Friday, 4 May 2018

'Imaginary' landscapes on location

For long I have been saying that I dont consider myself an impressionist. And I also feel that the rebellion of impressionism is long past its ' best before' date.
But it is still a somewhat relevant in terms of landscape painting.

En plein air has its own charms. The ardent followers impressionists even today will swear by the rules of catching colour and light etc. Some others, who are evolved into other serious art forms, consider it as a study to go back to sometimes.
I have said all this many times. But I too, go quite frequently to paint on locale in Himalayas and all the way down to hill stations in Niligiri mountains. And I often get asked that if I am soagainst tradition , then why I want to paint on location at all! The normal answer in such cases, by many who are not traditionalists or those who paint landscape as study, is somewhat on the lines of, helping improving the 'serious' studio work. And I too agree with that.

Having said that, for me personally, especially in last couple of years, there is another need behind this effort. The effort and stress behind all this travelling has one aspect; that of memories, which for me, is more important than study or fun. The on location painting in my case is seldom at par with my studio work. The large chunk of my on location body of work seems rather unfinished or hurried. The size too is limited in terms of carrying capacity of my body and luggage. In studio, the size limit of artwork, is seldom so small.

Still last couple of years and maybe bit earlier than that I started moving away from reality, in terms of not just minimalist approach but in terms of existence of a place. Many of my viewers recently have seen, that not only my subjects and themes of landscapes are veering away from reality, the places in those are not real either. They are reminders of some places I visited and maybe even dreamt. And in studio with or without reference photos, I just paint that imagery which comes to my mind.

On location painting, seldom affords you the freedom to paint dreams :-).
Photos you started to work with as reference, can be kept away half way through the painting, but you cannot move away the mountains in front. But then I don't think that not being able to move the mountains and river is a problem. Rather sometimes it acts as a grounding factor, so my work remains in the realm of reality and doesn't go too surrealistic! The imagined landscapes gives one a freedom, to concentrate on composition a lot more that a realistic depiction or impressionist derivative of the scene in front. While with photos it is easier to just leave the source behind, it also might make the painted scene look improbable to exist.

That problem is not there, when you paint imagined landscape on location. And I am not saying this like some traditional painters who say about 'taking what you want' from the scene and leave what is 'not needed'. That is quite a cliche.
My attempt is to paint a composition which is somewhat like the scene I am sitting in front of. The composition may have been already lingering for days and the location was a perfect fit! View it only a base and paint whatever composition you wish to. It may seem like some abstract painter who claims nature as her inspiration. But it is not. The basic framework of the composition is similar to that scene. The colour palate too, may depend on that location. 

But I paint what I will paint. The scene is not ' a reality inspiring' me to paint an impression. But just a ground on which I have to keep my feet before flying and keep coming back in between . To rest maybe and more to.....keep my landscape grounded on the land!

Friday, 26 February 2016

"Coming back" to landscape

In the practitioners of landscape as an art form and especially in watercolour media, there are two types of painters. No, I am not talking here of other classifications, we have discussed before. Like, amateur and a professional . But those who are at home with landscape and watercolour; those who paint in this genre all the time. And those who paint this as a thing to paint, as a study; to continue what they learnt and enjoyed once.

The first type of painters of landscape are usually clear about their aims and needs. They may be utterly confused about techniques and materials, like all painters are in some way. But there is clarity and sense of purpose in their painting, They may be painting to sell, but they are clear about it!

The other type is one which I am curious about. Why they go and paint on locale landscapes. Yes. This kind of painter usually insists on on locale work. The full time landscape painter has usually no qualms about traditions. Many are quite at home while painting from photos and memories. But the painters of other representational/ contemporary art forms, when they 'return' to landscape, I personally find them confused. First mostly they still think of landscape as a 'study',which was submission topic in early years of art school. They still like it, but now 'maturity' has taken them to more serious stuff. So they paint landscape , totally split inside. Some feel like a grown up playing a kindergarten play. And they are not to be blamed. The whole conditioning they get towards landscape, the buck stops there!

Still some come 'back' to landscape painting . Insisting on location tradition and age old watercolour techniques as sacrosanct. Their 'maturity' does not make them see the truth that those 'traditions' were okay while really 'studying' the landscape. So I have seen what they paint is completely out of sync not only current trends in landscape, which full timers have brought about with their efforts, but also out of sync with their own mature level of painting achieved in their full time genre.

And it also brings in another level of guilt. Apart from doing 'study' work , they also find themselves inept in comparison to others. And blame is put on lack of practice! And in rare 'thinking' types, blame goes to the art form he practices full time. And his usual media of choice, which is not watercolour anymore. All that creates clouds in thinking and reasoning.

But all that is wrong blame game. It is the 'going back to study' feeling that is the culprit. When a person matures in real life, she matures all round. Not just in walk and talk and eating habits but in dressing, behaviour and most importantly thinking. A mature artist, who is a abstract painter now, should not 'go back' while painting lad]landscape. If she goes back, her landscapes are also doing that with her. In some measure, he dragging himself back to his student level!

So, whats the solution?. As far as I can see, while observing them; it is simple. Stop the 'study'! Rather bring the understanding you have come to, in your 'major subject', into your landscape. Bring in the sense of composition you have gained, an abstract artist, into the landscape. Bring in the feeling you try to capture, in portraiture, into the landscape. Bring in the experimental streak of a contemporary artist, to your landscapes.

All will benefit. He will as an artist, with his 'major subject ' also getting a bit of help with these experiments. Other full time landscape painters will be helped, while observing a non representational artist, tackling an art form like landscape. And finally my dear landscape, as an art form will also be better off!

Sunday, 20 December 2015

What is 'not' a contemporary landscape?

Now a days we find many skillful watercolour landscape painters calling themselves 'contemporary'. Many other genres also see this trend. Calling oneself 'contemporary' is laudable aim. But it become a little laughable for a few, who are actually contemporary in their art. So the reason to discuss this.

Art many times does not go by the dictionary meaning, which defines contemporary as that of current times. A date on a landscape by default does not define it as contemporary even if it is painted today! Nor it is decided if the artist is young or not. Contemporary , though not exactly defined and assumed to be non academic, need not be abstract most of the times. An artist with contemporary outlook will not be a continuation of the past traditions, realistic or abstract, in any manner what so ever. Any manner means... style, subject or composition... and  also in 'thought'.

A landscape artist is seldom contemporary. Many assume painting cityscapes make them contemporary. Nothing can be farther from the truth. He/ she should be first, not a follower of any school of landscape nor any past master artist who has since himself became a school. The master may have been a contemporary but surely his followers are not. A contemporary landscape painter will not be in awe of any master painter , at a risk of being labeled 'rebel or irreverent'.

Then as far as style is concerned, contemporary landscape may be a representational but definitely not 'academic' or as i said earlier 'following any school/ method/ tradition'. After advent of photography it should have been the landscape, which changed most. But sadly it seems it has changed the least. Harping on traditions of impressionists, and purity of watercolour methods, landscape painters have stuck in a time wrap. And sadly few of them delude themselves as contemporary by way of recognition they have achieved all over. Most of city landscape painters still assume painting monuments and heritage, colonial architecture of the city, as prime aim of the landscape/ cityscape. How many aim to paint modern surroundings?

And painting modern locales will not suffice too. The technique and skill having primacy and beautiful depiction of the scene is the aim; then rest assured it is traditional landscape of a modern scene. Contemporary landscape if not thought provoking, should at least make a comment on modern life which goes with modern city. Even villages are not modern. But we in India still go after the age old ideas of beautiful village scenes of bullock carts as the thing to paint in a landscape. If a modern city scene of Mumbai seems languid like that of era of British raj, then how it is contemporary? Maximum thinking is done in terms of skill and rendering and at the most capturing the light... skillfully. Just like those from last century.The stress, the rush and madness or the comforts of the modern life, seldom seen influencing the air and light of the landscape.I am not saying that painting all out 'conceptual' art is a must. But landscape has to change for it to be called contemporary.

If the composition of the landscape still adheres to the rules formed in calm quiet life of eighteenth century, like rule of thirds, and center of interest, how it will ever show the chaos we live in? We walk the street talking on mobile and chatting on whats app and then paint nostalgic pretty pictures the way artist who used to send post cards would have painted? And mind you, they are not even dreamy landscape. They are not some thought inducing Utopias, but plain outdated postcards.

Any extension of the past, and supplement to the original is just that. A part of tradition. And when landscape painter who is out and out traditional, calls himself as 'contemporary' who is to be blamed if he sees others smiling or smirking?

Monday, 25 May 2015

What is this 'imagination'?

The basic quality that will differentiate 'normal' realistic landscape painter and one who has broken the frame, is imagination. All discussion about thought process will come to nothing, if painter lacks the imagination. Now let us understand what we mean by imagination. ( Those who have it need not read further). It is not only visualization. Visualization is more in the realm of illustrating or depicting. What you have seen before or based on your previous visual stimuli, you can 'recreate' a picture which provides visual idea to the viewer. And in this exercise reality is the boundary. What you visualize should seem 'real'; not just plausible but also possible. A skillful landscape artist may visualize well. He/she may be a better painter than one who can just reproduce. Painter who reproduces from the spot or photo, may even deviate from the scene, yet she is dependent on the source for material. In many our previous discussions, we have gone in various facets of basic copy vs inspired deviations. All said; they all are still interpretations.

Visualizing goes a step further but still it remains somewhat inside realm of depiction . And painter who visualizes a scene need not and should not keep anything unsaid. i.e. to imagination. and we all say this often " don’t consider your viewers as fools, they have got some imagination!" Well said. It is quite obvious and taken for granted quality, in viewer of abstract and conceptual art. And this 'required' quality of the audience of those genres, give them somewhat exalted status of serious and evolved genres? Where did landscape go wrong? Or is still going wrong?

First, though many landscape painters in India do talk about poetic quality and lyrical feel to their works, (and matching Indian poets in praising each others like in kavi sammelans) they do show evident lack of imagination. They are like 'tukbands' who revel only in wordplay.. the real quality of poet is absent....that of imagination. I am not talking of landscapes of Mars or some fantasy world. Please don’t misunderstand. Imagination which we expect on the part of viewer, will merit its existence, only when artist shows them in her paintings. And this imagination is of all things out of area of depiction n skill. Dazzling and creating awe/ questions, about brushwork n technique is not challenging his imagination. The viewer will get dazzled this way, entirely due to his lack of knowledge of this field or her lack of exposure to similar other paintings. Few times after he has seen such works, there is nothing to imagine.. study may be, but surely nothing to imagine.

So what is this imagination? Try to imagine! It may be about radical composition or play of shapes n forms. It can also be of impossible angel; impossible at least in normal ways. Or while taking help of known realist forms and objects, showing a rebellious way of expression. Rebellious not only in choice of material, colors and subjects, but also in touching many of boundaries. Either in minimal rendering, distortion or simplifying and still making it mystical etc etc. But imagination does not include imagining someone's thinking; and definitely not guessing someone's skill n technique. That may be an attempt to copy or 'get inspired' or at best reverse engineering. But not imagination! Imagination comes out of your own inner journey yet remains plausible for others to think; as we are after all realistic painters!

Still if you are not able to fathom what I am blabbering about, then you may not have that quality. And yes. All of us, don’t have that ability. All adults. Children have that by default. But in growing up we lose that somewhere on the way. And that made this Marathi line famous... to preserve the childhood inside in adult life, is the motto of a poet :-)

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Spontaneous and casual

While painting on location, i have been watching fellow watercolour painters. All on locale painters have an ideal, or many idols. And in the awe of the idol or following his/her ideals, one develops a way of painting.
I am not talking here or visual composition nor skills and techniques. It is the way or whole action part of painting. And in that, artist yearns for that fleeting quality of spontaneity. One sees other senior artists, painting with gusto and some, as if they are in trance...lost in their own inner worlds. They have heard stories or anecdotes, of talented geniuses of finishing a painting with a dab or careless splash! And so there is a yearning to paint something which will be spontaneous!

And here lies a question. Why is that? This longing for that celebrated spontaneity? Why pine for that touch which is called careless yet talented? And i see that yearning, in many painters who have not 'that' in them and still long for it. Hence i will like to warn them here. No intention of being a teacher or guide et el. Just that like various levels of skills and talents, are part of reasons, in creation of different types of landscapes, they make different types of artists too! Spontaneity cannot be cultivated. It is either there or it is not. And i also see painters mixing up spontaneity with talent. It is a type of talent, a grace, but there are many different talents!

Why this warning; one may ask. Because it brings out something, which looks like spontaneous but it is actually something else. Casual! In that yearning for a dash, i have seen many artists who are blessed with many other talents, messing it up. Some are having enormous patience and dogged perseverance, but they run after that spontaneous splash! And some are more of thinkers, who will be able to think something new, after observing the locale for a good amount of time... will rush through to compete! One drops one's individual approach and then what he/she thinks as spontaneous is halfhearted messed up speed work or plain casual. He gives a unwanted 'bold' wash which is not 'his'. Or she will paint casual dots and dashes, which may look effortless to herself, but are completely thoughtless.

On a subconscious level, certain artists think in splashy way. His 'vision' , which we have been discussing, is bold on all fronts. He or she may be incapable of meticulous built up work for all we know! Spontaneity excludes thinking on conscious level. Even the thinking, that i will paint this in a spontaneous way, is not there. Any dash, or a dot , which is not coming from painter's individuality will be obviously 'not thought'. Or worse... foolish.

Only thinking here, which he/she was required to do was, is this dash/dab/splash/wash is coming from within or being forced/ put on? It is better to think for those precious milliseconds, before each dot/dash than to go astray!

Friday, 22 August 2014

Need of going to any outdoor location

For a long while, ever since I became serious about on location landscape, one question was always back of the mind. WHY? Why we go to any location, rather than paint in studio from photos or plain imagination? Or memory? Is this insistence due to blind following of impressionists?

Not entirely, though it has a part. Impressionists revolutionized art world, but after some time, revolution stagnates in being establishment. Like communists! So it has been a while that landscape painters, especially in India, have not questioned themselves, on the need or compulsion of going  to a location. And irony is, even the contemporary artist, who look down upon old genres like landscape, insist that going to a spot is a 'must'. So let us ask, why we go to a certain spot and why that particular spot.

Many artists and groups of landscape artists, who go regularly for on location painting, some even weekly, think a lot about bringing in variety while choosing the spots.'Lets go to some hill station; enough of these sea shores'... etc etc. It brings different challenges and questions as a study of different scenes' flora n fauna; and change of architecture style with in city. Fair enough for a beginner. But what about people who have worked for years? Those artists, who are full timers, giving full dedication to landscape; do they also think on these lines? May be not. Yet they do seek different scenes and locations, to bring about variety and induce experiment.

So the question becomes clear. The variety and experiment depend on change of spot or change of vision of the artist? When I travel thousands of miles away from my big city Mumbai, to Himalayas, am I looking for that change in my work in that location? Or going to a river bank will change my work and make it very radically different from my painting of a city road? So what is the creativity of an artist? All these years I have been firm on one principle. That landscape is not an imitation of the nature or architecture . It is an interpretation, borne out of artist's inner search and vision she has acquired over the years of thinking. In essence, the scene in front is just a reference from which the artist has to deviate 'asap' and create her own visual.

But if this need of finding different and suitable locations is justified for the sake of bringing about change and new impetus, then what is all the talk of vision and inner search was about? Is it not the artist's yearning to create his own visual world away from the one already around? 

I think answer is somewhere in the middle.

Go around the world. Not to bring change, but for just refreshing your vision. How I will paint this particular scene, which will not only show some new thought in comparison to my previous works, but also nothing like I have seen before, of this locale by any other artist!

And more importantly, when I am a somewhat prolific painter in water colours and am going to stay at one location for a long time... what new inputs I have brought in my way of thinking? Mind you, way of thinking and vision. Common refrain, of working for few continuous days, of polishing the skills, does not apply to full timers. It should not apply to them as they must be painting full time; hence their skills are already polished and not rusted obviously!

So go around I will say.... keeping in mind that search is always inside and in thoughts. What we see outside is just a reference point!


After a long gap, i am back. And this article will be different as i am in mood to share some questions before me. Am not asking for answers or advice but seeking to know if you also get these doubts in your thoughts and while you observe art world in general.

Practically everyday a painting happens. And that may be the case with many of us. Landscape painters who paint on a very regular basis; by regular i mean nearly daily and that too actual painting not other applied stuff, would have had these doubts.

What do i paint so that i don,t repeat myself even remotely?

Those who might have read this blog fully and thoroughly, will know that my philosophy about imitation. To repeat, i hate anyone copying other artists, alive or dead. But i detest any artist copying himself. And by copying i don't mean copying or repeating a particular work many times. Those who repeat or claim to be able to repeat, are not artist at all.

So how do i guard against repeating myself?

The more 'serious' art forms; i say this with irony and sadness that we landscape painters have made it a not-so-serious art form; can take shield behind the fact that those are non representational art forms. The abstract artist, though it is obvious to viewer, will be happy with little changes to a masters visual language and create his/her own. A conceptual artist may use a same thought or concept used by others and put it forward in a different way of expression and call it original, completely ignoring the fact that concept is real soul of that art not expression of it!

But things are not so easy for a experimental landscape artist; the one who doesn't want to repeat.
Each and every type of building, road, city or forest has been painted. And for many artists, especially in India who 'follow' schools of landscape painting, the expression part is also taken care of. So a house under a tree by the road or a heritage monument in a city for that matter, are painted by numerous artists in all ways possible in their each school. So if anyone wants to keep doing that and earn a living, like a clerk does in an office, doing same job for years, then it is his /her wish.
My question is for those who don't want to do that?

How does one artist create original landscape each time? Original in all sense, fulfilling all the parameters which we have discussed before?

I don't have a clear answer. Rather can i say, that it is not possible to put it in words? But one thing is certain. If the artist is aware and even asks himself before he decides to paint something; Am i repeating myself? Have i done this before. And if he is honest, ruthless to herself like she is to others; then he/she will find the answer without putting it into words.
But she has to remember, not to give justifications. Artist even when he makes himself aware will reason it out with oneself. Will justify that this time she will use different colours or different angle or different composition! So even different paper size! Each one of us thinks himself/herself to be an artist who never copies. We even lie to oneself!

So doubt. Keep doubting about your creative thought process and execution part too. Keep doubting if this work will actually come out as original if i execute it as per my plan? And on larger time frame, keep doubting if i am doing the same stuff again and again. Keep questioning oneself if i am a slave to a certain style/ method / subject etc.

An honest and sincere doubt about one's own work, like we doubt others' work very honestly, will stop you from any kind pf repetition. But remember, honesty and sincerity is the key!