I never could have thought my keyboard transforms so naturally into a grand piano every time I write. The prelude, the exposition, the recapitulation: it's my mind that creates; the fingers execute.
Poles, Cables, Pandemic & Prussian Blue
I try not to interpret my own paintings but I guess I should trace the trajectory of especially this one – painted at such a time, painted during these times. Yes, maybe times are such when the world has shrunk to the size of a fist, where fear and empathy are as rife as our pandemic today. Something somewhere that is unseen but larger than all of us put together has constricted our guts into the cathartic mode; and it has sparked off the compassionate strain in us too, humanised us in a way that nothing else has done in decades or even centuries if I may say so. There have been wars – big ones – but then wars build chasms between people, bring out the monsters in one group and victims in another; they dehumanise us in more ways than one but what we are now living is unprecedented, unimaginable. This unknown, unconquerable, brand new virus that no one has had any inkling of has startlingly enough brought us all closer together than ever before. Every parent who succumbs to the infection could be our parent. Every horror story we hear could be ours because something pushes against our doorways from the outside and we cower into ourselves. The fresh air outside is not fresh anymore. The world has been contaminated by this pervasive, this invisible something. No one is invincible or exempt from falling prey to this minuscule of a virus that is so tiny that it is virulent in its invisibleness; and it is so behemothic that it envelops an entire globe in one clasp. I often ask myself these days what the world will be on the other side of this. I don’t have answers. No one does. We all do know however that a great seismic shift has occurred and nothing will ever be the same. The world will be a very different place. We will be a very different people. All of us. Everywhere.
This painting, in its nascent stage, had nothing much to do with the now because like us all it was birthed in the non-Covid-19 era but precipitously found itself pummelled into the thick of it all – one of the greatest human crises the world has seen. Unlike all my other works this one has moved at a snail’s pace, slow, ever so slow owing to the many distractions that happened along the way, throwing its completion off course. On the 17th of October 2019 I first put brush to canvas without the faintest idea of where I was headed and where the journey would take me. I knew it would be something to do with the clutter of buildings, a hodgepodge of architecture comprising an aerial view of an old city turned or trying to turn modern. The sky always determines what happens to the world below, in light, in shade, in character, my Dad/Guru has always said to me and this is what sets the tone to all my works, however abstract my journey might seem or be – and it took me nearly three weeks to work on the sky. When something is just not right after finishing for the day there is that constant sense of restiveness midst all other work. I didn’t know what my inner eye was actually seeking and how the outer ones would comply. Every evening I would head to my studio after a long day of writing and allow my intuition to take over. I had no idea where I was headed but over years of work, whether in writing, painting, sculpture, I’ve somehow learned to trust my instinct. There is nothing that tells me a work is done until it actually is and though I have tried to endlessly analyse my process, this particular area, or blind spot always remains a riddle to me. I like it this way. It is what gives to me that thrill – of the end line being a constant blur – until the epiphanic moment startles me and I find myself on the other side of the work.
The start and finish of this painting saw many detours, many travels – momentous ones really. I found myself in India for a month to see to Dad’s rapidly declining health issues; and after getting back from there it was Durham, then Wakefield, then Cornwall, then back to the London streets that were by now recoiling at the daily news from Wuhan and how that deathly, previously unheard of virus was spreading like wildfire, hurtling across borders, rampaging nations, taking the lives of thousands even in this day and age of highly-advanced medical know-how (by 25th of February, there was talk of thirteen discoverable cases in the UK). The painting seemed to move at a snail’s pace, just an inch forward or sometimes not even that despite the two or more hours I spent in the studio almost every evening (after a long day of writing) with sometimes a little swab of colour here or a dab there, whilst other times simply sitting back and staring agitatedly for the secrets hidden in there to present themselves to me. The artificial light from the windows against the natural twilight had to be just the right tone, hue, sharpness, angle as it sluiced the other structures or the air around. Beside these technicalities and the fine-tuning, I knew there was that other arcane place I was headed for but had no idea what or where that might be. There came a point on the 21st of March, late night, when I knew there was nothing more needed to be done to the conglomeration of structures and that the light, shade, skies were just as they were meant to be. Yes, it was all out there, emerging from that duskiness – this world I had envisaged in those lived-in homes nestled upon my canvas, their lights twinkling and night gaining in but now, behind those orange windows out there too, news blared the rise of the corona virus cases (recorded to 5018 in the UK, deaths to about 233 and then within the next couple of days the numbers shooting up to 9529 and 508 whilst the statistics world over showed an ominous 416,680 people infected and 18,651deaths). My painting was finished but it was not complete.
It was in limbo, that typical little town living upon the canvas back there in my studio in the bottom of the garden– too unspoiled to be true – or perhaps presaging that state of mayhem in the offing. I carried the visual around with me everywhere. There were shapes and movements I was seeing all the time and which drew me back to my studio earlier than usual the following day. This, as in many of my other works is what I call the death-dance moment. It is that precarious point I stand upon when I have to do what my inner eye urges and I know that I will either destroy a work completely or perhaps redeem it, give to it its truer meaning. It is a huge risk and a painful, daunting moment too because there is this world before you that you have created over months of painstaking labour, pristine and beautiful. You can leave it at that and just go away but somehow you can’t. And you don’t. All you do see is that massive tube of Prussian-Blue (because there are no blacks in nature – at least you don’t think so), your palette knife and your hand swirling and dancing about manically before you.
You’ve heard it all your life – the tales of industrial eyesores taking over the world, the network of poles, the cables, the wiring, the cross-wiring that spoils the vistas everywhere. You’ve grown up thinking, knowing that the world would be visually a more beautiful place without them, more organic. Perhaps it would, yet something has changed over the years and we with them. Things shift, evolve and we cannot but move along with them or the world falls out of step with us. We might not want things to be in such and such a manner but we still need them to be so; and we realise their need all the more when certain catastrophes set in. We realise that the very sights that once irked us, redeem us today, are our saviours. To slash all over onto my finished canvas these marks, these poles, cables, cords of dissonance was an act of heartbreak for me; but somehow it had to be done. I emerged from the studio after an hour of work, drained of energy, my limbs aching, flushed with that feverishness of completion; and of emotional depletion. I had disfigured the perfect world I had spent months creating – but wasn’t that what was really happening to my own world around me?
A couple of days later I was to learn that I too was among the 25,000 odd infected names out here in the UK. The three week quarantine soon after and moments of reflection made me realise that those poles and cables which my hands had vehemently slashed across the canvas, the haiku that I had written down immediately after was the life I was to live for not just that month of compromised lung capacity and breathing, the aches, pains and malaise – and yes, lockdown, complete lockdown – but one the whole world would soon be living within the confines of their homes, connecting virtually with their loved ones and the cords and ropes of technology would actually be the only road to freedom from their incarceration. Strange times these.
the blacks rise like walls
about us everywhere; it’s
strange how the cords that
roped our spirits once are our
roads to liberation now
Acrylic on Canvas / 21st March 2020
Acrylic on Canvas / 25th March 2020
(Today, the confirmed Covid 19 cases around the world are 5,341,424 and the number of deaths has gone up to 341,067.
In UK alone there are 254,195 confirmed cases and 36,393 deaths so far.)
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