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Abstraction and the figurative

Senior artists K.M. Adimoolam and C. Dakshinamoorthy held a joint show of their works at the Forum Art Gallery, Chennai, recently. ASHRAFI S. BHAGAT looks at the contrast in their medium and art language.

"Untitled", K.M. Adimoolam, oil on canvas, 2003.

K.M. ADIMOOLAM and C. Dakshinamoorthy, the two artists who in the early 1960s were an integral part of the exciting and stimulating ambience that led to the emergence of the Madras Art Movement, under the tutelage of K.C.S. Paniker, have today established their art terminology. This has been consequent to years of vigorous exploration and experimentation in various media.

These senior artists who are also alumni of the Government College of Arts and Crafts (1960-66), as well the founder members of Cholamandal Artists Village, Chennai, paired up recently to showcase their works at the Forum Art Gallery from July 9 to July 23. Their works represented a totality of contrast in medium as well art language. While the former paints on canvas employing abstraction as his language, the latter is totally figurative in his approach and mediates through stone, terracotta and bronze.

"It was Paniker who encouraged students to explore various media. He emphasised that an artist must have the feel of all media, and this set the tone for various craft forms in the institution being prioritised. He felt that traditional crafts and their viability within the modern world should be maintained. There could be a happy meld of traditional skills with contemporary sensibilities". In a similar vein, Adimoolam consciously adopted the precocious, and versatile, line — a discourse, which was a centrality within the art institution — to define his expressive figuration.

Adimoolam, one of the foremost artists of the Madras Group who defined and redefined the multifaceted appeal of drawings, broke away from the much-maligned "academic drawing" integral to colonial education still lingering in art institutions.

C. Dakshinamorthy.. a simplicity of form.

Paniker meanwhile had set a new trend with short choppy lines creating fudgy and furry effects, juxtaposed with the historical traditional line drawn from pictorial and plastic imagery and inspired from temple sculptures and folk and tribal art forms. An intervention with this elemental tool marked Adimoolam's oeuvre to be distinct. This explains his diversity and dexterity of employing it as a short hand. The multiplicity of his lines and their application however remained eclectic, sourced from masters of the Western shores, to the empathic lines of his teachers to derivatives from a cultural matrix of kolam, palm leaf manuscripts and Jain miniatures.

The early 1970's witnessed Adimoolam making forays into the rarified field of abstraction with a series of abstract drawings that was the polarisation of his commitment to figuration. Working towards this development in his expressions, the artist realised that he needed to transcend the tonal range of black and introduce colour. It was a compulsion which he felt, and towards this he worked methodically and carefully and brought his works to another stage in its development.

Marginalising and completely negating line as an expressive tool, Adimoolam's compositions became structured, with colours displaying a rare sensitivity towards it. He intuited the critical white areas on his canvases to convey dramatic aura. Nevertheless it also points to the noumen — a reality beyond what is perceived intellectually or visually as he materially invested his composition with these arbitrated white spaces. Gradually, the artist transited to pure abstracts, investing the image of nature with colours.

Says Adimoolam, "nature in its totality interpreted through colours without focusing on any aspect". As he constructed his large canvases, building up layers with his palette knife and brush strokes, the bricks of colours, morphed and conveyed human emotions through significant extension of nature's moods — its playful gaiety, sombre warmth, terrifying fury or gentleness to scintillating vibrancy of light. "My canvases mirror my mind's journey through nature, not as realistic landscapes or seascapes but in planes of colours, creating an esoteric aura on a transcendental level." Adimoolam's complicity with nature inscribed its gamut of moods and hence conflated the idea with human emotions.

As Adimoolam works his subjectivity through abstracts, the individuated planes of colour have weathered their intensity, the rich textures that once were dominant have paled and descending on the whole arena of his intuitive depths is contemplative stillness. His recent abstracts exhibit these qualities, mesmerising in their virtuoso handling of nuanced tones and controlled tight handling of knife strokes.

While he displays absolute craftsmanship with brush and palette knife, at the other end of the spectrum is Dakshinamoorthy who wields his chisel with equal dexterity and mastery. The artist's sensibilities engenders for him a predilection towards the nave simplicity of forms, as he came under the spell of great European masters like Henry Moore, Picasso and Brancusi. The vocabulary of these pioneers was based on a primitivising language of simplicity and immediacy. Dakshinamoorthy, in negotiating his modern sensibility, speaks in a "cultural language", striking at the root of tradition, which is both "high" and "low" art. This "cultural language" is based on spontaneity and power emanating from the artefacts of primitive art. Getting translated through the artist's sensibilities, Dakshinamoorthy's sculptural configurations resonate with the tribal and folk art forms of his region. By dexterously melding regional inspiration with the language of modernist vocabulary such as the cubist perception of space, the artist strikes a posture of contemporaneity in his aesthetic statements.

"Untitled", K.M. Adimoolam, oil on canvas, 2003.

Granite, marble and bronze, as media, allow Dakshinamoorthy to comfortably materialise his forms. Although modern artists sought newer materials with which to record modernity, stone as a medium became a casualty of modernism and hence marginalised. In the case of Dakshinamoorthy, the historic dynastic tradition of open air Pallava relief at Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram) became a point of reference to advance his personal expression in stone, simultaneously making visible his roots that shaped his artistic journey. The conceptualisation commences by preliminary drawings broadly marked out on the stone. A dominant characteristic feature is the three-dimensionality of his compositions. What is this dimensionality?

For Dakshinamooorthy a three-dimensional image is not what is generally referenced in the context of the traditional understanding of the figure as apprehended through renaissance apparatus in terms of a realistic rendering of the human body, with proportion and harmony. The artist, in his composition, creates multiple images, which in reality could be described as "three-dimensional relief".

That is exploiting the three-dimensional nature of the material by carving different forms around it. This sounds a paradoxical note, with the opposition implicit within "dimensional-relief" nexus. In many respects the artist by transcending the "frontality" characterised in the sculptures of the Madras Art Movement, sets a tone for another "representation" in the sculptural medium to mark his signature.

Dakshinamoorthy visualises the image within the configuration of the stone and instead of creating single figure compositions, indulges in multiple representations. By visually ordering the stone to create multiple images Dakshinamoorthy is maneouvering the fragile spatial field and attempts to hold it in a tenuous relationship one against the other. And the artist notes emphatically, it is the "dimensionality" that is the central motif of his creation.

The human figure becomes the dominant trope in Dakshinamoorthy's compositions. The centrality of the female form — evocative, sensuous, and primeval — reflects his deep-rooted subconscious engagement with his family.

The "mother" and "sisters" became the trope, which allowed for a negotiation of gendered space in his works. The subjectivity of the artist is expressed in the textures of chisel marks as trace since no attempt is made by the artist to fine polish. This allows it to sing with the alluring and contrasting finished-unfinished look. Says Dakshinamoorthy, "The apparent roughness of my granite sculptures is inherent in the material itself. But their impact is strong, because of their healthy roots."

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