You asked me about intentionality, my approach to the painting surface. Knowing me to be an author of physical and ephemeral works, what, you ask, is my experiential register in practicing abstractionism?
An analogy comes to mind, useful to a point.
In his seminal essay ‘The New “Depthiness”’ Timotheus Vermeulen quotes the Italian novelist Alessandro Baricco, who in his volume of essays The Barbarians, distinguishes between two experiential registers: snorkelling and surfing. Vermeulen uses this to allow us access to Jameson’s discussion of depth and depthlessness.
Reading Vermeulen, I was tickled to see how far I could take the analogy to understand my own artistic processes: am I a surfer or a hobby diver? What seas am I dealing with, so to speak?
What, then, is my experiential register? Am I snorkelling in the sea of art to experience its pleasures and spy on the wonders or daring the depths to seek its pearls?
The wonders of the sea certainly hold a strong attraction, but I am a rather regular sea farer venturing out to seek and bring back nourishment. I am not setting out in a motorised trawler though. Rather like the traditional Chennai fisherman putting together his collection of precisely shaped and sized logs to make a ‘kattumaram’ literally tied logs that suits the catch he seeks on a day, I choose my material, mediums and base. Rather like him, I go to areas of the sea where, I know from previous explorations, it is more likely to be productive. This artisanal fisherman has more kinship with me, more than the surfer.
To exploit the simile, I am like the fisherman standing on a spur of beach in Pazhuverkadu that extends provocatively into the sea. I could launch southwards into life and living experience, or go north into art and art making. In either case I’m going to be relatively comfortable in my humble but sophisticated sea craft. The ‘kattumaram’, the catamaran shaped like a human palm, is the only vessel that does not travel on the sea, displacing and excluding the water. It sits in the sea, without being submarine. It is a part of the sea, not an intrusion. It cradles its passengers, while not disconnecting them from the forces of nature. It takes in water without holding it. The vessel and the fisherman become a part of the sea.
The fisherman and the sea have a reciprocal relationship- even if asymmetrical. The waves, the currents, the sea life, all nourish him. He in turn, is the sea’s gaze turned upon itself, taking cognisance of itself; reading the sea as a part of the sea, on behalf of the sea, in his function as gamekeeper.
Much like the artisanal fisherman, standing on that defiant beach mending his logs or his nets, often in the studio I prepare the support or the base: canvas, carton or wall, clean and mend brushes and vessels. All the while, the colours of the skies and the canopies, the wind and the light inform me on the most fertile direction to seek. The heightened sensorial state at the launch into the painting, of spray, wind, light and smell are all consciously called into play to get past the breakers safely. Once in, colour and tonality will hold me on the journey, until the open colour field.
The latticework created by light seeping into the depths of Your beloved Bay of Bengal, allows the sea-farer to read the currents, eddies and swirls far below him. His very muscles read the swells. The texture and colour of the water (from plankton, sand, flotsam and salinity) tell him how much nutrition and churn is available at that point. He casts the net he has prepared, calibrating the floats and lines and sinkers to frame a precise depth, to pen a particular cuboid volume of ocean. Now he has to wait. He stays or, extricating himself, returns to shore.
Through constructive and aleatoric processes involving the viscous and the dilute, mark making and erasure, a relationship between undertones and overtones, the geometric and the fluid emerges. The abstractionist’s eye enters a dialogue with light, line, colour and texture the elements of an abstract sensorial space. The body engages through sight, memory and imagination to prepare a wordless realm that accommodates perceptional ambiguities.
In my abstract paintings- tableaus You preferred to call them- I create environments where the eye is attentive but not focussed. Inclusive, abstract spaces where the senses flow attentively, wandering but alive.
Even with your love for the sea and her shores, this is as far as I can push the simile, I realise. References to fish and catch will push it into the realm of contrived metaphor! But fishermen here have set out for fish and discovered the shore temples at Mahabalipuram and, indeed, someone may discover the lost city of Poompuhar for us to rebuild our utopias upon.
You will agree, when a fisherman senses something in the depths that isn’t decipherable from the eddies or when he has to unsnag his net, he ballasts himself with rocks, he holds his breath and he dives.