Abir Karmakar is an artist of the fraught interval. He has measured it in various ways in his previous bodies of work: as the brief emptiness between exit and entry in the lamplit glow of a room; as the pause between one flamboyant, seductive act and the next in a masquerade of androgynous selves; as the threshold state at which an individual stands besieged by demons, uncertain whether to retreat into enclosure or escape into the open; or as the aftermath of mingled pleasure and regret following transports of passion, surrender or self-revelation. In ‘Room, Interrupted in Passage’, which comprises two video works and a suite of 30 paintings, Karmakar returns to the interior spaces that exercise a particular fascination over him: the bedroom, the bathroom and the hotel room, each a space of transient intimacy, each a repository of private and even secret experience that is rendered curiously, awkwardly public through the gesture of being imaged in a painting.
As though caught in an offguard moment, interrupted in passage, these rooms are obliged to cast up the mysteries they encode in a pattern of clues and traces; to their credit and our surprise, they resist the probing imagination. In the gap between what we see and how we interpret it, which the artist dramatises, we discover the psychological shadings and subtle moral slippages that define us as viewers.
In Karmakar’s video work, ‘A Long Whisper’, a solid figure dissolves into shadows and phantoms, imprints itself on a curtain in segments, striations. Half-substance, half-illusion, this creature of transitions touches, barely settles on, and fades across the breeze-quickened waver of cloth. The artist adopts an economy of means here, his palette tending towards monochrome, the austere grammar of the work parsed from the movements made by the figure, its multiple iterations, and the curtain. In his second video work, ‘Shadows of Distressing Dreams’, the artist brings together four protagonists, none of them actors, to play their part in an involuntary, unscripted, awkward choreography of sleep, dream, nightmare and wakefulness. Here, too, Karmakar’s approach is a quintessentially painterly one, as numerous avatars of these four figures follow one another on the screen, in successive superimpositions. The cinematic techniques of fade, dissolve and super take the place of the strategies of glazing and scumbling, and the play of half-glimpsed pentimenti beneath the picture surface. Abir Karmakar’s refusal to give up his accomplished painterliness is remarkable, at a time when painting has begun to enjoy a global resurgence, but through idioms that prize an episodic, fragmentary and unfinished gesturality over technical finesse and compositional virtuosity.
[extract from ‘Fait Accompli’, an essay by Ranjit Hoskote on the artist’s recent works]