In the divergent horizon of the Contemporary Indian art scene abstraction as a visual language has been an alternative aesthetic. Historically the 1960’s was the period of visual exploration to evolve a new visual language of expression. The Nehruvian era ushered an International aesthetic of Modernity and art for art sake was the new mantra of the nation; that had tasted freedom and the artists were negotiating multiple identities of figuration to assert their individualities.
The international scene had already legitimized and iconized Abstractionism in Europe and America. The Blue Rider with Kandinsky and Klee and the heroic Americans with Albers, Pollock, Rothko, Newman and others. The Avant-gardes Russian Supermatists Mondrian,Malevich and his Supermatism. All these artists were in the quest for a new reality, a spiritual and physical liberation from the burden of representation. A romance with spontaneity of the body and gesture, the obsession with geometry, sign and symbols and passion for the unknown infinite reality.
The Indian family tree of Abstractionist genealogy is intricate, overlapping regional and the national in an organic multiplicity. Artists have traveled with legs in both boats of figuration and abstraction; it was a time for voyages that traversed up and down stream with ease and difficulty.
The indigenous abstract art in India was an alternative trajectory with the neo tantric artist riding high on the wave of exotic and spiritual rediscovery of India by the west. The romance with the spiritual, yoga, transcendental meditation, tantra, classical music led to exotic orientalization of India. The patrons of art during the 70’s and 80’s identified with this quest and nurtured all forms of abstraction practiced in the country as the quintessentially Indian and authentically local contribution to the post modern era. Abstraction in contemporary Indian art is not specific to any geographical region but it has been nurtured in Mumbai as an institutional aesthetic in the J.J.School. The reasons are many and it has survived the excess of figuration that is prevalent today.
The two significant modern strains are the Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism from the West. The artists of that time were evolving a synthesis of images, emotions and ideas. Most Indian artists were in a process of exploring another reality; beyond figuration. The International witnessed the "cold war" and the "free world" identified with the sense of the sprit of abstraction. The French influence of meditative gestural abstraction or the school of Paris and Nicholas De Stael became a mantra to emulate. The dominant figure moved away to make way to the signs of human presence the Pigment was applied in masonry technique of plastering with a palate knife. The picture plane shifts into a non linear dimension into color field abstraction. The artists choose to flow two streams- nature based abstraction where nature’s sensations were translated into color evoking the remembered landscape. The other moved to discover a metaphysical journey traveling into the spiritual journey of self discovery with in.
Nature based abstraction- was a reference to many and the landscape became a leitmotif; the romantic spirit unleashed a plethora of individuals. The earth and the elements of nature were celebrated in all its cosmic interpretations. The transience and the dynamics of the landscape were converted to planes of gestures and colors that evoked transcendence. It was an attempt to soar from the terrestrial to view and translate the geography from above. The artists explored the possibilities of envisioning an abstract metascape. The long involvement with abstracting transient nature and its elements into the remembered landscape of abstraction is an obsession. The forceful gesture of his strokes captures the dynamic flux of tropical southern light, and the five elements in a cauldron of paint.
NeoTantric- inspiration work and an involvement with archetypal geometry and calligraphy was another trajectory, the artists weave patterns with motifs and text on canvas dyed with elemental and saturated colors of this vibrant land and a formal, gesture and material involvement – the bindu and yantras become motifs of meditation and the transformation of sound echoes into form, color and sacred geometry. The layered surfaces with spontaneous gestures and calligraphy were typical; the archetypal feminine energies are unleashed to evoke the forces of nature.
Historically the only manifesto by J.Swaminathan endorsed this indigenous abstract journey with his democratic manifesto of Group 1890.Artists dissects matter to revel nerve endings and dynamic molecular movements that are part of the rasa or essence of life, they tracked this fundamental organic quality that and Linearity was transformed into lyrical notations in the hands of others who traces the circuit of charged particles in a maze to unravel the matrix of life. The meditative canvases are a testimony to control over the rhythmic notations of echoes and endless variations of patterns in a grid. Is he the archetypal weaver who catches the light in the warp and weft of woven tapestries? A transcendental journey was chartered by him and other individuals like K.C.S.Paniker who incorporating calligraphic abstraction as an idiom in a quasi-spiritual and scientific vision.
The unraveling of the sacred geometry and archetypal signs and symbols saw new modes of perception of the abstraction by the minimal notations. The references to symbolic forms evolved from ritual and religious involvement of local folk. This was translated on to the canvas to connect imagery with decorative intent rather than a religious evocation of divine iconography. The biomorphic forms arch and curve to construct multiple possibilities to use brilliant hues. The artists play with surface and depth, transcendental invocations of minimal geometry and spatial dimensions in the tradition of Cholamandalam.
Abstraction in Mapping-The unique uses of cartography in space takes wing in younger contemporaries as they traced the terrestrial and celestial trajectories in his graphic notations. They mapped the earth from space and telescope the movements of the cosmos like an artistic astronomer. With his universal symbols, signs and aviation notations he transcends the self from local to a global aesthetic and graphic sensibilities.
Geometric abstraction-The invocations to the mother goddess led to the mantra of multiplicity. The sacred triangle exploded into new kaleidoscopic visions of infinite possibilities of geometric permutations and combinations of casein based pigment in a play of light and color overlapping to represent visions of infinite space, structured with graphic shafts of light caught between the polarities of stillness and movement. The receding and expanding triangles are intercepted with lyrical wave patterns; color fuse and blend beyond the linear boundary of precise sacred geometry, the purusha and the prakrithi are in motion of eternal coitus to sustain the world.
The J.J. school tradition mastered the art of gestural abstraction; layering pigment and overlapping it with his gestures. The expressionistic strokes inscribe calligraphic, hieroglyph notations on the surface. This is superimposed by a dominant color that reveals fragments of light and color. The structures his painterly canvas by linear notations that pin and punctuate is poetry from the palette.
Abstract painters and their practice is like a parallel river flowing with the excess of figuration. The many fellow travelers support the journey of another way of looking. The collective learns from each other and evolve a distinctive style that gives them a vocabulary and an identity that defines this journey. It is a spiritual yatra from the terrestrial, an inward journey or a meditative mantra of self absorption. A private getaway from the humdrum of the urban chaos, into silence and solitude, into monologues with colors, gestures and canvas. Within this paradigm it has the danger of being a self absorbed aesthetic; exercise without an edge. As these accomplished practitioners transcend and renew themselves with in their limitations; mutating and surviving in the divergent space, negotiating the metaphysical and the aesthetic innovations.