without the shadow of a doubt, you only have to go over his forty years of work to feel the full truth of this assertion. But the process has been entirely natural, never forced out of him by wilfulness, or ambition. I think therefore of his art as an act of transformation and even of transcendence. At every important stage of his journey he has had the gift, as the courage, to cross over.

A great lot of reasoning has perhaps gone into the making of his works, but the great leap in his case is from memory and awareness to the rapture of the unknown and the unrealized. In his case - who like me is no book- worm at all-such cannot be wholly a logical procedure. With other artists such reasoning plays all sorts of clever and even beautiful ideas games, but then true imagination is a deep-sea diver that rakes the artist’s mind and dredges up fantastic images. The visionaries tell us that we have to be ignorant before we can become wise. It is, maybe for this, that the painter bides his time, being as slow as the proverbial snail; indeed, often, he retreating back into his deepest mind, and to then like a seasoned athlete jump over the high crossbar, so that he can gain momentum for his great leaps. Art of this order, then, is breathtaking . This artists deepest self has its own especial moves. And so, being never in a hurry, he overtakes all the frantic hares.

I have said the above, but what can one really say about that this artist himself cannot say better? Why explicate a Tagore or a Sailoz or any other? Artists have a way of defeating their critics even before they begin. I have known the man long, or long enough, and yet, in some essentials, friends like him remain mysteries. The fact of course has been a challenge in venturing to explore the Broota phenomenon; and, by bringing together the various threads of his achievement, to reveal him to the reader in some small sketchy way. Fact is that it is only when you have seen an artist’s work over the years, that you can come to a true estimate of his stature as artist, and perhaps even as person. Broota as person is essentially modest and very self-dismissive. Then, there are particular things one loves about him; his quiet but very visible discomfiture in the face of our usual, self-centered garrulous talkers. Perhaps, somewhere in all this, one can begin to find an explanation for his creativity - so deep, and yet so unprolific. Meager, and yet so stunningly durable of aspect. The painter rarely holds forth about his work, makes no manifestoes. He remains his own man; his musings on art-craft being strictly directed to service his fingers even as they move on canvas-no more, no less. What to him is really real is work in process. Outside this-despite his affection for children or friends-there is no such thing as the world. Perhaps this is true of other intense makers as well. Broota’s credo, as it seems to me, is to make a world which can be imaginatively inhabited, and believed in. He shuns most socializing occasions, or puts up with them uneasily, looking over his shoulders every now and then, as if for an escape. Not that he is ignoring the world, but as if he had to save the world by saving himself-that is, by giving birth to something precious.

I have not always seen eye to eye with this friend. From time to time; on sundry matters, we differ, and yet I have to fully concede that in his own artistic life he has remained true to the beliefs and ideals that informed his works from their very beginnings, that is, as long as I have known him since the early sixties. If anything, he is more emphatically himself now, than he ever was, except that, the inevitable brash part of the college days has peeled away, to give way to subtler spells of wit. But yet despite these occasional asides, it is art alone that he has at his command and that with a view to expressing life’s meaning. That indeed is his dignified way of survival-of course, barring his duties as head of the Triveni Art Department. In Broota’s denial of the larger social occasions, there is however none of the elitist escapism or snobbism, nor is he involved in any art groupisms; he simply does his work, looks around, communicates silently with those about him-namely, the students of the Triveni Art Department. The common humanity is not wanting, but still, in these times of many times groups, claques and cliques, he is found as the unaffiliated person. However, going back to his earliest simian series of the sixties, we can already observe that here is one who cannot resist the temptation to make mock of any man made law or fiat which is designed to hamper the dignity of man.

The word to watch here is ‘spirit’ even though he himself has perhaps never ever mouthed it overtly. It is, as it were, he shelters the spirit of man, as what renders him human, so that it is protected from the corroding pressures, or power, or an overbearing society. Brootas works from the earliest-even though they have grown to a far more transcendental plane seem to exist to establish the fraternity of man. But all this, as I said, is done without the any preachment. Perhaps it is from these very roots that there have emerged some of those great works of an essential solemnity in all their cosmic connotations. The truth of art, over here, is the truth of a profound emotion, not of the computerized intellect. Of courses emotion and intellect are essentially and eventually inseparable, and the quality of one depends on the quality of the other. The painter is fully in the know of that, but he does not carry his knowing on his sleeve. Thus, behind the emotion of his works, is a fixed vision of the human potential-an ideal, which too many of us in the process of living often lose sight of. To keep that very vision alive, he repeatedly places before our eyes fragments of a world that can be believed in, in these dangerous times of much deceit on all levels.

Now if the painter’s earliest works had a sharp mock humour to them, those also, gradually, had a saving grace, namely the balm that heals; lifeline that left fear and disenchantment way behind. Again and again the realist and the mystic have gone hand in hand with Broota to create a sense of the absurdity in the differences that separate the profane world from his own way of his seeing it, and as too his upward winding nature. It is in this way he has been translating his art into his life over the years. Ever more fully in control of himself and his faculties, he paints to maintain an essential discipline: in order to keep in trim, as it were. His is the air of disconcern as to whether to expose his works before the public gaze or not. Since I have seen him at work I know that he has invariably so put himself away from himself, as to distance any possible trash in his nature. He seems to concentrate so intensely that in a sense he as though had left his body entirely, even though it may seem to be there all the while. His spirit, or his chief spirit, then seems to have taken over-even if not for a whole day. The artistic spirit does not of course need a lot of time. Nevertheless it operates entirely in the instant, right then, cancelling time as we understand it. Well, that is the way the stronger artists are ever wont to be, but still my truck with Broota has taught me no few lessons in life. How can you then separate his fact from his fiction, the man’s art and his life? This painter is his own true disciple, he earnestly and tranquilly continuing to make pictorial spaces in which our humanity can find lodgement in times of great disbelief and much misanthropy.

Finally, to cut matters short, may I be allowed to quote a fragment of verse in which I have tried, not to illustrate, but to evoke the subtle pleasure and inspiration I have personally received from the lives of our foremost artists, among them, needless to say, Rameshwar Broota-the verse I append below may of course be in the manner of that careful reader who scribbles with his pencil in the margins of choice volumes on art:

You are learning to play darts-

To hit the bull’s eye

That is at the back of your head

To be is to hit that eye,

And one must make ones mark---

Sink ones missile in an invisible target

Going’s not easy of course,

Attention wanders away

After the flash of blinding tinsel

But once more the return of the tides of true desire

And you train your sights in the rear mirror

Upon a beckoning spark,

Releasing the crisp thorn like a hawk

In the air

Whispering ‘luck’

You will not rest from a task, that

Is the cure for the curse of all smouldering unrest

Which smokes away the life -salts:

Behind wings the tall immortals-

In benign asides, knowing smiles:

But still a mortal needs must make perfect.

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