Re-covering the aesthetics of the land
If one was to have an emerging landscape in the aftermath of a receding flood in their visual equivalents that is the approximate locus where one could situate Gulshan Hossain's recent canvases showcased in her solo exhibition entitled Reflections of Nature and Life. The artist has decisively launched her recent series from within an easily recognizable relational frame between art and nature. She returns to the land in spite of giving a wide berth to naturalist representational ploys. Thus, paintings (acrylic on canvas) amassed in this exhibition, which is her 17th solo, may be generally defined as a showcasing of abstract landscape and composition.
With that said, one also needs to become aware of two types of paintings on display – one serving as a window to an ensemble of vistas produced with a sense of depth (of field), drawing the viewer into its atmosphere and the other cropping up like a depthless plain – a painterly space staring back at the viewers. Though the first type is small in number, this is where her forte lies. Either ways, the ground she plods is never murky. Her created spaces neither bear the marks of ravages of nature experienced by millions of people in these floodplains in the event of an cataclysmic natural disaster, nor are they conceived as a mirror to the rural landscape. On the contrary, they are filled with a zest for life which emanates from the collective unconscious of this overpopulated land. Therefore the echoes of places, or cues to the landscape, come saturated with a strikingly melodious tenor. Colour and texture play the cardinal role in her visual schema throughout this new series. And one cannot resist the temptation of drawing an analogy with music as colour is commensurable with musicality in this clime.
In the Indian classical tradition musical values are created around the rasas/bhavas or moods/states of mind, which are, in turn, linked to colour values. However, Indianness, or rather situatedness is not what makes her work delectable to the eye as she is neither an artist given to traditionalism, nor someone who is making a sustained effort to generate signifiers loaded with nationalist passion. Hers is a praxis which seemed to have rotated around three key elements in the last five or so years – colour, space and texture.
Mainuddin Khaled, the art critic who wrote the catalogue for this exhibition, takes us back to the mind of one of twentieth century's most celebrated abstractionist, Robart Motherwell, by citing one of his quote to underscore Gulshan's preoccupations: '…painting is therefore the mind realizing itself in colour and space.' Equipped with this adage one may find a foothold in the aestheticized world of this abstractionist who, for the first time, inserted in some of her images recognizable yet diminutive elements – human figures, boats and flowers. They often work in detriment of the abstract ethos she is habituated to plumb.
It also goes against the grain of the musicality she is able to achieve – the aesthticization that goes hand in hand with musicality, here, in Gulshan's clime, is determined by colour which is eloquently projected onto the artistic 'plains' of her canvases. And the drawn elements – when conspicuous and realistic – obviously set her project back. Only in works like Light of Early Morning, an atmospheric take on landscape, and Where are Those River, where the boats and humans are elemental and sketchy, do these insertions add to the equilibrium that the image has attained by segmentation of space and the wash technique Gulashan often applies to simulate the surface of the earth. In fact, with her seemingly facile technique what she has been able to bring to light is soil and its changing patterns in relation to water/river. When the emphasis is on composition only then the self-referential architecture of her flat paintings assumes shape which one encounters in this exhibition in various forms.
To be able to recognize Gulshan's instruments for attaining fluidity and flourish is one way of vindicating her source of retinal currency. Sound of Water – the sprawling landscape painting epitomizes the retinal submersion Gulshan initiates with her works/fondly indulges in. This is where her homage to nature seems closer to the surface she creates. Waiting for a New Day stays within the same register and secures a niche in the annals of created image that tributes nature's creation.
Committed to abstraction Gulshan often slips into other areas of contemplation – a series of portraiture done to explicate the plights of acid victims is a case in point. However, in the oeuvre that makes up her current show, these works seem out of place and also out of context.
The exhibition staged in Athena Gallery of Fine Arts, Dhaka, lasted from January 16 to February 6, 2016.
– DEPART DESK
PHOTO COURTESY: ATHENA GALLERY OF FINE ARTS