Verse and the visual

The juxtaposition of Shyam’s art with Anand’s text is compelling

July 02, 2016 04:25 pm | Updated 04:25 pm IST

Finding My Way; Venkat Raman Singh Shyam & S. Anand, Juggernaut, Rs. 1,499.

Finding My Way; Venkat Raman Singh Shyam & S. Anand, Juggernaut, Rs. 1,499.

Watching my own pinwheels whirl in the breeze on my terrace, I pick up this book not knowing what to actually expect. I find a delightful jewel.

A wonderfully engaging writer, S. Anand, weaves many ideas, stories, ideologies into the biography of Gond artist Venkat Raman Singh Shyam. The book gives us an insight into the legend of Jangarh Singh Shyam, Venkat’s uncle and an artist whose life ended all too soon. Both writer and artist combine the philosophy of Kabir with that of the Pardhan Gonds and bring in principles of art history made de rigueur by the written history of modern art.

Anand has delved into the layers of an artist’s mind, combining history and fantasy. It is with unbelievable dexterity that this writer moves between the different worlds.

I hear, in my head, artist Raza repeat, like a jap , his concept of the dot and the beginning of creation. Here, the dot drawn by a tribal artist unfolds the myth of Jangarh and his tragic end. His use of the dot became the symbol of Jangarh that Gond artists have since adapted.

This very eloquently told narrative allows us to journey with Venkat Shyam from his village in his mind’s eye, through poverty and other difficulties. It tells us how he was as touched by Jangarh as was an entire community of artists.

Venkat combines his signature drawings with beautiful washed layers of watercolours in the style of adornment the Gonds use to decorate their homes.

The complexity of ideologies and thought is relevant to everybody, whether artist or not. The tangents Anand draws are art: he brings in Leonardo da Vinci from his humble beginnings, Rembrandt from his existence of sheer passion despite death in debt, and a possible moment of Picasso’s transition to cubism after an evening with a primitive sculpture.

What appears to be another coffee table book on first sight turns out to be a delightful aromatic onion. The individualistic images and paintings that fill the book compete with the equally evocative text. The overpowering visuals are as compelling as the written word: the difficulty to choose which one to focus on, visual or word, is compelling. The success of this book is the simplicity with which it renders complexity.

Sharan Apparao is curator and promoter of art, and founder of Apparao Galleries.

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