About My Work - Elizabeth Rogers

Elizabeth Rogers

At the source of artistic creativity is what Rabindranath Tagore envisioned as the “deep stir of all life in the world” and a ‘language of picture and music’. (What is Art?, Personality, 1917) Throughout the new works in this Jatra 2 series Shrihar Iyer unfurls further his earlier explorations into terrains of the ancient, the unknown. Expressions of elemental particles, a vocabulary of organic symbols, unfold from a broad stroke of paint which brings the crests and troughs of waves before one’s eyes, to minute calligraphic doodlings that are both real and quixotic. These paintings, some highly coloured and others monochromatic tones, chronicle one man’s sensitivity and passion for the experiences and influences crossing his path.

Upon initial encounter with Iyer’s paradigms, one is encircled by a kinetic spirit, breathing through spectrum, abstract visual narratives speaking through lyricism. There is an indefinable universality, albeit one that effects in myriad manner, akin to the diffractions of white light per a prism. Consider the temperament, energy, culture and behaviour of these canvases. Skeins of moving lines, as if early cave frescoes; corners with some unconscious drama in earth. Iyer traces these sounds, these smells. Much has been written to date of his earlier personal interaction with pujas, archaeology, tribal art, paper constructions, ceramics, sculpture, installation art, film, drawings, music, dance, performance and theatre. Not to mention, of course, the marked presence of the late J. Swaminathan in Bhopal which changed the course of his life. Evidence appears in the lines from his palms which travel into his paintings.

At present, in these oeuvres, a new maturity can be detected. His palette is bold (red, yellow, gold, green, cerulean, puce, fuschia); on other canvases subtle modulations of white, grey, silver, cream, vellum – as if sweet light at the perspective meeting point of the sea and the sky. Such contextual, natural imagery treads a fine line between an endeavour to communicate and a subliminal undercurrent of bewilderment (imagine invisible waves). The haunting platinum prints of the Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto come to mind. Just as alphabets are representational (albeit originally pictographic) in their nature, yet demand association and communal situation to render meaning. So do the lexicons of artists.

Murmurs of nature surface, only to break into full crescendos, then calm once more. Despite areas of serenity, stagnancy is not in these realms. Iyer’s journey proffers swathes, stripes, lines, angles, dots, squiggles, threads, drips, sprays, phantasmagorical forms, and musical strophes. Some of the thin markings resemble Mayan glyphs, others indecipherable Vedic scripts. A base of relationship with the surrounding world, its objects and creatures, the properties of the cosmos boasted by the moving sky during the Perseid meteor showers. This art grants emotional, highly metaphysical metaphors close to nature’s spirit, to reconnect the man of reason.

Modern art witnessed varying trysts and dalliances between past and present imagery. In Iyer’s previous work, his idiom forged concerted cosmologies, seemingly cartographical depictions of energy transmissions (Dynamic Paradox, 1996). Ranjit Hoskote wrote“His central theme is the flow of energy through the Universe”; thusly cited by other writers as well. Works from three years hence (earlier Jatra series) blend colour and form, reminiscent of drawings by Miro, mobiles by Calder, and some surrealist strokes of Arp. Iyer creates worlds of sonorous melody, in which each dot strikes a chord beyond a single culturally-bound locus. Then there were more geometric forms.

Before the viewer, double helixes have been taken apart, the protons are at play. Inherent in Chinese (qi) and Japanese (ki) art is the essence of breath or spirit; akin to prajna. Confidence and strength by which a painter/calligrapher permits ink to move through the brush onto the paper or silk affirm the artist’s transfiguration into a creative vessel. Strokes are like dance, empty space as important as filled. Strophes of ecstatic poets materialize. Movement brings paint into multiple dimensions. Scripts embody the form, no matter whether complete inventions of the artist. Of this, Iyer said, the “minute talk between the elements.” Black is mysterious, capturing night when most creation takes place. He shares this burgeoning movement, only to see the actual colours during the course of daylight. A fusion of yin and yang, the left and right hemispheres of the brain, the female and male.

To create such tableaus, the stage must be set. In preparation, he purifies the space, mixing potions (perfumes and water) like an age-old alchemist. Offering a process from the unity, he invites the forms, shapes, colours to dance with him; the raga begins. Inside his head, rounds the refrain, ‘twinkle, twinkle little star.’ His canvases become maps, physical expressions of a private universe, as Swaminathan once wrote of Iyer “connecting the inorganic to the organic.”

Elizabeth Rogers
New Delhi