19th june 2k16, Zarina xoxox
So, i’ve never really written about two shows in the same review. i’m trying something new. I don’t want this to be like a compare and contrast, this isn’t because both the artists are south asian either. there’s just something in my mind that makes them sit nicely in relation to each other.
Imran Qureshi in the Barbican curve space, and Bhupen Khakhar @ Tate modern. here we go.
I’ve been painting at the moment. it’s new, Painting is like a whole separate little world from videos or installation, it has its own language and it’s own rationale and history, and i think before that used to scare me. i didn’t want to paint because it felt like an exclusive lil club that i didn’t know the password to get into. there wasn’t a how-to guide, and i was too rigidly focused on how i thought it operated to actually realise that as with all things art related: it operates the way you want it to. You’re always able to re-adjust parameters and conversations and do things on your own terms. (I’m feeling optimistic today, so I think this is true. ask me next week and i might not be so keen to agree with myself here.) But i find that as i paint, i become privy to the beauty or the charms of other paintings. i’m just very caught up at the moment in the romance of painting. i like the quality of paint, you know that like opaque//matte-ness it can sometimes have? i like the way it looks like it might feel, i think? (as i’m writing this, i feel naive and basic, but i don’t really care.)
these two shows sit well together for me, because i have also been caught up at the moment with the idea of flatness. for me, flatness in paintings feels like a very indian peculiarity. When you look at things like the Kalighat paintings and m f hussain’s body of work, even like super old stuff, like mughal miniatures; there’s a happiness in the flatness of it all. Perspective, from my perspective, was a european invention. i don’t think it’s reductive to say that painting in the south asian subcontinent hasn’t really dealt with perspective. for me, that’s not a great loss; we haven’t suffered the oppressive rigidity of having to assume the viewer understands the whole thing, that a painting is a window and we are looking into an-other space and it’s framed and all that. painting feels looser, more comfortable, less confined. it’s like we’ve got the same belt on, but a few holes looser, so there’s room to breathe and sit down without it cutting into you. and while at times, that feels like a drawback that the european world uses to look at painting traditions in the subcontinent as lesser (less developed, less academic/intellectually wholesome, less critically or theoretically of value), i’ve begun to see it as an advantage. painting hasn’t had to assume a complicity in their agenda, or their rationale, or a fluency in their visual dialect. you don’t have to have a BAFA to understand them, because i feel like they’re more open to you and yours.
when i looked at the paintings in the Khakhar show, they didn’t answer me back with attitude, they just replied with a “…. maybe ????” they were more comfortable being Narrative in a completely obscure/undecipherable, and at the same time, wholly explicit way. they put everything on the table, but not in a patronising “let me explain this to u baccha, sit down it won’t be long” kind of way. it was more like they emptied their pockets and i had a nosy around. i wasn’t bored by the labour of trying to decipher them. it didn’t feel too taxing, i didn’t feel left out. i could do it, because they were ultimately, just paintings (again, that’s not reductive). they weren’t aware of the fact they were paintings. they just were. It was such a nice, happy experience. i looked at them and they didn’t stare back at me with contempt or anything. they didn’t really care if i was there, if anything.
the Qureshi show, i found so curious. it was definitely theatrical, like, all blood splatters and low spotlights and tiny teeny little frames. Sometimes i hate little frames, i find them grotesque, having to peer in like a fucking pervert at a peep show. but these were nice. they felt comfortable in their smallness. they drew me in with their smallness. i found i looked harder and with more focus. the paintings themselves felt very well pitched too. i tweeted that they were like a well-balanced meal, but really i mean they had that same quality that looking at and eating a gourmet meal must have. they were spacious and light and well-well-balanced and considered in a way that made me think everything everything was deliberate all the little lines all the little blobs and the little splatters. It was well staged just like a gourmet meal like on Chef’s table. the paintings themselves tbh were all kinda samey, but in a nice familiar way. my tutor once said that he wished he was a dancer, or a musician in an orchestra, or that art was kinda like that. because dancers rehearse their dance, and if something didn’t quite fit or felt awkward or clunky, they go “ok, once again from the top” and they do it again, just slightly differently and hopefully better and less clunky this time. they didn’t feel repetitive, just like something was being worked on or through. like fine-tuning without a definite end point. it was a fresh break i think. it felt cathartic, and i’m very into that at the moment.
the work in both shows felt kinda similar, the same feeling of a looser belt. still a belt, just done up more comfortably, less painfully tight. it was nice, and i’ve said that a lot in this review, and i don’t mean it reductively. i just mean it was an experience i enjoyed. i enjoyed looking at the paintings in both these shows. i enjoyed being in the gallery. at the khakhar show i went round twice because i wanted to properly soak it in and enjoy it properly. neither of them felt tasking or like i was doing work, but they weren’t unchallenging or patronising. it was just a looser belt.