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Of light, signs and symbols

Alphonso Arul Doss, whose works are on display at DBS Galleria, has favoured light as his privileged artistic tool.

LIGHT AS an elusive, intangible, shifty element has been problematic in its investigation as a visual tool of artists in their creative endeavours. Essentially, it is light that enables visuality and from time immemorial has remained an integral dimension for artistic manipulation. During the Medieval age, light was deployed as a visionary tool, the Renaissance witnessed its material exploration, Rembrandt effectively realised its spiritual dimension, in the age of Romanticism Delacroix's colours took on an emotional dimension after an encounter with tropical light and the Impressionist revelled in its optical sensation. In the contemporary milieu of Chennai today, there is one artist who has favoured light as his privileged artistic tool, and that is Alphonso Arul Doss.

Within the terrain of the Madras Movement internationally acclaimed Alphonso is a familiar name. An alumnus of the Government College of Arts and Crafts, he taught painting there and retired as a principal in 1997. Alphonso Arul Doss's exhibition at DBS Galleria concludes today.

The paintings on display mark his engagement with the lived realities that has enabled the artist to intellectualise his aesthetics, articulating through his visual language. His preoccupation with abstract concepts of faith, peace, terrorism, communal strife, political malpractices and corruption informs his iconography, which he mediates with iconic symbols of historical personae like Mahatma Gandhi or Christ or a metaphysical concept of the dancing Nataraja in its dual role as a creator and destroyer. In deploying these he attempts not only secularisation by divorcing them from religious connotations but also denotates to inflect his ideology that infinitely is to project universal peace and harmony. The present exhibition attempts visualisation of a wide gamut of subjects that Alphonso passionately feels.

His sensibility responding to the exigencies of dispassionate and heinous human acts grounds him perceptually in the cultural matrix to give valency to the contingent human issues. A prolific painter, operating primarily through the medium of oils on canvas, he precipitates his ideologies through an innovative technique that assists in conflating his notions of light with his profound humane thoughts. This invented technique was what he conclusively inferred from his study of the refraction of light through various gems. As a matter of fact, his gravitating towards the study of the phenomenon of light happened with his intense study of Rembrandt's oeuvre, the Dutch master who deployed this element for spiritual end.

Alphonso goes a step further and investigates light scientifically in this age of technical advancement. Light has been an abstract element, but absolute for the artist to discriminate his perceptions and sensorial impulses. And very craftily he has deployed this element to become a major player for the realisation of his varied ideas. Technically in transcribing this ephemeral phenomenon to the material level, he manipulates the white of the support [canvas] to reflect brilliantly the blotches or calculated patches of colours to underscore his artistic vision. The density of his graven images thick with veiled meanings is implicated in symbols and signs that effortlessly enable interpretation with ubiquitous forms of the fish, lamp, fire and the bird [common to Christianity and Hinduism]. Through such an inscription Alphonso has reinscribed iconography on his own terms. His depth of knowledge of Christianity in tandem with the philosophy of Hinduism and Buddhism posits him as an artist who can traverse freely across both spheres with these symbols to contextualise his works within a cultural milieu marking it as individual and universal as well. Though his concepts and ideologies transcend the national boundaries to be almost global, there is in Alphonso's works a strong hint of the nativist agenda that was engined by K.C.S. Paniker in the early 60s to establish the face of the Madras Movement within the larger framework of the national milieu.

Alphonso's grounding in the School of Arts and Crafts, privileges a regional bias, noticeable especially in the delineation of his line and the strength of decorativeness that individuates his creations. Alphonso's original technique and profoundly humane vision attempts no proselytisation nor serve a didactic purpose, but in the Postmodernist formulation recalibrates to chasten the formal and aesthetic elements to be exclusively employed in the service of expounding his philosophy.

If Alphonso's works come across as serious art it also incorporates wit and satire. Gandhiji with his philosophy of ahimsa, what would he do to a mosquito on his head? Or the juxtaposition of the statue of Liberty and that of Nataraja, the icons of two worlds, with their flames amalgamating, satirising the utopian insularity of the first world from terrorist attack. Alphonso Doss, a recipient of Cultural Doctorate in Art Education from World University, Arizona, U.S., is an Executive member, Asian Christian Art Association. Widely travelled, he has held one man shows nationally and internationally.

ASHRAFI S. BHAGAT

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