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Landscapes of memory

Thiranottam is a part of a Kathakali dance ritual, where the audience is gradually introduced to the performer, who initially peeks out only in bits and sounds from behind a curtain, before emerging in his entirety once the curtain falls or is pushed away. Artist Aji V.N. likens this act to the creative process. Even as one writes, one sees this analogy playing out. At the beginning, there is only an inkling, a hazy illusion of an unformed thought, of what one hopes to create. But it’s slowly towards the end is when the idea becomes clearer and clearer,

Updated: September 26, 2017 20:35 IST

leading one to eventually arrive at the finale – the completed work. “Start the work and follow the demands of the art works. You have to listen to the demands,” states Aji, earnestly harkening to a stream of consciousness technique that permeates his workflow. One gets a strong sense of an active inner life in the artist’s mind even as he explains this course of subconscious meandering with precision and easy clarity. An almost palpable, thriving, pulsating world of inner thoughts and emotions comes alive through the 18 oils on display at Aji’s ongoing solo show ‘New Oils on Canvas’ at Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke.

Created between 2013-2017, these landscapes feel like fleeting visions of countryside that one passes by on their way to some place else. Then again, the detailing is so intricate that it’s hardly ephemeral. They seem to live somewhere between that eternal moment between dreaming and waking up, where everything is crystal clear, yet suffused with imminent haze. The trees here form big fuzzy masses, delicate as cotton candy but porous and finely defined. The branches, Hockney-esque in their distinction, yet without the stark sharpness of wintry or autumnal exiguousness, seem abundant and verdant in a monsoon-like glory. Suddenly, one feels pulled back to that biology class long ago, wondering if these trees could be more deciduous or less coniferous. There might be no definitive answer to that, as they are but figments of the artist’s imagination. An imagination that is rich with mixed, lived history, both personal and general and of both his native Kallissery, where he grew up as also of Rotterdam, which has been home to him for the past two decades.

Art as communion

Aji is clearly in touch with his Malayali roots, proof of which is evident in his analogies as well as his work. Glimpses of Kerala, with its innate coconut trees and backwater beauty makes an appearance, if only briefly, perhaps for fear of “exoticizing it”, in about three paintings. The artist speaks fondly of his native memories, owing his initial interest and pursuit of art to teachers that moulded and encouraged his talents, as also to his own interest in science and physics that helped him understand how things work from scratch. The fact that Aji’s panoramas are created from imagination, but still look real, as if photographed by camera, is enough to give the viewer an understanding of the artist’s ability and knowledge of the subject painted. Aji is quick to add that he is “...more interested in the invisible things...which you cannot paint.” As much as the audience is welcome to view and glean meaning based on their own comprehension, the emphasis is more on the way the work makes you feel. “Art is more like a communion of two minds, than a collaboration,” reflects Aji. Good art most likely stirs something within, that might be difficult to articulate in pen and ink, but can instead be a laudable base for fresh new work of art to spring from.

Aji’s inspiration comes as much from memory as his present. Explaining how our surroundings are ganglions of activity he says, “Whatever happens has many layers of reality,” and when one separates these layers, one can see the multiple realities. “I try to extract my realities,” he adds, addressing those inferences that hold some meaning to him personally. It all percolates perfectly to Aji’s notion of creating work “which you experience”. His paintings then take on a cathartic bearing, where what he paints is the output of an amalgam of his layered realities and interactions with the world outside and its ingestion within.

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