CAT | PERSONALITIES
(a catalogue essay about the solo show by Artist Ra. Suri–a well know illustrator of Kannada culture–held at Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath Gallery, Bangalore, in March 2012)
R.Suri’s paintings depict a class of people who meet at a common ground of poverty, beyond any caste division. Yet their ‘appearance’ seems to be that of a celebratory mood; and what they celebrate, perhaps, is just being here and now! Poverty is the class and caste to which they belong. The people in Suri’s paintings belong to various professions like priesthood, lambanis (gypsies), flute/fruit/flower sellers and begging, yet they share equal presence of a lifestyle, of being ‘subject’ to the ‘visualizing’ process of those who mostly don’t hail from that class. The way in which the privileged class appears to these people, in turn, are not depicted in their eyes, through the artist’s eye. The artist has painted people who are forced into professions not by choice as much as it is by chance, which makes all of them as social-outcastes. The history of ‘their representation’ by artists, writers and photographers through colonial and post-colonial times is what is being painted here by Suri, unlike and contrary to a superficial reading that these are mere exotic pictures!
The artist seem to consciously legitimizes this—that what he paints is a commentary on how his subjects were visually treated even before he arrived at it!–by convincing these poverty-ridden people by shed off the pathos inherent within them, through painting. Suri is an artist who has a history of creating visual equivalents to most of the literary texts created in Kannada culture for periodicals, in a historic situation, from 1980s onwards. In this background, the selection of a particular set of people across other categorisation of caste, language and colour to be painted has a lot to do with the specific people and professions chosen by generations of Kannada writers as their protagonist preoccupations. In this sense, representation of these people’s ‘appearance’ also unveils the professions of both the artist and his subjects, simultaneously. Anybody who looks at them can easily trace their traditional profession as well, including that of the artist who painted them, based on the skill with which the respective vocations are hinted at.
One should, time and again, remember or not forget the ‘act’ that it is not the people we see while seeing these paintings; and instead, it is the ‘overall appearance’ of the painterly surface which is an amalgamation of people inevitably knit into a profession which is inherited, inborn but not necessarily adopted. Suri’s people seem to be in a euphoric state—happy, glad, and gleeful; as if they are able to segregate their appearance from their being and are offering only the former to the capturing-eye. On the other hand, the artist’s skill herein is not a ‘skill’ which is a mark of artistic excellence as much as it is a habituation, a time tested artistic practice, involved in translating the details of their appearance as if they are frozen-in-time. It is at this point that the artistic act becomes an analogy to the subject depicted herein. The painted-people’s ability to segregate their ‘appearance’ from all other aspects of themselves being represented is analogous to the artist’s ability to capture it, beyond other modes of representing them.
Here is the similarity between the artist and his subjects: both carry evidences of their professional expertise in the way they participate in the acts of representing this series of artworks. In a way, the subjects reveal their professions and the artist reveals his expertise to showcase them along with their profession!
Nobody looks at these people ‘as they are’. Suri’s paint strokes, with an experienced shorthand-like application of bright colours, frame them. In other words, his subjects are anthropologically emptied. Instead, there is a lot of alternative elements in the offering: The banana and the posture of the women in one frame seem to offer the similar things to the voyeuristic eye; the reciprocative grim mood of the flower-seller and the melancholic mood of the flute-seller in two different frames complement each other; the aesthetic sensuality of the temple carvings, the difference of ‘authority’ and ‘confidence’ inherent within the gestures of the priests and the beggar women respectively, the colours rendered ‘upon’ the colourful three-men and the religiosity inherent within the colours in the naga-worshipping figures–all in all makes his work pair up unusually. In other words, each of his paintings not only are ready to exist as solitary entities, but express their wish to have a symbiotic relation with a few other chosen ones, some of which are mentioned above.
These people are poverty-ridden according to others. They themselves would be aware of it only when they are politically motivated. However, Suri paints them along with their innocense and without their politics of being marginal. Hence he paints them in rich colours which ‘coincides’ with the way they are frozen as exotic and marginal entities. For Suri, this is a deliberate coincidence! In other words, the artist takes a stand point to depict them in a dimension which lies between factually paint them and also depicting them in a way they are usually and visually represented. What is the artist up to while painting what seems to easily fit into photo-references, exoticism and touristic aptitude? In fact Suri paints something exactly opposite to what is usually alleged about such and other visuals.
Artist Suri has painted these people non-urban people as those who will frieze to mobilize an interest amongst viewers. The methodical, gradual and confident rendering of the paint strokes, colour variations and the stress on chiaroscuro (dramatic light and shade) by the artist somehow correlates with the way the figures have been literally pasted to their backgrounds. This is one way in which the artist empathizes with his subjects. Not these people but their appearance is what was left behind for the artist to paint and for the time to frieze. Otherwise they are people who can’t afford to be themselves without their preoccupations, just like the artist. Hence we, the audience, get an ample opportunity to not only look at Suri’s subject’s appearance’s frozen sense of time; but such suspension-of-time also provides us ample opportunity to gradually see as to how such appearances are translated into pictorial strokes or the other way round, as well. Suri, through this set of artworks, segregates his subjects not only from the politics of their preoccupation, but also from the appearances.///