Artists: Notes on Art Making

My struggles continue in the direction of projecting my intentions through metaphors, and the human figure still holds my entire attention as a vehicle to explore attitude. However I see the need for myself to re-question my use of narration as the underlying structure that integrates the motifs. The origin of an attitude may have a specific placement in reality but when “lifted” and used to “translate” in conjunction with other symbolic references, it should not be rooted in its origin, but become an indicator of importance to every motif contained in the scenario. I now want certain things to hold the inconsequential aspect of being part of the “make up”, integral, but not vital. Like the way Bergmann or Fassbinder create a setting in a room for a dialogue between two actors.

Colour, that has always had a very heightened pitch for me, is now taking on subtlety and becoming more controlled. My last visit to Europe and my brief stay in New York found me totally enthralled by artists like de Chirico, Daumier and Paladino. Artists like Franz Kline and Motherwell, though entirely different in their premise of articulation, fascinated me - for, through totally non-descriptive means, they have translated extremely potently areas of angst and chaos within the society of their times.

Though I know I will face criticism for this statement, I maintain that the art environment in the west has never failed to invigorate and stimulate me. It lies more in the fact that there seems a more genuine probing within individual language rather than a mere repetition of one area of discovery.

Personal expression in art is important, yet the role of intellect cannot be so easily swept aside. In too many works of us Indian artists one observes this facile, superficial “putting together” that really doesn’t amount to more than mere formulae. For myself, I am constantly terrified of finding aspects of complacency and boredom manifest in my works. I prefer to run the risk of total disaster in a painting, you feel the joy of pushing one’s limitations and unveiling areas of the unknown to one’s self.

This isn’t to say that there are not artists I greatly respect in India, but these thoughts are based on the experience of looking at a broad spectrum of art such as is projected on occasions like the National Exhibition every year and the permanent collection of modern art at the National Gallery. After being thrown out of the Fine Arts Faculty, many students wanted to continue meeting me for a dialogue regarding their work. This informal teaching has made me even more aware of the problems young artists face, and my main area of emphasis, besides formal issues of language, is to get them to see art as an activity that is not separate from their everyday living where their own growth, their personalities and their opinion become the filter for pictorial translation. There is a truth in the oft-repeated statement that ultimately the work in all its independence speaks for itself - yet the very complexities of an individual’s mind, with its intricacy of perception and absorption, leads one to build metaphorical bridges, as a means of accessibility, into the labyrinth which is each person’s mind.

The intention for this writing is for it to act as a guide, laying before the viewer areas of thinking and concerns which are personalised, and which are the plinths upon which I construct the works. As many of these issues are from an outer reality and as this reality is something both the viewer and I share, I feel certain that the metaphors which contain a reference to these areas of life will be understood by him, as he threads their association from his own experience - as I too have done while creating them.

The issues that become “staged” are simple. They are about the role of the human being in a society ridden with the maggots of degradation and destruction in numerous forms - and the portrayal of the human psyche, as it is conditioned by the entire cycle of life - social, political, economic and cultural. Perhaps because I am a woman, who has herself fought against accepting a prescribed role within her own life, the protagonist in my works is almost always a woman. This is not intended to be autobiographical, yet I do not deny that many of the attitudes which I embody get reflected through the women in my paintings.

I have often been asked what prompts an image to emerge and what provokes an idea. The works are never pre-planned - with every blank surface I confront, I go through all the terror and agony of steeping into “an unknown”. What become the directives to the birth of an image are my thoughts and emotions, my readings and observations, my beliefs and values - and the vast compiling of past experiences. The external recognisable world and the internal conflicts and identifications with these, become the parameters to the works.

For me painting is not just the statement in isolation. To convey is to also understand the putting together of colour and line that moulds and sculpts a form - the relation of one form or shape to another, and the quality so that it re-echoes through the painting or drawing. The treatment of painting something, be it a still-life or a human figure, becomes the indicator to understanding the intention that lies within the image, and the concerns of the painter. When issues like ideologies and political thought become centrifugal focuses, it is not sufficient to presume that these ideas can be translated without evolving a method that assimilates the idea through the language. In Goya’s painting of the execution of Spanish patriots, he has appropriated his language to reflect a reality of his time, as well as the horror of all that is violent and unjust - which has the power to move us with passion even today. The vigour and reverberation of spirit that the Mexican murals with are once again arrived at by the conjunction of the statement and innovation of pictorial devices.

My own explorations have led me to a concern with the structure of my objects. Where previously I spewed forth gut level reactions in relation to my treatment of the subjects, I am now searching for a balance between the deliberated and the emotive. The play of gestures, the intertwining of fact and fiction, and the use of myth assume a major role in my pictorial language. I enjoy the dramatic tension of pushing the motifs “up front” to confront the viewer, and manipulating the space as dictated by the occurrence between these motifs. There is never an attempt to recreate a reality through a realistic language. The “settings” are always internal worlds that grapple and reveal an existing reality, through metaphors. The human figure continues to be an essential motif for me, mirroring the vast spectrum of life contained in our “inner” “outer” worlds.

I wish to dedicate this exhibition to my mother and son, whose constant love and support have been ofinvaluablestrengthto me, both as a painter and as a person.

Published in Art Heritage 9, 1989-90
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