The cosmos of colour

Posted: June 16, 2010 in Uncategorized

(पीयूष दईया की शब्द-वीप्सा व रंग-वीक्षा विस्मित करती हैं। घनघोर अनुशासन से उन्होंने प्रकाशन के प्रलोभन से बचते हुये अपनी लिपि में इन गुणों को अर्जित किया है। अखिलेश व हकु शाह के साथ संवादरत उनकी किताबें अगर महज साक्षात्कार के बजाय इन शीर्षस्थ चित्रकारों के रंगों की रूह में प्रवेश कर पाती हैं तो इसका श्रेय पीयूष को ही दीजिये कि वह इनके कैनवास की सतह पर उभरते रंगाकारों को चिन्हित कर, अमूर्तन में अंतर्निहित आख्यान अनावृत कर पाते हैं। पीयूष इन रंगकारों को वह अवकाश देते हैं जहॉं वे अपने कैनवास पर एक आत्मीय विमर्श में सम्मिलित हो जाते हैं। रंग-सृष्टि पर केंद्रित यह किताबें भारतीय गुरु-शिष्य परंपरा का भी सुखद स्मरण कराती है — गुरु अपने शिष्य की चेतना को आलोकित करता है तो एक ज्ञानेप्सु शिष्य अपने गुरु को उन राहों पर ले जाता है जहॉं गुरु अपने ज्ञान का पुनःअन्वीक्षण कर पाता है। आधुनिक, खासकर अमूर्त कला पर पश्चिमप्रेरित होने का अशिक्षित आरोप लगाने वालों को इन किताबों से इसलिये भी गुजरना चाहिये कि इन चित्रकारों की भारतीयता का साक्षात हो सके)

Among the many qualities of Piyush Daiya’s books of conversations with two of India’s leading artists, Haku Shah and Akhilesh, the most inspiring is his ability to efface the minutest traces of himself from the text. How he engaged the artists in conversation, we never know. We can only surmise that he must have been quite prodding, if the intense responses are anything to go by. He rarely reveals himself and the entire text comes across as a self-revelation by the artists, as if they conversed with their selves in the darkness of a summer night, or standing against their canvas, and Piyush merely overheard them.

He does give the artists absolute space. Still, he is not a Joycean narrator, paring his nails in a corner. Despite keeping his ‘questions’ invisible (Manush) or converting the questions into a tool for the artist’s self-exploration (Akhilesh: Ek Samvaad), uncover the text and he will emerge as the guiding force, prompting the artists to unravel the soul of their canvas, and weaving the meandering conversation into a narrative. And notice the contrast: Shah a master of figurative art, Akhilesh a giant of abstraction.

Piyush begins with the query – How does the interplay of colors and canvas create a form? Is it the passionate copulation of an artist with colors, or a violent act, or meditation performed in solitude?

And this is how Akhilesh responds:

Yes, there is violence… and it lies in aggressively bringing the colors into context… it is mental, not physical. Wherever there is creation, there is violence. One color indulges in violence another, only then do they find a harmony.

Rarely has conversation on art been so engrossing and overwhelming, exploding onto a wider horizon. “Chak Par Lila”, a chapter from Manush, is a similar rarity as it explores how an artist creates his chromatic code:

Just now, I applied the color brown to my painting – it can now remain there for days.(Note the hesitant definitude in the usage, can remain) One needs to be very careful when converting a light shade into dark and dark into light on the canvas… just as big and small spaces transform colors, mixing colors also transforms colors.

Here you learn and locate the centrality of colors for an artist, that the dab of a hue on the canvas is not a tool to create a figure or discover an abstraction, but a realization that in the kingdom of art, colors rule supreme.

I never strive to construct shapes in a painting. I never endeavor to realize any form. I create a color and a shape of that color forms in the painting… this is the innate condition of forms in a painting and it is possible that they are not found anywhere else, only here… what you term as forms, I’d rather call chromatic forms.

As Akhilesh proposes and establishes his constitution of art, he uncovers before you a universe of pure and pristine forms. Colors emerge as the centripetal force, pulling the artist from all temptations to the canvas.

Abstract artists have been facing the perennial complaint of operating in a virtual world, a world that has no semblance to ‘reality’ and exists, in an exclusivist manner, only for a select few. Akhilesh registers his protest here. His universe is as real as could be. Not devoid of forms, his abstractions instead discover hitherto unknown forms through his colors, as he is reluctant to capture existing or known ones. This is also an attempt to transcend memory in the creative process.

The young Franz Kafka wrote his first novel, Amerika, with elaborate details of a land where he had never gone, nor would ever go. This, in a way, was an attempt by the great writer to escape from the trap of memory which many writers so often find themselves in. Akhilesh has a wonderful experience to share here: Once, he went to Banaras with a distinct desire to visit Tulsi Ghat. Unfortunately, despite staying for ten days, he couldn’t visit the place. Still, he went on to paint it on the basis of his imagination and exhibited his work. The result? Everyone exclaimed that it was exactly like Tulsi Ghat!

Reading through these texts makes for great learning in colors and the artistic process – how a hue situates and reinvents itself on the canvas to mark its distinct existence. It also sensitizes us towards the possibilities embedded in the chromatic code represented through a sheer visual. After internalizing these texts, when passing through a visual, howsoever ‘banal’, you will begin attempting to locate the inherent Maya caused by the interplay of colors and forms that you ignored earlier – reminded and guided by Akhilesh’s words, that beneath this visible form lives a subtle abstraction that yearns to be given form.

I am impressed by the drama inherent in the visual… this drama lies in colors… whatever you view and feel in the Mona Lisa is like reality and dream. The concrete form of the Mona Lisa invokes an abstract feeling within you.

Akhilesh emerges as an extraordinarily perceptive painter, who lends pristine phrases to his abstractions and situates his colors in their exactitude. Such authority over words, amply visible in his other works, complements his impeccable strokes on the canvas. He is among those rare artists who actually ponder over their work – for whom the painterly world is as much conceptual as it is perceptual. And, of course, sensual too.

A significant component of Akhilesh’s painterly grammar is his insistence that there is nothing original and experimental in art.

Experimentalism is a notion that has no connection to the art of painting. When I paint, I am not conducting an experiment… I am trying to impart color-coordination from my experience, in which my imagination accompanies me.

A provocative proposition. But here, unfortunately, Piyush doesn’t prod deeply enough, like he does elsewhere. Doesn’t an attempt to fashion ‘rang sangati’ (color-coordination) constitute an experiment? Akhilesh may have a particular aversion for this nomenclature and use a different one – nevertheless, he tests and applies his experience and imagination, a process that in itself is experimentation.

These texts are primers for anyone desiring to initiate a conversation with a master. And the texts would not have been half as good without Piyush’s unrelenting groundwork – his questions are as enlightening as the responses. If these works should be read to immerse oneself in the sheer pleasure of an odyssey of form and hue, to learn that when an artist moves from one composition to another, he does so only by refuting his existing works – the distinct narration Piyush devises offers ample signposts along the journey. But can something like an interview, a mere exchange of questions and answers, have a narrative? Sure, when you consider the long tradition of ‘samvaad’ in Indian thought – Yam-Nachiketa, for instance. Like any great narrative, you can enter these texts from anywhere. Open the book, begin from any chapter, any paragraph, and you are on the journey. There is no beginning or end here. A special language and narrative was needed to express the inner self of the artist, and Piyush realizes it in its exactitude. The exploration and the narration, in their nuanced impact, go further in Akhilesh: Ek Samvaad thanManush.

The conversations, though, suffer from an overwhelming cerebral presence. Their unusually polished form – great for a novel or a text on literary theory – deprive the conversations of breathing space. With an arduous tilt towards deliberations on art and aesthetics, Piyush ignores that, in any great conversation, responses must not appear tailor-made. He doesn’t record those hesitant moments when he, or the artists, fumbled for the right words. Piyush doesn’t retain the lighter moments either, of which I’m sure there were many. Like a great canvas, such conversations are best left with a little spot on their texture, a tiny peck here, a subtle freckle there. The books yearn for a few shades of wit, as the elements that make a conversation lively and animated are missing.

That said, appearing in the first decade of the 21st century, Akhilesh: Ek Samvaad should easily rank among the works of this decade. It cultivates a culture of colors within its readers, makes them civilized towards the canvas, transforms their eyes from a mere visual tool into an organ to capture the Maya of the visual and, in the process, decisively alters their universe.

By suggesting that his journey began from the external world and found its culmination within his own self, Akhilesh underscores that strand of the Indian thought which asserts that an artist merely manifests himself through his art. You discover, not the ephemeral external, but the eternal entity through your self.

When I started out, I wanted to learn from nature… I’d run after nature. Now I do not have an urge to paint nature. Now I am a part of it. My manifestation is the manifestation of nature.

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