Thursday, June 16, 2011

From where Edward Burtynsky stands

“What do you ‘expect’ from a certain artistic expression?” This question may sound weird, at least it sounded to me when I was a student and (over)confident in my tastes. It was a time when any rendering which elicited a full blown explanation of its concept was best received. For example, a play with the depiction of the cutthroat realities of life, a fiction with a definite explanation at the end or a painting with painstakingly achieved photo realism. Fortunately a realization of my narrow perceptions came to me pretty quick, and I refreshed my entire outlook towards art. Now I started expecting more than realism or something beyond realism from any art form. And photography? Where previously I considered it to be only an ‘aid’ painters used to achieve photo realism, now as photo realism in paintings lost its sheen, I reevaluated my views about this form of art. From strident reflections of social concerns to silent spectators of unseen worlds, pictures are certainly playing a vital role in my overall understanding of imagery in the process of creating art.

I like Ansel Adams’ quote which says “A good photograph is knowing where to stand”. Accomplished Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky not only knows where to stand but also knows when to stand :)

Marble stone quarries, mines, railroads that cross obscure terrains or mass production factories in China, autobahns, heaps of used tires, ship breaking yards of Bangladesh – Burtynsky goes to these worlds that are sometimes unknown, unseen or even inconvenient to project. His pictures which sometimes appear quiet, at other times appear like frontline protestors. His photographs are like non objective compositions which take you along on a mind boggling voyage of the two dimensions. 

It is not that I do not approve of photo realistic painters, but when I see photography like that of Edward Burtynsky’s, I wonder what it is that painters are trying to achieve by recreating in paint, that which photographers have already captured with great spontaneity and poignancy.

My Sincere thanks to Edward Burtynsky and Marcus Schubert from the office of Edward Burtynsky for permissions.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Tyeb Mehta: The legend of modern Indian art

For those who are not familiar with his name, Tyeb Mehta (b.25 July 1925 - d.2 July 2009) was one of the greatest Indian painters from post Independence era (post 1947), highly celebrated and recognized worldwide for his figurative paintings. He was associated with the renowned Progressive Artists’ Group of India. His paintings are known for their trademark luminous colors, powerful subject matter and expressive brushwork.

In India, sadly, we do not have many art museums dedicated to modern art with permanent exhibits. We have public galleries where if you are lucky you get to see some fantastic shows once in a while. I remember one such exhibition from around 12 years back which was showing works by really big names from the world of modern art in India. The names were familiar to me having studied about these artists in my art school curriculum. 
So there I was, walking very quietly, almost religiously, moving from one painting to another, very conscious of the big names behind the paintings, feeling respectful at a distance. But when I came to a painting by Tyeb Mehta, I felt compelled to go closer and preen at the exotic work before me, mesmerized by the vivid and stark colors that he had used. His paintings were completely different from what I had perceived them to be, based on their prints. Thereafter I rarely missed an opportunity to see his work. ( The opportunities were very rare though :-( ) 

Tyeb Mehta’s paintings have a mystic paradox of subject and application. While subjects strongly echo human suffering, trauma, violence and agony, the painting style is highly composed and structured. He would have easily taken the ‘gestural’ path and it would have been logical at that time. But it looks like he had sort of compartmentalized the subject matter from the style and a strong artistic assurance of discoveries shows through in his work. He was a quiet observer who loved solitude and loved reading. Not surprisingly, he formed his own powerful visual language which had its roots from Hindu mythology to modern historical events like partition of India and Pakistan. Pain and violence was observed, understood and finally rearranged in his own way. So, for example when a composition is based on some mythological story, it’s not laden with the usual pomp and ornaments, and when it is based on a bloody incident on the street, it does not display the cluttered realities of life. Everything floats between Tyeb’s artistic pursuits and the viewer.

Tyeb’s color palette is full of astonishing bright colors, as if picked from flocking colorful market streets. Neither do they replicate any pre-established, well received set of colors, nor do they intentionally project an ‘Indian-ness’. They appear to be an outcome of his personal artistic quests. He painted large solid plains with pure hues of oil paints most of the time. The colors in his paintings engulf the viewer in their span, almost hypnotizing, and when the viewer gradually floats out of these hues, he finds himself facing the brutal subject that the painting is talking about. It is like seeing the painting inside out! It is one indescribable experience and I will strongly recommend you to view Tyeb Mehta’s work when you get a chance.