Colours, only

 

A new exhibition in Delhi introduces the rare genre of ‘colour field’ painting to art lovers

Ankush Arora

How does an artist’s canvas reflect natural landscapes, without using any kind of recognisable shapes, images, forms or human figures? A good example of this style of art-making is the work of Pandit Bhila Khairnar, who is known as a ‘colour field’ artist. Delhi-based Gallery Threshold recently inaugurated a solo show of the artist, who hails from Nashik city in Maharashtra.

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Nashik. Courtesy: Flickr

 

As a young man, Khairnar found himself drawn towards abstract painting, and began his training in art at Yashwant Kala Mahavidyalaya, Aurangabad, and L. S. Raheja School of Art, Mumbai. His early interest in abstract painting deeply influenced his artistic vocabulary that we see today, so much so that he is now considered one of the lesser known, but foremost, colour field painters of India.

 

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Pandit Bhila Khairnar. Courtesy: Gallery Threshold

 

How Colour Field Painting Started

Before we discuss his paintings and other sources of creative inspiration that shaped his art, let us look at the genre of colour field painting, which is a very uncommon form of art seen in Indian galleries or museums. Colour field painting is understood to be an offshoot of Abstract Art, which was one of the most defining characteristics of the Modern Art movement that emerged during the 20th century in the West.

The term ‘colour field’ began to be associated with artists during the 1950s and 1960s in the US. These artists were in pursuit of an abstraction far beyond familiar realities. Their canvases largely depicted (deceptively) simple compositions using one or more flat colours, without adding a specific shape, form or any obvious focus of attention. Often, their art acquired mysterious, spiritual, and sometimes other-worldly proportions. One of the earliest pioneers of colour field art is 20th century American painter Mark Rothko, who is known for “significant open space and expressive use of colour” in his paintings. The result is a ‘meditative’ effect on the viewer, who is exposed to a large expanse of colour on the canvas.

The Non-Physical Art of Pandit Khairnar

When I walked into Delhi’s Gallery Threshold, Pandit Khairnar’s oil paintings had the same contemplative effect on me. His paintings are colourful explorations of his inner thoughts, without figurations, decorations or complicated patterns that we often see in art. Mounted on bare walls, these large canvases not only imbued a sense of stillness in the gallery, but the whole experience of looking at his works was no less than taking a solitary walk in the countryside. And this is exactly what the artist is seeking to convey through his paintings.

 

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Gallery view of the exhibition. Courtesy: Ankush Arora

 

Khairnar’s upbringing in the historically rich and verdant terrain around Nashik, which is known for antiquated monuments and (now) sprawling vineyards, shaped his artistic sensibilities. As a school boy, he showed a lot of interest in drawing and painting, which caught everyone’s attention. Soon, he befriended the potter community in his village, and began painting their statues for local festivals.

As a young man, he moved to Mumbai, where he stayed for 25 years. He then returned to the serene beauty of Nashik, which inspired him to paint. His Nashik memories are full of regular jaunts to agriculture fields, often helping his father cultivate fruits and vegetables on the farm. Being in regular touch with the soil made him dabble in statuette-making too. He was also taken in by the mysterious colours of twilight and dusk, which he explored in his art.

From Colour Drawings to Abstractions

Through shades of greens, oranges, blacks, reds and yellows, the artist splashes his memories on the canvas, creating an ‘infinite’ or ‘limitless’ field. In other words, he is trying to portray his experience of observing a vast natural landscape, instead of actually painting a tree, sky or river. His canvas could be showing the pigment of a leaf or the mixing of colours in the sky when night begins to fall. To such representations, he gives an ‘intangible’ or a non-physical form.

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Courtesy: Gallery Threshold

 

Explaining his trajectory as an artist, Khairnar said he initially started with colour drawings on paper. Several of them were abstract in nature that made way for what he is doing now. “In these drawings, I was in a sense opening and discovering the substance out of the frame, to find what I am left with, which is pure and sublime,” the artist said. Interestingly, he rejects the label of being referred to as a colour field artist, calling it a “comfortable categorization” that may lead to “superficial” understanding of his art.

“How would you explain your work to the young learners of art?” I asked him in an email interview.

“Colour is something that gives character. We can’t imagine a monochromatic world. What we see on the canvas essentially arrives from the subtle observations of inner and outer world,” he wrote back, somewhat summing up his style of painting.

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Courtesy: Gallery Threshold

 

It is because of the nature of colour field paintings, which are devoid of a form, the genre is not only not popular in India; there is also little awareness about it. They could be difficult to interpret too. And that is true of many other forms of abstract art. Little wonder, in India, Khairnar belongs to a small group of colour field painters, which include V. S. Gaitonde,Natvar Bhavsar, Sohan Qadri and Rajendra Dhawan. Gaitonde, Rothko and Dhawan—who are known for their powerful abstractions—inspired Khairnar to explore and question different interpretations of the ‘real’ and the ‘illusory’.

As I spent some time in the gallery, quietly sipping some tulsi chai, I noticed a few subtle forms in Khairnar’s paintings. The sudden discovery seemed very odd as I didn’t remember noticing anything like that when I walked in. Some looked like dots, seen together they could be somebody’s eyes. In other paintings, for example, the forms were far less obvious, resembling vague silhouettes of a human face. Perhaps these lingering forms pointed towards the galaxy, a theme aptly conveyed in the show’s title – ‘Cosmic Balance’.

The exhibition will be on view at Delhi’s Gallery Threshold until September 15, 2018. You can share your thoughts on Pandit Khairnar’s works below.


 

276520d7-6209-4f19-a17e-7e4d98264b55Ankush began his career as a journalist in 2008, and has since covered multiple stints in print, television and digital media in India. In 2016, he took up a communications and outreach assignment for an American social innovation organisation, which works with the Tata Trusts in India. He is currently working, in Delhi, as a media publicist for art practitioners. He tweets @artandculturediary, and shares his photography on Instagram.

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The Curator #12

Through the various previous blog posts we got an idea about how does curating India abroad, how curating abroad in India functions. But what about exhibitions which feature artists from different nationalities to address certain universal political and social crisis. How would the curator address this diversity of the artist and strategically situate the artworks in the purview of his curatorial objectives. Would a foreign artist be able to understand the concerns of a different country? This is one of the most contested questions in contemporary art. Also, how do artists from different nationalities collaborate on a common concern is a perplexing question. All we can do is to attempt and see. The route map of this journey, the interactions between the curators and the artists are the important milestones which remain even after the exhibition is over.

Another important issue I would like to address today is how do we see our times. How can a curatorial exercise reflect our times. I do not disagree that we all see the world through our own vantage points. But there are certain truths which one cannot surpass are merely subjective. The political and economic crisis of our times is a reality. Not a fiction scripted to distract us form our valuable existence. Art or artists are not away form these issues and questions. Therefore one has to address them. Since art, curation, writing, etc., are the medium in which we work, we will address the crisis through this medium. In today’s issue of Art1st’s “The Curator” we will look at “A Preview to Desolation” curated by me at the Italian Cultural Center. The exhibition, a group show featuring eight Indian and Italian artists, imagined the contemporary as a desolate landscape, a terrain stripped of hope and peace. Quests for justice, equality and asylum have become more important than ever, but these struggles are always met with dismissal and brutal crackdown. Eight artists have responded to this topic, which is of utmost importance, through their works.

Exhibition: A Preview to Desolation

Curator : Premjish Achari

Venue: Italian Embassy Cultural Center

Artists: Atul Bhalla | Beatrice Pediconi | Gigi Scaria | Giuseppe Stampone Maura Biava | Sharmila Samant | Tushar Joag | Varunika Saraf

One of the major concerns of this exhibition was to address the apathy and indifference which has engulfed people in our times. We see incidents of violence, inequality, injustice but fail to respond to them. When there should be a collective demand for justice, equality, asylum, and human rights, instead all we see around us is a brutal crackdown on the marginalized and the oppressed. Because of this, the lives of the dispossessed has become even more precarious. The refugee crisis, the rise of  right wing ideologies is destroying co-existence and plurality in our society. The state aided violence by the fringe elements in many countries has become a serious concern. The main objective of this exhibition is to address this crisis through art. Therefore I had included artworks which confront and respond to this situation. The aesthetic concerns of these artworks address the fundamental instability caused by the ‘bad new days’, a phrase used by Brecht to denote these times of crisis.

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Atul Bhalla_Fictitious Landscape I_Courtesy_Vadehra Art Gallery & Atul Bhalla

This exhibition is premised on a concern about the violence, apathy, and brutality of the “bad new days”. These oppressions are real but on the other hand we ignore them and celebrate a different vision of life which exclusionary in nature. So I imagined our times or the contemporary as a landscape, a terrain of desolation stripped of any hope and beauty which could keep us going. The urge to control people, especially minorities, by branding them as “aliens” is increasing day by day. Furthermore, the larger global economic crisis and the economy of war and invasion have left thousands dead and much more homeless.  Through the artworks and the exhibition, in general, I attempted to draw the attention of the viewer to this crisis.

It was definitely a challenge to get artists who also think similarly and are sensitive to these issues. It needs political sensitivity to ally with these concerns. Artists included in this show were constantly working to make the artwork more active and participatory, in terms of their involvement in the material processes behind the creation of an artwork and an exhibition. I was fortunate to have found such a wonderful group of artists from Italy and India who responded to this exhibition through their brilliant works.

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Beatrice Pediconi Alien D_Courtesy sepiaEYE, New York

This exhibition uses ‘precarious’ as a conceptual category to understand the cataclysmic contemporary climate; through this it attempts to survey the vastness of this desolation and disarray. It enables us to plot the coordinates of crisis and the political conditions generated by conflicts for power.

Through this exhibition I attempt to show works which confront and respond to this situation. Its aesthetic concerns remain to address the fundamental instability caused by these ‘bad new days’. How a precarious regime of aesthetics is developing, based on speed, intermittence, blurring and fragility. It reasserts the necessity to locate the ideological foundations of Fascism and its aesthetic sensibilities, which are rooted in passive consumption. It allows this by activating and politicising art to protect the present and future from becoming a part of its political project.

 

Sharmila Samant_The Wasteland_Courtesy_Govett Brewster Art Gallery, Plymouth_Aoteoroa NZ

Sharmila Samant_The Wasteland_Courtesy_Govett Brewster Art Gallery, Plymouth_Aoteoroa NZ

 

“Bad new days” is an apt way to describe the times we inhabit. In the last few decades, unprecedented economic, political and social turbulence have resulted in a climate rife with insecurity and precarity. An undeclared state of emergency has displaced millions of citizens across the world, creating unjust socio-economic disparities. This has given rise to an atmosphere of intolerance, which thwarts any form of debate, engagement and dissent, virtues associated with a democratic society. Historic amnesia is favoured over historic memory. The human condition has become fragile; it is more insecure, fragmented, and susceptible to injustice and oppression. Our very existence has become precarious.

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Gigi Scaria_City unclaimed_Digital print on canvas_2017

A video feature of this exhibition was done by NDTV-Mojarto which can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wrv4VTILJog

Here are some of this exhibition views.

  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st
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Varunika Saraf, Citizen Z

 

 

“Art requires time — there’s a reason it’s called a studio practice “

Fernández offers graduates ten practical tips on being an artist that have been helpful on her own creative journey — but they double as an ennobling moral compass for being a decent human being in any walk of life:

  1. Art requires time — there’s a reason it’s called a studio practice. Contrary to popular belief, moving to Bushwick, Brooklyn, this summer does not make you an artist. If in order to do this you have to share a space with five roommates and wait on tables, you will probably not make much art. What worked for me was spending five years building a body of work in a city where it was cheapest for me to live, and that allowed me the precious time and space I needed after grad school.
  2. Learn to write well and get into the habit of systematically applying for every grant you can find. If you don’t get it, keep applying. I lived from grant money for four years when I first graduated.
  3. Nobody reads artist’s statements. Learn to tell an interesting story about your work that people can relate to on a personal level.
  4. Not every project will survive. Purge regularly, destroying is intimately connected to creating. This will save you time.
  5. Edit privately. As much as I believe in stumbling, I also think nobody else needs to watch you do it.
  6. When people say your work is good do two things. First, don’t believe them. Second, ask them, “Why”? If they can convince you of why they think your work is good, accept the compliment. If they can’t convince you (and most people can’t) dismiss it as superficial and recognize that most bad consensus is made by people simply repeating that they “like” something.
  7. Don’t ever feel like you have to give anything up in order to be an artist. I had babies and made art and traveled and still have a million things I’d like to do.
  8. You don’t need a lot of friends or curators or patrons or a huge following, just a few that really believe in you.
  9. Remind yourself to be gracious to everyone, whether they can help you or not. It will draw people to you over and over again and help build trust in professional relationships.
  10. And lastly, when other things in life get tough, when you’re going through family troubles, when you’re heartbroken, when you’re frustrated with money problems, focus on your work. It has saved me through every single difficult thing I have ever had to do, like a scaffolding that goes far beyond any traditional notions of a career.

Read the full article on Brain Pickings

The Wall & Sanyaa Mehrotra

I now feel incredibly stupid about this, but when I first heard of street art and tried to connect spray paints to walls, what came to my mind, were the ‘I love you, please take me back’ notes sprayed on the jammed flyovers and crowded streets of our city.

This was until I saw a compilation of Daku’s work. I sat there with my mouth literally hanging open. I was flabbergasted at this form of art and I was in awe of Daku.

 This man’s gallery is the Aam Admi street. The streets that are usually painted by piss and sprayed by chewed paan (beetle leaves), he manages to transform into something beautiful. I had a mental transformation and was flabbergasted by not only his works but also the hidden meaning they had.

I realized how drawn all of us were to his work and how they helped generate curiosity within us due to their illegal and delinquent nature. It is street art that represents the desire to change, and our fight to break the chains that have us bound. We had an incredible opportunity to work with this mad genius and we created a big piece at Hauz Khaus Village in Delhi.

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Every person might have a different interpretation of what we’ve done but for me it’s a world view of humanity, of being one, and standing up for the right. We’re free birds, we are the colours of tomorrow. We define everything finite with infinity. For all that exists is perfectly flawed. A perfect creation of God, flawed for us.

 Daku has inspired me like nobody else has. Even after a ligament tear in my ankle at the end of our wall-painting-session (because of which I literally had to be dragged across HKV by my friends to the parking lot), it was one of the best experiences I’ve had, and probably will ever have, and I wouldn’t change it for anything.

So inspired was I that I not only painted my wall at home but a couple of professional spaces along with a book cover and a laptop cover.

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Sanyaa Mehrotra is a student of Delhi Public School, Delhi and was a part of Partner a Master: artist mentor program. Her piece is on artist/mentor: DAKU

 

Reanna Palia’s Artist Statement

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My piece depicts the light within our souls.  Light is energy and it can be used positively or negatively. I have tried to trap that light of our soul.

The light that radiates from the mannequin is supposed to depict the aura or energy of the person.

I like to imagine that when we were created God put a little light in each of us. Now its our choice whether we use it to shine!


Reanna Palia is a 13 year old student at Bombay International School, Mumbai. She was a part of Art1st Partner a Master: artist mentor program in 2013-14. And this body of work was created under the mentorship of Prajakta Potnis.