Writing about artThere are many different ways of appreciating a work of art. One may choose to let it remain mysterious and glean from it what one may—perhaps discovering new things with passing time, appre
Clearly this is not an ideal state of affairs. By the end of the discussion, almost all present agreed that some interaction with the artists themselves before the exhibition would be necessary so that the writers could pick the artists’ brains. The problem remains, though, that even while this kind of interaction is necessary for the crucial interchange of ideas between the makers and the perceivers, most of the time, neither the artists nor the writers have the necessary tools in their repertoireto ask or answer the right questions.
While one does not need to be an art historian to write about the fine arts, one must at least understand the basic tools that are at hand if one is to write anything that goes beyond the above mentioned type of pieces that read more like inventories and give people very little idea of the quality of the artworks. Part of this kind of competent art writing comes from understanding that writing about art means being able to describe it accurately, even while there may be an accompanying photograph to help the words come to life.
Unfortunately, describing art is not the easiest of tasks. In addition to having to understandthe techniques that an artist employs (from the vast range of painting, print-making, sculpting, photography and ceramics, to name a few) the writer must also be able to write about the work as vividly as possible, as a first step towards analysing the piece that he or she is referring to. These descriptions must take into account the period in which the artwork was made, the artist’s style, the situation of the piece in regard to the artist’s body of work, references to the artist’s intent (if available), and finally, a nuanced, informed iconographical analysis of the elements of the work itself. Perhaps most importantly, one must also be able to judge, after carefully regarding all the above elements, the competence of the artist both in her technical skills as well as her ability to convey what she might intend.
Two contemporary printmakers are currently on display at the Siddhartha Art Gallery. Both Saurganga Darshandari and Surendra Maharjan received fellowships from the Australian Himalayan Foundation, which enabled them to create the pieces in this exhibition. Both are working in the same medium-etching. It is a printmaking process that involves using different methods such as acid to affect a smooth metal plate so that an “intaglio” or a relief is formed on the surface, which is then printed onto a medium (usually paper) of choice.Yet while the two artists share a medium, their styles are vastly different.
Surendra’s dense, smaller prints are covered in patterns and figures which are hard to interpret given their packed, highly personal symbolism. In the photograph accompanying this piece is an untitled work that is 18.5 by 19.4 inches. It shows a central, seemingly floating, female figure with many breasts and flowing hair who is faced by a lower down figure looking into her naval. This faceless silhouetted figure appears androgynous but could be male. The female figure appears to be playing Cat’s Cradle. Both of these figures are almost contained within three concentric circles.Upon closer examination, it also becomes clear that there is a third figure—that of the seated Buddha as he is traditionally depicted in certain traditions of religious Buddhist iconography. The two smaller figures are placedbetween his lap and his meditating arms. Around these three central figures are darkly coloured tree trunks with entangled branches from which dangle light bulbs—at their roots are fish. Above the figures there is a glowing orb that contains the roots of a tree and the repeating motif of swimming fish.
So, what might this picture mean? There are many different ways of appreciating such a piece. One may choose to let it remain mysterious and glean from it what one may—perhaps discovering new things with passing time, appreciating that art can have meaning outside of what the artist intends. Speaking to Surendra, who while he found it difficult to speak about his own work, helped a great deal in decoding the piece, which for him was a representation of how sexual desire can entrap both the body and the mind. The piece is a representation therefore of a man being pulled downwards towards his physicality due to his desire even while his mind strives upwards—towards a meditative kind of peace. The child’s game of Cat’s Cradle, which involves manipulating a piece of string, is a visual metaphor for the entanglements in the brain when one is lost in one’s own physicality.
Saurganga’s work, in addition to being rather feminine and poetic, is alsosymbolic; laced with repeating motifs that have meaning within her own personal mythology. In the large 19.7 by 39.4 inch piece titled “Rhythmic Life” we see the contemplative figure of a long-haired woman—modeled on the artist herself—who holds erotic figures in her beautiful tresses, her foot dipped in blue tinted flowing water filled with fish. She is seated against a glowing red background; the red sun in the upper left hand corner of the etching. This is a piece that is about movement and stillness, of water, of hair as it grows, falls, and therefore dies; of fish moving beneath a surface of water just as the red blood continues to pulse through our sometimes still bodies.
Both artists connect their well thought out, beautifully executed larger bodies of work with repeating symbols given meaning by their innermost mind’s eye, creating an impression of skill and sophistication that is heartening in two such different, rising young talents. This may be the first major exhibition for both but it is a promising one, assuring us that more will come from these two bright imaginations.