Rendering Consciousness Comprehensible

Truth is the promise of art and therefore, the artist. But of course, just because the artist chose to reflect the world with perceptual truth doesn’t mean it is proof of what spontaneously transpires. But gradations of truth are measured in the circumstances that led up to the moment the art is conceived. Alfred Leslie said, "To most people, reality is a confirmation of their expectation. Art can present an alternative to what people think they see or to what they expect to see", and if art can reflect oppressive cultural and moral rules and convictions then the purpose is to negotiate them intellectually, to dismantle them devastatingly and to present them seriously.

Art and artist are a single entity. It is impossible to understand art without peering into the artist. I met Upendranath a few years back, when I was still oblivious to the promise of art. As an artist, Upendranath T R came up the hard way. Working from his small room and between odd jobs, his visceral exploration and the need for visual representation of those ideas made him an “unwilling” artist. His choice of materials is as much a part of practicality as that of a simple philosophical stance. Self-taught, free of conventional teachings and guided interpretations, his work reflects a tormented response to humanity’s plight in the tightening grip of modernity while refusing to conform to the culture of reduced aspirations. And yet, the embodiment of modernity is never absent, in his medium or in his concepts.

And so it is with Upendranath T R’s recent exhibition aptly titled “90 – 09”, the collective effect of which is a feverish blend of hope and despair. At first glance it may appear ironical to see shapes made from pieces of glossy magazines, the very materials of modern indulgence, capture the disparity and earnestness of human consciousness at or with-regard to a fussy moment of recognition. What was immaterial as fragments of nothing became material as an idea. A more complex interpretation engaged them as self-consciously appropriated ideas representing a world saturated beyond measure. It is, as if, a result of invasive cultural pretenses and mundane existential justifications.

Upendranath’s portrayal of the human form is interesting for the realization of the failure of human utopia; and that failure in retrospect was inevitable given the human affinity to err. The forms look bleak without much individual personality, anger or humor, maybe suggesting an inherence of nihilism. He envisages deceptively familiar forms intertwined in sequential, spatial and experiential peculiarities as he relies on seductive lines, persuasive curves and an almost insincere perversion of truth to distinguish images and ideas with moral complexity and personal indulgence. The shapes live in the world imagined and play out along the senses. Texts are treated as being more or less straight origins of the social perspective that bind them. Virtue is biased, sheltered and imperfect with irregular pieces of paper animating the fragmentation of the underlying shapes as often; obsessively repeated words belie any sense of clear-cut abstraction. The intense depiction of divergent forces and attempts to offer a sense of belonging and healing in the midst of surrounding hostility and confusion reveals a multi-layered thought process and offers genuine revelation and imaginative engagement some even bordering on moral callousness.

Like with Upendranath’s work, we make sense of the world by isolating it into thoughtful and controlled zones of comfort and understanding to make it more in-tune with our perceptions. While the art itself implies the heights to which an acutely informal kind of imagination can rise, the ideas and implementation betray spiritual anxiety masked by representational imagery. The entire viewing process is presented as a form of perpetual seeking by plunging into meaningful chaos and social muddles, not by alienating them or leaving them behind. And these works challenge my emotional reflexes and my capacities of response. It reminds me of the sheer propagation of metaphors that makes it impossible to not care for the present and past anew and maybe, that the pretense of realism depends on it being perpetually in the past as much as it draws enduring presence from desires still unfulfilled. Or maybe, these are images simply put together to render consciousness comprehensible.

(Few selected works of Upendranath T R from his exhibition "90-09")
(Click on the image for a larger preview)