– Extended artist statement, genesis and analysis of my work
Happy New Year and welcome to 2016!
This is my first post. I had been meaning to post this blogpost in December, but stalled it until January’s first Thursday. It is easier with counting (it is an obsession of mine to count).
So the count-down, or rather the count-up, begins. Post One.
My style is a fusion of the following:
- Combination and permutation of all isms in juxtaposition, which I think is a necessity to represent today’s world
- Study of perspectives of every eye: of humans, animals and machines.
- Representation of parallel worlds or perspectives (e.g. humans vs. machines)
- Motion, dynamics, and most importantly, peripheral vision movements
- Deliberate manipulation of the focus of the viewer’s eye through repeated motifs, Op Art, other illusions, and color fields.
Every age has it’s own idiosyncrasies, and the corresponding art needs to be able to accommodate those. The wise words of Jackson Pollock come to mind, which tie together the age and the art.
To repeat Pollock’s widely-quoted views from 1951: “It seems to me that the modern painter cannot express his age, the airplane, the atom bomb, the radio, in the old forms of the Renaissance or any other past culture. Each age finds its own technique.”
This was in 1951. We have since added Internet, computers, technology, smart phones, giant televisions, iRobot, 3D printers, LHC atom collider, nanobiology, 3D vision, better camera-lenses, bigger telescopes, and then Twitter, Google, Facebook and so on. How to represent the resultant increasing dimensions of our knowledge in painting?
Artists have found numerous ways and styles to depict today’s objects around us, the helicopters, the cars etc. But the mixture of the old and the new styles juxtaposed together has not been experimented with. I believe that this mixture is a necessity in art; especially to bring together all our strengths, studies and viewpoints.
In an average home we have the latest furniture, latest electronic pieces, an antique piece, a 20th century painting or sculpture thrown in together in harmony in a room, and still the total décor works out in unison.
Likewise in a painting, this combination is a way of life. There is a void here that could be explored.
Through my paintings, I study this unexplored space. Each painting is a combination of #1 and #2 as outlined in the summary above, achieved through well-thought compositions and a permutation and combination of past styles.
In fact, I have found all past styles, movements or experiments to be fascinating, and learned something unique from each. Each evokes something different from the viewer, and hence can be used effectively to achieve controlled storytelling, which is one of art’s purposes. Hence, a combination could prove to be a powerful artistic tool of communication.
The old and the new
It is not that we have to depict all those newly innovated items in our paintings. But their presence is constantly informing our beliefs, experiences and knowledge, thus influencing our thought-process and decision-making –a point to be kept in mind for painting compositions.
Most importantly, our thoughts, views and perspectives have changed because of these latest additions and findings that include all the innovations, inventions and scientific discoveries till date. Because of this constant shift in our sensitivities, painting compositions age. Soon we need to represent the same artifacts in a different manner to encapsulate our newest learnings. In this backdrop, a recent painting using past techniques would give the feel of the old or incomplete even before the paint had dried on canvas.
Moreover, the collective whole of our knowledge base is not a centralized, uniform, streamlined cloud. It is an unruly, diverse, juxtaposed beast, formed out of bits and pieces that are often at odds with each other.
We need to reflect on the essence of this friction that is so inherent of our age, and the mindset of the viewer too, in order to make an artwork look fresh and relevant. Today is not just the sum-total of the newest artifacts we have manufactured, but also a cumulative of all preceding ages, culminating in a union, a temporal melting-pot. Cumulative.
So we do not want to throw away the old techniques as been there done that and done. Neither can we use them as is. And neither do we want to stop experimenting with newer better ways to do the same things. At this cusp, the old and the new approaches need to intersect together: running parallel, converging, intersecting, diverging and remixing.
Some subjects have remained the same through every age – flowers, fruits and vegetables (if we don’t take into account the genetic hybrids!), sunflower and vases, sky, human face, trees, rivers, oceans, mountains, to name a few. Yet again, there are other items that are slowly changing with time – landscapes, furniture, food or fashion. Yet others are fast-changing. Yet others are new additions.
Bear in mind that our times (and all future ages) is a mix of this changing wisdom, and encompasses all the knowledge, discoveries and inventions in arts and humanities we have collectively made till date. As knowledge goes through constant loops, re-experiments and changes, our perspectives have gone through corresponding evolution, and will keep evolving. This change and mix is eternal.
With this new wisdom-tooth and tongue, we see some old subjects in a different light now. For example, the starry night seems different to us than what Van Gogh painted. This is because beyond the dark sky we now see the neutron stars, pulsars, or comets though the eyes of our telescopes and through the mind’s eye. But that does not mean that the simple sky and stars are erased by this new knowledge. Both viewpoints are truths that exist in parallel.
We could represent both in a way to imply the simultaneity: the plain-old starry night and the telescoped version. But how?
We see more of the ocean floor and not just the water surface or the great waves. Here too, the simultaneous representation of both would be a good thing to have.
Hokusai’s Great Wave off Kanagawa series is spellbinding, but our mind’s eye is on the ocean floor too, and beyond that all the way to Earth’s core. How could we unite all these into meaningful depictions so that the viewer could make the spontaneous connections? The precious and enjoyable Aha moments.
There are numerous worldly examples that encourage and ultimately bring forward this age of the mixed in every sense: the mega and the nano sciences, the post-modern and the antique, the ancient and the scientific age, the latest technologies and the iron-age tools, the mars-landing and the prehistoric archaeological pieces.
In a nutshell, we simply know too much as a collective human race, and today’s artistic styles would be better off uniting the entire spectrum gracefully, embracing the full cornucopia.
I think such representations could be successfully made with a combination of past styles onto a single canvas. We should call forth a mixture of the isms and could try and explore its positives and potentials, borrowing from the strengths and gains of each.
Diverse perspectives and focal-points
The second point that governs composition in painting is the way different eyes see same things in different ways that ultimately provoke the observation process. Furthermore, for the same viewer the focal-points shift.
For example in a landscape, we do not always take in the entire scene at the same time. Our attention is probably on a rose or lily or the far-away mountains and the rest of the scene forms our peripheral vision. And then we are forced to look elsewhere because our curiosity demanded so, possibly because a squirrel moved somewhere, or a sound blast demands our prompt attention.
Painting an entire landscape in a uniform style cannot capture the trajectory of this constant shift in focus, its cause and effect. A landscape with Impressionism definitely captures the entire scene perfectly all at once, but this representation is incapable of depicting or controlling the focus of the viewer’s eye.
Or maybe a moving mirror caught the sunlight and is gleaming like a diamond forcing us to focus there. If a second viewer were standing behind the first, how would that creature (if not human) depict the scene? It makes us reflect on the meaning of focal points, and the limitation of techniques like Impressionism or Post-impressionism. Cubism has explored parallel vantages successfully, but its uniformity somehow hinders shift in focal-points. Same with Abstract art, Action Painting, Minimalism or even large color fields. These mostly achieve focus on single singularities. The shifting movements have only been achieved thus far through Video Art. But not on a single canvas.
On the other hand, though Op Art is capable of creating this constant tug-of-war between focal-points, it lacks any other statement, and is very objective in its approach.
Some of the above are indeed diametrically opposite styles and subjects, and individually important subjects of study by their own right. But, at their jarring confluences, interesting subjects are waiting to be explored.
Snake can find its frog when the latter moves.
We look up when we hear a sudden noise. A changing computer screensaver is arresting. An aquarium of swimming fishes. A burning fire. An exploding stunning firecracker. A sudden flash of color. Black beside white beside black.
But any of these as continuous stimulus numbs the nerves.
By design of nature, we absolutely totally cannot escape reacting to combinatorial juxtaposition of odds. This is how our nerves and senses are wired. This is what demands our instantaneous attention, and its manipulation is capable of shifting focus of viewer’s eye or pinpointing it to a single one.
How our eyes see and store the world within us is still an open question. We simply do not know. And scientists have not been able to dissect the root phenomenon yet. That is exactly why computers have had so much trouble seeing the world too. Because it is not about the camera-view or the infrared-view or the X-ray-view.
The mind sees and perceives our surroundings as if in a union of all kinds of inputs that it gets: the visual realities, the sensory cues, the optical illusions and the alternate realities.
These cues then unify into a tacit dimension of the common sense – half hidden – hardening and finally crystallizing into personal prejudices. Alternate representations – the whispering dark of the subconscious or the impossibles – when brought out into the daylight, surprise us and we shy away or are shocked, while a part of us still looks on at the focal points.
Five example paintings and compositions
There are many untouched subjects that can be brought onto a 2-dimensional canvas through this approach. I am providing five examples to demonstrate my point.
A little detour …
Five is a very good number for expressing enough diversity. A saying, The five fingers of our hand are all different, hints upon the importance of diversity of views in our world. Diverse viewpoints serve as the key for an effective society. Why did nature choose five fingers for us? … Five is the 3rd prime number and the first prime number that can be expressed as sum of two primes… might be a composition for a future painting. No, seriously. Okay let’s get back to our paintings now.
#1 (Combining Impressionism, Abstract Expressionism, Fauvism, and Op Art)
As the first example of the effectiveness of a mixed style, here is an example oil painting of mine titled “Earth flying flag and an endless journey” where a woman (Earth) walks down through an age-old tunnel towards a vast-but-cropped ocean. Notice the motion of gown with illusion of a wave-like flow in peripheral vision, whenever you focus on the woman’s back.
Earth flying flag and an endless journey, Oil on canvas, 28”x22”, 2009-2014.
The composition and other details of the painting is a subject of another post. But to sum up, it’s a parallel world where so many things happen all at once: (1) there is the temporal journey from the present towards future, (2) the cropped ocean of knowledge out there symbolizing our incomplete understanding, (3) a tunneled, cropped vision of our universe per se, and (4) yet-still our huge focus back on Planet Earth as a race and as individuals.
I planned a tight composition followed by a mixed painting style. This particular painting employs bits of Impressionism for the woman torso, Abstract Expressionism (with palette knives) for the tunnel, Fauvism for the ocean, beach and sky, and Op Art for the woman’s gown.
The focus MUST must must remain on the Earth even when we are looking out – it’s our habit! In fact, the more we look elsewhere or scan the space, the more we focus back onto our planet – Op Art can bring this effect onto the canvas quite successfully. We cannot escape the pull of the earth, literally and figuratively.
This painting is dedicated to these 4 lines of verse. A tunnel and the journey forward:
I am a part of all that I have met; Yet all experience is an arch wherethro' Gleams that untravell'd world whose margin fades For ever and for ever when I move.
–Tennyson , Ulysses (Read the rest in Poetry’s website here.)
#2 (Combining Impressionism and Op Art)
The second example painting is from the perspective of a peahen searching for her mate. This oil painting entitled “Peahen’s perspective of a peacock” invites the viewer to reflect on the birds’ mating habits and why the females make the choice of mates they do.
Peahen’s perspective of a peacock, Oil on canvas, 16”x16”, 2008-ongoing.
Scientifically, experts still haven’t been able to pinpoint the reason for the mating behavior and a lot of experiment remains to be done in Behavioral Science before we know (or not).
Here is a National Geographic article from 2010 on the topic titled “Peacock Mating Dance” (also provides links to videos and more if you are interested).
Back to the painting I ask, what if the eyespots of the tail feathers are the deciding factors for peahens?
How will that feel like to a human-eye looking through a peahen’s eye looking at an iridescent peacock looking for his mate?
That thought exercise could lead to more questions in the viewer’s mind. It might lead to general awareness in the field of study. To bring forth the effect, focus and movement, a lot of Op Art techniques have been used of imperfect distorted geometries, juxtaposed with Impressionism. Amongst all movements, if one can almost hear the peacock calling out with its tail flashing, I will call the painting a success.
#3 (Combining Collage-print image transfer, Abstraction and Op Art)
The third example is a painting series of a depiction of the space through the eyes of a telescope (and of course its associated software simulations stitching together the numerous images it sees).
Constellations through telescopes (Series), Mixed media (Oil, oil-based ink, collaged image transfer) on canvas, 8”x10” each, 2014.
When scientists look through telescopes out into the space, there are certain regions where one sees things clearly. At other spots, what we see is open to interpretations. Open to new theories in physics and astronomy. The images compel us to focus at certain bright spots while the rest is [assumed to be] hazy dust clouds, or unknown knowledge awaiting theorizing. This equation of known-unknown along with the dynamics of dust clouds and moving, flashy galaxies has been captured in the first two paintings.
The third one is interesting. It is a series of images stitched together somewhat repetitively. Photos taken by telescopes at different points of time are not picture-perfect. The solution is to extract information from each to contribute to the whole. In addition, one needs to identify and subtract the information-noise (read, photos of something else) that one sees; to separate the chaff and wheat first before analysis by closer inspection.
Notice that the above repetition in the third painting is not Pop Art approach. It is deductive logic, a top-down approach. Whereas, information or variation in different repetition in Pop Art is due to representation of people taking the same data and personalizing it – an inductive logic, a bottom-up approach. Note that the subject’s context is important to decide on deductive or inductive. I can describe this in more detail in a later post if necessary or if the logic seems unclear.
#4 (Combining Digital Art with Op Art)
The fourth example is digital painting series titled “Runway”, models with faces distorted.
Do we look at the models on fashion show ramps, or do we focus on the dresses? As humans where our subconscious tendency cannot ignore faces, how is a face or its legibility connected to the aesthetics of a dress or its commercial marketing aspects? How do the viewers’ eyes move? The Runway series invites these questions.
Runway (Series), Digital Art Acrylic print on plexiglass (1/1), [top-left: 10”x12”; top-right: 20”x20”; bottoms: 10”x10”], 2015.
#5 (Combining Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism and color fields)
The fifth example is of painting an age-old subject in a new light: clouds and city. The painting is titled “Cloud, smoke, landmark and a simple city”. The techniques used are Abstract Expressionism drip painting for clouds and smoke, and Minimalism for the city skyline.
Cloud, smoke, landmark and a simple city. Acrylic and Red Enamel on canvas. 11”x14”, 2015-ongoing.
The complexity of sky juxtaposed with minimalist simplicity of land. People do tend to seek out the landmark(s) in every skyline; I will let them guess which one it is.
For each composition, I am a different eye, a different brain, a different sensor. Each eye is important, each perspective unique. So much goes into composition and tying together into one whole that each canvas is an invention for me – a new way to convey to the viewers old and new things in new ways.
Over the few centuries we have mostly deconstructed to experiment in art, to create or make a point – Duchamp’s urinal, Minimalism, Cubism, Pointillism are examples. It is time for a re-constructive and combinatorial approach.
One can eat bread, cheese and pepperoni separately and enjoy it too, but the combination is something completely different from its constituents by converging into a mind-blowing pizza.
It is more the juxtaposition within a closed space that leads to a transformative chemistry on the proverbial plate or canvas. I think, in the fused unison it becomes capable of telling a richer story. This is a complex approach and will require all our cumulative artistic skills and sensibilities.
Looking for something new, over the past 60 years, artists have slowly shied away from painting on canvas in search of new mediums or have approached canvases as artifacts, which is also a good thing as we got to see new experiments and outcomes.
An interesting example is MoMA’s recent show “Take an Object”, the artworks with the motto (as noted by Jasper Jones) “Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it. [Repeat.]” New York Times has a nice article about the exhibition along with a parallel Pollock exhibition at MoMA, and how these two shows compare and contrast (Review: Drips, Dropped: Pollock and His Impact) by Roberta Smith.
Through all these decades, painting and canvas has been considered more and more as objects and less and less as a space to have dialog. Thus this was the age of the rise of conceptual art and installations.
Nevertheless I think much remains to be explored still within the traditional medium of painting on canvas – enough to start a new direction.
I want to represent in my paintings the rich threads of our knowledge, a juxtaposition of tied knots and loose ends – things we know vs. we do not, and how that is interpreted by the human race. Moreover, I want to bring onto the canvas the frictions and the solutions born out of diverse perspectives, be it human or other eyes, living or not.
In addition to all the representational studies being made in the past, it is time to cycle art knowledge that we have gained in abstract studies to use back in representation of the world around us. A combination of all isms can bring forth these representations. I see the infinite potential of this style to depict the contemporary world’s unique voice. It is my fearless mission to see and depict this theme with increasing clarity of vision and newness.
Future possibilities are infinite.
I am currently working on a few paintings, combining Graffiti, Expressionism and Impressionism; combining conceptual art with assortment of –isms; combining infograph and Impressionism; combining scientific visualization with cave art; calligraphy and Fauvism, to mention a few, in order to tackle unexplored subjects or point-of-view in painting.
Another interesting work that is forming in my mind is to combine such representational work with a multitude of canvases, the assortment thus forming abstract shapes imparting another dimension of meaning.
The interesting pioneering works of shaped canvas-cum-sculpture abstractions of Ellsworth Kelly come to mind.
After all, every representation, visual or otherwise, after going through enough number of steps of logical analysis or mathematical reasoning, distills into abstraction. There is something about abstraction that is deeply complete, thus giving us predictive power in zipped form when the abstract is done right. It is the language of the subconscious, and it is through this porthole-lens that all the varying perspectives converge into a single point-thread of understanding.
Before logging off, wishing you all a happy new year one more time.
Leave a comment or share the post as you see fit. What other interesting subjects do you think can be perfectly represented with this style? If you ask questions, instead of responding right there I might do it in a subsequent blogpost if it is a profound question and needs more space.
This is my first post, a firstpost. Till next Thursday. Cut.