ASHRAFI S. BHAGAT
Soulful meditations on beauty, duality and the human essence, using colours, shapes and light step over boundaries to find out that which lies beyond…
The duality of hope and despondency is captured through the illusive light which metaphorically defines life, contouring the highs and lows of existence in its flowing ebb.
Post the Madras Art Movement, artists in Chennai have forged ahead with different medium, materials, techniques, and concepts that have changed the texture of art making in this metro. One artist who truly fits this description is George K, who has ventured to represent three shows in three different and conceptually divergent media, namely Photography (“Freedom Calls”), Painting (“Shringara”) and Sculpture (“Human Animal”).
George, who is a self-taught artist, has an artistic eye, social sensitivity, sharp perception, incisive intellect, and draws not only with pigments and charcoal but also with light. Perceiving his works, one is struck by the style, which underpins realism, pop culture and the graffiti scribbled across the painting. The execution of paintings is carried out from photographs shot by George by hoarding artists, typified by their broad brush strokes, expansive tonalities, shades and colours. The intervention through billboard painters marks the saliency of his works, an attempt also to reclaim a lost art through engagement with this form of realism. In “Shringara”, George shot photographs of Kathakali make-up artists, capturing those intimate moments painting faces as they ready themselves for the final act.
Concern for beauty
The conceptual concern for George in his Shringara suit of works is related to beauty — sensuous and spiritual. He draws upon the text of Saundarya Lahari of Adi Sankracharya, particularly the inspirational verses celebrating perfect beauty in the adoration of the ‘abode of Siva-Shakthi'. George, who has been deeply inspired by Indian philosophy, particularly the duality in the concept of Prakriti-Purusha or Siva-Shakti, fundamentally inscribes the search of atman with the Paramatman. Extending further, it also translates as form into formlessness and this has been the premise on which all his works have been expressed. His “Shringara” paintings are, therefore, developed to contain the idea of beauty and aesthetics as primordial energy in creation expounded in Saundarya Lahari; realised in this instance through Kathakali dancers preparing for performance. The concept took shape at the late dancer Chandralekha's annual memorial event at Chennai in 2008.
Says George, “Watching the process of make up applied in layers, ideas began to churn in my mind and also layered my thought process, since I also saw many layers in the performance itself”. George therefore intrinsically juxtaposes the concept of the power of sensuous beauty in the Kathakali dancer and spiritually realised through primordial energy in creation, namely, Siva-Shakti. Therefore the presence of the leit-motif of the Siva Lingam with Yoni base manifests in all his compositions. The layering relates to memory of the performance and metaphorically to veils of illusion marking the world as Maya and that truth has to be sought in the reality beyond.
The interface with digital technology marks the process for George to arrive at his final compositions. The hoarding artists painted on canvas from final prints that were compositionally worked out. George finally inscribes his personal touch with graffiti or doodles on the surface. The paintings also bear appropriate verses in Sanskrit from the Saundarya Lahari. In some works, he has painted sections in pure colours, as this alluring element initially attracted him to art. The colours are equally philosophical as verdant meditative greens, sunrise awakening oranges, psychedelic thinking pinks; contemplative blues, spiritual whites and inspiring flaming yellows.
The “Human Animal” sculptures, executed in clay and wrapped in a thin fibre glass coat in miniature sizes, are not only visually titillating but provocative and shocking. The shock element is in the blatant representation of sexuality, which glances at the animal behaviour in homo sapiens but a natural pattern in animals. The inherent duality of man-animal has led George to insightfully and intelligently combine the appropriate character of certain animals with human forms, male or female. George has ascribed posturing as the main conceptual task in his sculptures; for instance, the cock-headed female form posturing in a typical attitude to attract the opposite sex. The female torso with giraffe head has the neck morphing into a phallic symbol while the body has patterned floral painted designs. In another example, an acrobatic rabbit is performing on a machine part, the artist juxtaposing the posture of potent mechanical power with the physical. The crocodile-headed macho man flexing his muscles posturing supremacy, while his body carries the linear drawing of a wicked vulture. Incidentally, both are fierce predators. His sculptures thus portray the human animal posturing, laying claims to the animal ancestry. This establishes the interchangeable character of human in the animal and vice versa. The sculptures also provoke philosophical thinking premised on the idea of existence of all life but on the part of man an attempt to contemplate and bridge the form and the formless. The gesture is towards the ‘brain' a commonality also of the animal world but with the difference in the human of subtle refinements and acts of superior creations. The artist looks at the human mind as an abstraction that essentially abstracts the experiences of the perceived reality with capacity to transcend to a higher plane.
George was attracted to art through photography and this medium marked his presence within the artistic arena. His limited edition photographs titled “Freedom Calls” are based on the Madras Jail, a colonial monument later converted to house political prisoners and freedom fighters in transit to cellular jails or Kalapani in the Andamans and Nicobar Islands. These suites of photographs are not only evocative but equally poignant and emotionally touching. The main protagonist, light, is a solemn actor not dramatised but soulfully evoking moods and emotions. The shadowed light provokes despondency whereas the bright streaming rays reflect hope and optimism. The interstitial darkness here is not enigmatic but sinister, capturing moments of torment, anguish, despair and dejection. The duality of hope and despondency is captured through the illusive light which metaphorically defines life, contouring the highs and lows of existence in its flowing ebb.
In these three shows, recently hosted at Apparao Galleries, Chennai, the philosophical concept of duality underpins his works. George in his experiments and expressions has always stepped over boundaries to find out what lies beyond and he has attempted this through a serious engagement with his sculptures of Human Animals, technology in painting and light in his photography.