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The abstract truth

The truth of existence is like a shadow — dependent on light and of course, elusive. It is this elusive truth that artist N.Ramachandran wants to express through the display on British Council's Living Wall.

N.RAMACHANDRAN started off as a figurative painter and gradually developed a type of abstraction that involves a layering of thin paint washes that sometimes merge with one another and sometimes show through as distinct. The collection of paintings is on display at the BCL Living Wall. The three monochromatic paintings that are central to the show hint at topography. It is as if you are looking down from a great height. There is a sense of distance and vastness.

The artist amplifies the effect by combining sculpture, installation, framed painting and direct mural on the wall, in particular combinations and placements. For instance, the boxes with vertical rectangular paintings stuck on its sides in front of the three framed paintings on the wall, to the artist is meant to suggest the disjunction in the perception of space when two objects with similar representations but varying sizes are all placed together. The artist adds that he has appropriated the arrangement of utsavamurthis that stand besides large sculptures in our temples to suggest their philosophical enormity.

The show is titled "Existence: The Shadow of truth". For Ramachandran, things are always changing and change is truth and this defines existence. Since truth is always in flux, it can never be materialised. The truth of existence is like a shadow — dependent on light and of course, elusive. It is this elusive truth that the artist wants to express.

What is prominent is the style of paint application, the linear aesthetic and the arrangement of form. One of the problems of abstract painting that aspires to levels of immateriality (as opposed to abstraction that refers to its own materiality) is that there is always the fact of its status as a mere arrangement of colours and forms on a two dimensional surface. It is an act of faith on the part of the viewer to believe in the transcendence offered by the artist.

Yet, even if the viewer is to do this, the question remains as to how he is to feel the things that the painter intends him to feel. Put simply why should a non-representational squiggle or a passage of paint represent any particular feeling or any other truth? Why should pictures that look like aerial view of land suggest existence and its shadow of truth? Are these abstract shapes so universal and so part of our primordial selves that the mere sight of them takes us to the depths of our souls? It seems likely that these shapes are culturally designated at a given moment to mean certain kinds of things. Just as a drawing of a cow refers to a cow in the outside world, so does a particular abstract "look" refers to some metaphysical notion or other.

I would suggest by way of a provocation that abstract painting is in fact tragically representational now a days; in the first sense by representing certain immaterialities by their obvious commonsensical visual correlates and in another perverse sense by mimicking in an un-reflexive way, the conventions of abstract painting itself. After all there is the legacy of the abstract art tradition, which provides a catalogue of forms representing, for us now, very specific things. An angular look may suggest a particular kind of immateriality, an all over flatness another and tortured expressive lines yet another. And it is then just a matter of choice for the contemporary abstractionist.

It will also be useful to recognise, at a time of profound mystification of art amongst its practitioners in this city, that although art is said to come from all kinds of metaphysical sources, more often then not it comes from some very mundane sources; chance encounters of other artists' works in galleries and in books, for example.

With Ramachandran it is a combination of this (there are superficial resemblances to Rm. Palaniappan's work) and a certain failure to match the philosophy with the emergent image. I felt any kind of concept can be appended to these pictures for they were so without any guarantee. While it may have seemed natural for the artist to believe in his plastic "equivalents'' for emotional states, philosophical story as authentic the viewer may find it quite arbitrary. Presenting one's ideas to a viewer coherently is as important as being linked up to one's inner resources.

SHANKAR NATARAJAN

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