About My Work - JohnyML

Realizing the Removed Actions

Between painting or any other kind of creative act there are a few silent moments of performance that often go unnoticed when the final creative product is exhibited for a larger public. These absent moments when re-enacted in a controlled and choreographed situation where improvisations are legitimized, become performance art pieces that would eventually fill in the gaps which lie embedded in painterly or sculptural works of art. There used to be locations in art history where revealing of these performative moments were not considered to be important as the supremacy of the final creative product was enough for the viewers to understand a work of art. In our new contexts of art creation, though the finality of palpable object based works of art is not discounted or challenged, it has become imperative at times for the artists to reveal the moments of performance that facilitated creation of the resultant works of art.

Jackson Pollock made these performances acceptable by highlighting the actions that resulted into a painterly work of art. During the great uprising of the international abstract art all over the world during 1950s and 60s, even in India, artists emphasized the action behind their paintings. It took a few more decades for artists to extract pure action behind an end product and give it an autonomous status. Today, many artists who do performance art perhaps do not aim at producing an end product and for them the very process could stand independently of the concerns for a resultant work of art. In an object and image infested world, there are many other artists who still want to travel between the idea of object based art and the processing of creative forces meant for pure ideation using the artistic body or the collaborators’ bodies through performances. Shridhar Iyer belongs to this latter category of artists who move between object based art and performance pieces.

For a long time, Shridhar Iyer has been a pure painter. Being a traveller and a keen follower of the Indian style of spiritualism, Iyer’s creative efforts have always been making him explain the inexplicable. Spiritual experiences are very individualized and personalized realizations and emotional and intellectual revelations and attainments of certain state of pure consciousness, translating them into another medium or imparting the very same experiences to a larger audience is next to impossible. However, artists, spiritualists, visionaries and poets have been trying to convey these experiences through various mediums ever since the beginning of human history. Hence, explaining the inexplicable takes stand by forms and also formlessness and gain metaphorical status in the hands of the artists, poets and other interlocutors. For an artist like Iyer, the nearest possible way is to express these experiences through a certain lingua of formlessness which is neither akin to the music hummed within the mind nor akin to the emotionally charged poetry contained in words. This language of formlessness is a personalized encryption which when used in a different context either loses the meaning altogether or assumes a different linguistic value which does not have anything to do with the original context. Therefore, the formless forms or in the artistic parlance, the abstract forms in Iyer’s paintings are not language particles forever but alphabets in a surreal language that constantly change the meaning patterns as per the changes in surface or medium.

Iyer’s works, like the works of many other abstract artists of his time, show some kind of a linguistic coherence; however, I would argue that this coherence comes from the perceptual deceptions induced by the paintings themselves. Each time, when Iyer paints his works, it is not the same state of mind that he wants to capture or express. As the emotional and intellectual states that the artist strives to express the experienced inexplicable elation, which could be termed as a sort of spiritual sublimation, move from one zone to another, from meditation to travelling, from listening music to listening to a friendly chat, from ascetic departure from the worldly life to indulgence of a complete epicurean, the visual linguistic cannot remain the same. But the apparent coherence comes from the fact that the artist in all his helplessness tries to contain all these varying effects of sublimation into something that his physical training as an artist has made him capable of. This limitation of physical training (which we understand as artistic training), as the limitation of the transference of a sublime experience into a palpable object, is the reason why we see his works remain stable visually. But a closer look would reveal that Iyer’s works flow from one sense of expression to other like a bard who moves from one place to another singing the praises of the god almighty.

This impossibility of expressing and the constant striving for achieving at least near perfection makes Iyer go beyond his canvases. It is at these moments of mediation and silent action, and also all those preparatory moments where the final action of a work of art takes place, that finally he sees solace and acknowledging those moments becomes rather easier for him by bringing them to the locations where art is produced and also finally it is enjoyed. For Iyer, it is not just his body that is operational in his works but he employs whatever he finds on his journeys and in an artistic retrieval of the moments that are otherwise obliterated from the visual discourse, he uses all these materials to create his sculptures, sculptural assemblages and performance pieces. The hay and hemp that he collects from different places comes in handy in making coats, hats and other wardrobe items. They are like the fashionable clothes of a wanderer. They are flimsy and brittle, but the artist gives them a sort of assumed permanency. They are wearable to the extent that the wearer gets the personality of the artist who has found them to be artistically alterable. These moments of action, once employed are meant to create an end product, which in turn sit pretty like museum pieces in the glass cases. However, Iyer does not want to leave it at that. He deconstructs the hemp and hay and turns them into a sort of womb, the earthy womb in which he could find his final solace. For him these obliterated moments of action are so important that when we see them in the video where the artist is seen playing with them, we come to know the journeys that Iyer has undertaken so far; and we too come to realize that all those journeys into a warm and cosy womb that these fragile and frugal materials could provide.