Abstract hues

Written by Garima Pant | Updated: Dec 5 2010, 06:53am hrs
At a recent opening of an art exhibition in Delhi, use of mundane objects on canvas like a table fan or old meter boxes left guests perplexed at the thought behind the imagery. Unable to fathom the artwork, as there was no accompanying text, guests were seeing queuing up to the artist to understand his concepts. However, that was just the opening night and the artist was accessible. But what happens when there is neither the artist nor the accompanying text Opinions vary on the changing tones of abstract art and the newer breed of artists innovating in form and concepts.

Paris-based artist Velu Viswanadhan is a name to reckon with when it comes to abstract art. Having begun in the 60s when abstract art became a huge movement in India, Viswanadhan finds his art abstract in the materialistic sense. Curators and experts believe that it was extremely bold of Viswanadhan to have taken to abstract art when not many in the country were experimenting with it. For many reasons, it is worthwhile to ask if there is any art that is not abstract in essence, as all forms of artrealistic, figurative, non-figurative, representative, non-representative, known or unknownare all loosely related, says Viswanadhan.

Abstract art became a huge movement in India during the 1960s and 1970s, says Delhi-based curator Johny ML. Till then, Indian artists were caught between the debates of European academicism and indigenous art practices, adds Johny. He further elucidates that despite common perception, abstract is not about non-figuration. Abstract art could have figures and forms in them; not as concrete bodies, but as essential unities. This kind of art originates from the artists intense engagement with the theme and form and his ability to go into the fundamentals and the essentials. As in Cubist art, abstract art also could be analytical and synthetic, he adds.

It could uphold a philosophy and could produce a set of political textual narrative around them, even when its painterly content remains largely apolitical in nature. But unfortunately, many aspiring artists have taken abstract art for granted. For many of them, abstraction is an escape route to avoid figuration or a shield to cover their lack of skill. Somehow, symbolic representation and abstract art have become identical in popular parlance as modern art, as it is held for granted that both abstract art and modern art do not make any sense to an ordinary viewer. Many artists, by using this popular notion as a guard, still produce obscure art as abstract art and get away with it. This has caused the untimely collapse of abstract art in India, adds Johny.

However, some curators are of the opinion that it seems it is easier for a viewer to connect with abstract work, as they are not limited to any boundary. But at the same time one has to cultivate an idea to how to view abstract art, says Siddharth Tagore, owner of Delhi-based gallery Konsult. Curator Veeranganakumari Solanki, who recently curated a show titled Feminine Recitals at Delhi's Exhibit 320 gallery, ensured that each work was accompanied by an audio clip talking about the art work to help the viewer understand. With more and more conceptualisation entering the abstract art scenario, it's turning out to be more personal, as well as global. And certain tools that help demystify the works do make a huge difference, says Solanki. Dinesh Vazirani, CEO, Saffronart, feels that abstract art is big in India right now. "If you look at artists such as Vasudeo S Gaitonde, regarded as India's foremost abstract artist, the valuation of his art work has gone up from from Rs 4-5 lakh to Rs 4-5 crore. Such is the demand for abstract art in India," says Vazirani.

Viswanadhan feels that contemporary artists do understand the visual language of the contemporary world and whether they do installations, photographs or any other art work, they are as 'impressive and loud' as their contemporaries elsewhere. One could say today's art is a globalised one, says Viswanadhan.

And how does the abstractness connect with the viewer If the viewer is vowed to silence, contemplation or even meditation the abstract art could make sense to such viewers, he adds. And as Picasso had said, Abstract art is also a language, ma'am, you have to learn it to appreciate it.