I’m writing after 2 years and it feels good to be back. By now, I have understood the fact that some channels where I can see myself think, like sketching or writing or painting- these are not new lovers that bring with them sparks of infatuation. They are not friends that bring a promise of a wild life (as I used to imagine in my younger years). These are my blood relatives. They are there in my life, period. I could choose to drift away from them, but they are with me, in me, part of my language, invisibly present in my worldview.
I could keep going into a creative coma every now and then, but the bright side is that I know that it doesn’t mean death. Even though it is reassuring, it isn’t really like riding a bicycle either. It’s not like I will take a minute to find the handles and pedals and just go. It takes time (and is also painful for inexplicable reasons) after each disorienting hiatus. But it is worth it nevertheless.
There are objects that deserve articulation- the throbbing of emotions, relationships, conversations… the changing hues of a person’s worldview (over decades and over seconds), the irrationalities that keep us all alive… the strange and subtle changes in the air of a city… the deliberate and practiced alienation from the familiar. Articulating these sorts of things, holding them in my hands and taking a good look at them, knowing where they live and when to expect them…not tolerating the possibility that they could well be nebulous and elusive-faraway clouds that don’t take hold of you by the collar…that is what a creative engagement looks like, at least to me.
Getting the form and colours right, fussing over brush strokes, crafting great plots or convincing dialogues- these are all the fringes, the logistics, techniques that can be learned and mastered. But deep creative motivations can’t be learned, they are either there or not there at all. But if they are there (even in the faintest of measures), it becomes a duty almost, to do justice to them.
I was about 7 years old when my life saw a huge change. Up until then we had lived in a small out-house in a fairly busy residential area in Bangalore. We were now about to move to a suburb with houses far far apart. Sounds of urban traffic were about to be replaced with eerie noises of wind creeping through tiny gaps in the windows and doors. This new land was owned by a weed they called Parthenium.
In a place so sparsely populated, I learned how everyone gets to know everyone. Neighbors became more like extended family. Together, we were like an island cut off from the city. Where we lived was not a jungle (though there were poisonous snakes and weird lizards), not a city (there was no city water supply, tarred roads and other such urbane perks) and not a village (though not far from us were small settlements where people lived with their cattle). We were in a strange space that was on the verge of being engulfed by the city.
An uninhabitable piece of land was slowly turning into a residential layout. Grey, half-constructed houses became the venues of our weekend hide-and-seek games. We grew up loving the smell of fresh paint and varnish. One of our games was to pretend to be architects and draw floor plans for homes. Our summers were spent building castles with construction sand. We ran happy and free amidst Parthenium.
One of my favorite places in our new house was our terrace. We could see a large part of the city from there given the elevation of the layout. At night, the city lights shone at a distance but the stars above were much brighter. ‘The houses look like toys from here’ I had said when I saw it all for the first time.
Soon, gaps were filled in and we were no longer an island. Parthenium no longer owned the land. There were more strangers than neighbors. The city was closing in on us and I could see it from my vantage point. We no longer have that unobstructed view of the distant city- we are the city now.
The usual process through which I produce a painting is: 1. get an idea, 2. make a rough sketch in my sketch book (always at night), 3. spend an hour or two awake in bed pondering about it, 4. make a more detailed sketch with watercolor pencils later sometime, 5. carefully decide on the canvas size and color scheme, 6. mechanically transfer it onto the canvas being very faithful to the sketch. The last step is usually the least exciting. Step 3 in the process is actually the most exciting bit.
I realized that I am rather averse to winging it without a sketch. So, just to keep things fun and break free from that set process, I decided to pick up a canvas randomly and give it a go this time. I looked at the blank canvas and asked myself what I really badly wanted to see on it. Given my ongoing obsession with buildings (see previous post), I of course wanted to see my grey buildings there. But something inside me wanted to see a serpentine form in a bloody crimson. I wasn’t trying to make sense, just wanted to play with form and color. What came out was a simple play of the two important visual elements of cityscapes – roads and buildings (though in an abstracted sort of way). I enjoyed bypassing my usual routine in creating this painting. Not only did I enjoy the pondering, I also loved every bit of the actual painting. I promise to do more of this in future!
I had once tried to unsuccessfully get a photograph of a river of vehicle tail lights on a long jammed highway. The image had probably never left me even though I had forgotten all about it. Unknowingly, that vision had become a metaphor of stymied urban progress in my mind.
I’m sure telling the story takes away any possibility of the painting being seen as an abstract. But this is blog, not a gallery and documenting the evolution of ideas is a bigger preoccupation for me right now than keeping the mystery and visual interest for anyone interested! So apologies for giving it away… 🙂
My relationship with the theme of buildings goes way back to my college days. Even today, if I pick a piece of paper and begin to doodle, my first instinct is to draw buildings. Of course, the palette, the composition, the mood and the metaphors change every time (fortunately!). But I am beginning to see that the buildings have unconsciously become the words of my visual vocabulary.
Trying to decode what that means and understand how this language emerged is now a constant preoccupation. But less than a year ago, seeing buildings on page after page of my sketchbook frustrated me to an extent that I completely stopped sketching and painting for a while. What’s the point, I thought, it is only going to be more buildings! But now I feel like giving in to that instinct and exploring its meanings.
With the hope that something comes out of it, I go on…
Back in college, I had seen a friend of mine work on his water color painting. I think it is far more beautiful to watch a water color painting emerge than an acrylic one. His skill was exceptional and he had encouraged me to try it out. Being someone who never got the hang of water colors, I obviously resisted. Most people start out painting with water colors but somehow, even back in school, I was never drawn to them. So I told him I didn’t have any water color paints. He looked at me like I came from another planet but went on to explain that I didn’t need any. I could try out some of the techniques with tea or coffee washes. Now, that was something! I’m still not a fan of the watery-ness of the medium but gave it a shot nevertheless. Though it was only many years after college that got around to trying it out, it was worth it. The above is what emerged on my sketchbook.
The same day of the sketch, while I was looking for something else at Michael’s, I found a square clock face with the parts meant for DIY projects. My mind began to race and I finally set out to make my objet d’art. And the clock below is what emerged!! Notice that the sky is a direct result of dabbling in the watery-ness of the tea wash.
After we moved to Bangalore, I decided to hang it in our bedroom by a window. It gives me a strange kick to find that when you look out that window, you find an ocean of buildings, sort of like in the painting!
This was a sketch I had done around the same time as Study 1. Something about drawing these path-like bands I used to find oddly satisfying. Study 2 was an important improvisation over Study 1. When I recently found myself doodling this same image again on a newspaper somewhere, I remembered and unearthed this in my sketchbook. I had made this about two years ago and felt a deja vu. Incidentally, this also reminded me that I had this blog going and that I could get back to posting here! 🙂