Entwined in the very roots of being are the impalpable sources of sensations. The body, is a tangible instrument that experiences and breaks the opaqueness of the world. The self too has a body, its exterior dimension, its surface, a biological anchor, and then a mind, its interior dimension, the invisible infinite space, its abstract force, treasurer of indelible impressions, innumerable associations and memories. The mind and body or the inside – outside dialogue is an ongoing one, always undergoing transformation. The antithetical structure of the world intrigues G.R. Iranna because of the inherent dualities that govern life. Although it is rather difficult to comprehend why, if life is movement, one seeks stillness, if a journey, one seeks destination and if transit, one desires permanence, it does appear that just as opposing forces aim at unity, it is this negotiation between the body and the mind, surface and depth, the past and present that engage Iranna’s sensibilities. The artist sees the self through confusion, contradictions, narcissism, caught up in things, front and back, a past and future and it is from this mingled feeling of pain and pleasure that Iranna’s art flows. His recent paintings reflect forms and images that belong to an agrarian environment – the earth space, its energy, agricultural tools, the ox, all recurrent in his art. They do not reflect the urban industrial city where he lives and works now. Iranna belongs to the village of Sindgi in Bijapur, to an ancestry of farmers. Early in his life, he was religiously and culturally oriented to the Lingayat sect as a believer in Lord Shiva. He moved from attending a Sarangmath in Singdi to a Fine Art School in Gulbarga and from there to Delhi, to attend the Master’s Program in painting at College of Art. Amidst the urban social fabric, the old and new values stood in sharp disparity. The complacency of the past and the challenge of the future equally nourished his life, helping him break frontiers between the visible and the invisible and between secret and knowledge. G.R. Iranna’s work seems to be conceptually engaged in the dialectics of immobility and transition and these may well be the thoughts that predominantly surface in the art of one who migrates from where he is rooted to where he is temporarily placed. The dim and distant is revived by an intimate contact, while the immediate environment is removed from the here and now. Iranna draws the world of which he is the center. His paintings are a private landscape illuminated by long drawn recollections, by shadows of the real. Farming and fertility images have an overwhelming presence in his work. As if extolling the earth, his pictorial space transforms into expansive field tracts, muddy ochre and browns, representing the sensuousness of the earth’s body often bathing in yellow sunlight. The plough is the most sensuous tool for Iranna as it splits opens the body of the earth to participate in the regenerative process. It is as the farmer’s son perhaps that he realises the importance of fertility more than others, worshipping both the fertile land and the tools of his livelihood. The opposing energies of procreation have been fused in our traditional images of Shiva and Shakti and the linga and yoni which are strong, potent visual symbols, sacred and ritualized. Iranna draws upon such iconographical source but personalises them. He speaks through himself. As the experiencing self, he appears naked, standing or reclining without moving – still and rooted within his territory, gazing into images that soothe him. In his earlier works, the self was so monumental and rock-like that it was compressed or fitted into space either through truncation or fragmentation. There was a dislodgment felt by the figure in an undefined space. The recent works seem to represent figure-space reversal, the figure reducing in size and the world in terms of space extending beyond. Even the emblematic tool has become large and psychologically more important than the figure. A preference for large canvases and tarpaulins highlight a painterly approach, where the pigment itself transforms into a sensual sunstance, swirling to represent the action and the object as well. Using the process of overlaying, Iranna animates the surface with riotous profusion, evoking a range of tactile values. His is a volatile libidinal energy at work that enjoys the carnal presence of the paint as it carries overpowering sensations and the raw feel of the erotic. It is rather interesting to see how convincingly he articulates the interplay of surface and depth on a two dimensional format. Through colour, he creates visual illuswions of cavities, paint raining on the canvas, the earth opening its mouth or simulating a small cut in the canvas making its dark interior visible, with things sprouting our from within, revealing simultaneously the inside and the outside. This is beautifully achieved in the painting captured in the magic of the nocturnal light where amidst the verticality of the lit candles carefully organised in space, one’s attention is fully drawn to a dense black shape that suggests a mysterious opening to enter into, while the golden flat shape juxtaposed becomes suggestive of its lid. The theatricality of the figure and the object is in its positioning, more often than not creating between them a magnetic pull. One sees a figure placed on the magnified blade of the tool, the sliced pice of which is pushed above and tensely positioned. The static and the moving, the strong and the vulnerable, the soft and the hard, the sharp and the round, the delicate and the coarse are contrary forces meaningfully construed to be felt with the same intensity. Often on a large canvas where everything is hard and outlined, our attention is pulled by the strength of a small blue soft form. Visual equivalents of sound, touch and even taste are articulated and made visible. In Iranna’s pictorial world, the self acquires an uninhibited, unfeigned presence in a private space, subjectively projected in signs and symbols that carry within them a poignant nostalgia, made sacred in gold and silver. Images imprisoned deep within, as if unknown secrets, surface to seek liberation. Roobina Karode, Art historian, Critic September 1998
"'A sketch... records something that happens between the artist and the object. Now closer to the artist, now closer to the object, but still hanging in the tension in between. Or the memory or recall of that tension. A composite of line, scratches, smears, swabs and dots that recreates an object, it learns its rhythm in the process. And becomes an object by itself. The artist sometimes keeps it to the essentials; at other times he dresses it up and makes it play a role. Set sail a narrative. And take one to new shores of experience. This uncovers new images. So this ceaseless doodling; the unravelling of what is, then its reknitting into novel composites.' "K.G. Subramanyan is widely recognized as one of India's major modern artists, an influential teacher, an astute writer on art, and an authority on the folk, tribal and craft traditions of India. This volume of his 'sketches, scribbles, drawings' spans the work of the last 30 years, with the bulk of the material coming from the period between 1980 and the present. The selection has been put together by the artist himself, with the aim of compiling a definitive collection. "This volume includes his early sketches from 1968, the black-and-white drawings for his reverse paintings from 1980, his China, Japan, London and Oxford sketches, drawings of nature, and figure studies. It provides a rich variety of mediums and styles, from works in crayon and water-colour to pen and ink scribbles, brush drawings, notes, doodles and working drawings. "The volume opens with a thoughtful introduction by K.G. Subramanyan, reflecting on the importance and purpose of such sketches and drawings for an artist, and looking back on his experiences over a long and eminent career. There is also a substantial biographical sketch prepared by art historian and close associate R. Siva Kumar, who has closely observed K.G. Subramanyan's ouevre over the years." (jacket)
G.R. Iranna’s recent paintings are sites of struggle. Even a cursory glance at them fills the eye with a sense of tremendous dynamism, of volatility and ferment. A closer look reveals a series of conflicts being played out on the picture surface: between a colour and its neighbor; between figure and pigment; between the organic and the technological. These paintings on canvas and tarpaulin represent a significant departure from Iranna’s previous works, an attempt, perhaps, to escape the potential prison of an established style. The large, central figure common in the artist’s early paintings appears only twice in the current crop. And, though Iranna continues to employ repeated motifs to provide his work with a sense of stability, such motifs now tend to be forms rather than figures. To understand the nature of the change in Iranna’s art, if one has interpreted it accurately, it would help to examine its art-historical underpinnings. Iranna’s painting has always been far removed from the dominant, post-modern spirit of our time, utilizing, instead, the romantic, symbolist and modernist heritage of contemporary art. The word spirit needs to be stressed in the previous sentence because, inevitably, the style of Iranna’s paintings shows certain commonalities with art that is easy to classify under the postmodern rubric. But an analysis of the underpinnings of an artist’s work is more profitably aimed at the spirit of the work than on a few superficial stylistic features, which is why it is relevant to discuss Romantic and modernist ideas which may, in another context, seem anachronistic. The modernist preoccupation with originality, with making it new, is certainly one strand that feeds into Iranna’s current work. But, insofar as ‘making it new’ involves a change of form, the modernist imperative comes into conflict with the Romantic aesthetic. The Romantics overturned the classical idea of form as ornament and established a counter-claim that form is, in fact, indivisible from the content of a work. They went even further than this, and implied that form is also intimately connected to the artist’s vision. In other words, to be original in the modernist sense, artists must strive to reinvent their style, but this very effort could call into question the integrity of their vision from a Romantic perspective. There is a third strand to be added to the romantic and modernist one, that of contemporary expectation, the contemporary market if you will. A solo show represents the fruit of an artist’s development, as it were, something that is ripe, finished, ready for picking (or picking on in some cases). If we combine the three strands of which I have spoken – that of modernist originality, romantic form and contemporary expectation – we conclude that an artist like Iranna must, in this exhibition, stick to his vision, while departing significantly from it. And it is not enough for him to depart, he must also arrive at a new destination. To return to the first contention in this essay, that Iranna’s new paintings are sites of struggle, one can now assert that the conflicts that we see in the work – colour against colour, figure against pigment, nature against technology – mirror the effort to fulfill the seemingly contradictory demands placed upon the artist. Having said this one quickly wants to add a rider to the proposition in order to avoid associations with pessimistic habits of thought (vulgar Marxist or Foucauldian) which allow the individual little or no agency. The demands one speaks of are demands that the artist has, to an extent, placed upon himself. They are demands that he is aware of at some level, demands that he may accept as a challenge. Iranna has certainly accepted the challenge of re-forming his art. He has chosen to move in the direction of abstraction, of pure painterliness. This is a startling choice at a time when the figurative and conceptual have acquired a hegemonic position across the globe. But the artist has not arrived at an abstractionist position. It is unclear whether he will ever reach that state. There are still strong figurative and symbolic elements in his work. What we are presented with (confronted with) is a journey without any clearly implied destination. In recent years the idea of a journey has been itself romanticized by a mindset that privileges experiences over discoveries, seeking over finding. One has no desire to fish in such mystical waters. But it is surely true that a chronicle of a voyage can be as intriguing as a description of newly discovered territories: each has its own singular pleasures. What such a chronicle reveals is the perils faced by traveler, and Iranna’s paintings, to conclude the parallel, reveal the great risks he has taken in choosing this path at a time when viewers were still familiarising themselves with his previous work. Consider, for instance, the incongruity of a gentle figure holding a drooping lotus, reclining on a bed of springs, like Bheeshma reclining on a bed of arrows. This reclining figure is set in a field of flowers reminiscent of Monet’s Water Lilies. The relationship with the Water Lilies runs deeper than surface appearance, to the manner in which Iranna’s painting plays with our sense of gravity. In two other works the artist appears to nod towards neo-tantric painters like Biren De and Viswanathan while simultaneously questioning the harmonizing impulse of neo-tantrism. And in yet another canvas Iranna goes psychedelic, laying bands of bright colour over a sentimental picture of a baby in a bathtub. It is apparent that the artist’s references are eclectic, he resists being tied down to a unitary manner of perceiving the world. Iranna’s paintings are all heavily worked upon, built up with a multitude of layers. It is not enough for a thin black rod to break through the evenness of an effulgent yellow field: the rod itself carries within it a burning filament of red, and milky-white polyps protrude at regular intervals from the yellow ground which appears covered with flowers. And all this in a painting which appeals more to the viewer’s sense of simple harmony than any other work in the show. It sometimes seems that the artist wants to subdue the paintingto his will: even drips of paint, those symbols of the abdication of absolute power, are employed with unusual care, as if the artist wanted to achieve the impossible by charting a course for each drip. His efforts to yoke together disparate ideas, influences, images and colours demand this level of determination and they meet with a remarkably high degree of success. Iranna’s suite of paintings, besides being stimulating and evocative, leaves us looking forward to the next stage in the artist’s journey. Girish Shahane Girish Shahane is a freelance writer based in Mumbai.
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Bench: 102 x 16 /In
Art: [art work wale dimensions]