Ever since I returned to Delhi from Madras, I've been whirring like a bumble-bee, producing exhibits for an art show I expect to have in Madras, in December this year.
I'm going to be showing two types of work: one, a series of etchings (including a couple of lithographs) and the other, a series of small collages in hand-made paper and acrylic paint. The show will be held at ARTWORLD, a pleasant family-owned gallery, run by Sarla and Bishu Bannerji.
I've shown the etchings before and so am not terribly worried about how they will be received -- I know they are at least competent at the level of drawing. It's the other ones, the collages, that will represent very new work for me and I am curious to know how they will be received.
My work is normally easy to recognize for what it is -- as an illustrator, I tend toward black-and-white line-drawings, clearly representational, with decoration worked into the clothes and background. My etchings are an extension of this work. Most of them feature figures of people and animals or combinations thereof.
The new collages, however, are explorations in colour and texture, almost wholly abstract. I began playing around with hand-made paper about a year ago, entirely because I happened to visit a wonderful store filled from floor to ceiling (well, okay, not QUITE the ceiling) with thrilling colours and textures of paper. I have always had a lurking fondness for pure colour-fields, and have always liked the early cubists for their starkness and purity. Of course the sad (and obvious) feature of their work is that once you have seen one all-red painting, you've pretty much seen every all-red painting: the surprise -- the "hook" -- that type of art uses can't be repeated very often before becoming repetitive.
In my current work, I am not pretending to any terrific new insights -- truly, all I have is bits of paper and some paint, combined together in very simple arrangments -- but I've had so much delight making these pieces that I feel the need to share them. This is, for me, a sharp departure from the way I normally work. Perhaps because of my years as an illustrator, when I draw, I am usually very concsious of how the result will be interpreted by another observer -- an illustrator NEEDS to be conscious of the third-person perspective, because the usual purpose of an illustration is to augment or illuminate (literally -- the word suggests the meaning of "bringing light to") some other thing, most often a piece of text.
While working on my etchings, I continued in the same basic vein, though I was no longer embellishing some text. I was amused to see the images that emerged. There is a range of familiar themes -- people of one sort or another, slightly stylized and in some cases distorted -- presented with an edge of whimsy: the bull with the man's head and the dogs with bird-faces; the carpet-couple and their trio of child-rugs; the faintly smirking lioness; all in clean lines on plain paper. I could not break myself of the habit of drawing with unseen observers hovering just behind my shoulder so in a sense, when people respond to my work, I half-anticipate whatever they might say.
With the collages, by contrast, I cannot sense any presences beside me. I am alone and playing with the paper, feeling almost surprised to be reduced to this child-state of pleasure. I smile when I have cut a broad stripe of knobbly turquoise blue and placed it hot against a dense, fuzzy black sheet, shot through with wriggling bits of satin thread. It is a very simple pleasure, completely unrelated to the very familiar pleasure of completing a drawing while knowing that it is, for its type of drawing, accomplished.
There is a certain undeniable sense of ambition and conquest in the second pleasure, an element of competition (i.e., with other talents and forces in the world). With the first there can't be anything but just my own, private, inarticulate delight. There's no way to share it -- like (for instance) the wholly internal pleasure of ice-cream -- except by inviting someone else to try it, and to HOPE that they will experience the same pleasure ... There is, after all, no way of knowing for sure.
Each time I have completed a piece -- most of which are small: 12 inches square -- I stand back, trying to imagine if anyone else, seeing it, might get the same pleasure as I do when I look at it. So far (since I haven't shown these pieces to more than a couple of people) I haven't had much to go by in the way of response. The few people who have seen these new ones have said they like them, but then, since these respondents have been my close family, I don't really expect objective responses (though they would FIERCELY deny any partisan feelings!!). I am not very hopeful, but at the same time, I am undeterred. How odd it is, and how different from my usual working methods, to be unconcerned what the observer -- The Observer -- is going to think! Is this it, then? Is this what it feels like to be an artist?
I will eventually post pix at my currently defunct Magnoliazone web-site, whereupon I will also post a link here to the site.