Saturday, 5 November 2022

“Sacred Chants”

 The surfaces of Ramesh Thorat's paintings are meticulously constructed of innumerable fine marks, accumulating into expansive fields, auras, and halos. The layering and build up of these repeated marks create a deep and immersive drawing surface, whose radiant bands and shapes are suggestive not only of light and its absence, but also of spatial depth and the emanation of sound, breath, and vapor. The abundant, repetitive marks also recall writing and script in addition to notions of a chant or a mantra. In his fourteenth solo exhibition, the Pune based artist presents an exceptional body of work completed over the last two years. The meticulously prepared black or white grounds impart a sensation of depth with extraordinary mastery, labor, and devotion to exploring the essence of our existence. Thorat carefully marks these surfaces with brush, cloth or roller and in a few pieces, even with coconut coil. Thorat’s canvases can neither be described as paintings nor defined as drawings. It is as if he has divested the canvas of all its painterly associations and returned it to its natural state as cloth from which an image, neither depicted nor delineated, imperceptibly emerges. The shimmering surface entices the spectator towards a veil traced in a concentrated, viscous suspension of rich pigment that dries to a uniformly flat finish with a barely perceptible incidence of randomly distributed pores. Thorat typically immerses himself in one of the larger canvases for several weeks, executing the brush in a slow dance around the canvas, which is laid on the floor, or by bending into it as if in prayer. These are not fashionable gestures toward shamanism, but part of a practical process that has evolved naturally over the years. In his earlier work the marks with which he created patterns on the canvas were composed of minute sacred symbols, repeated like a mantra. In the more recent works, symbols and forms are dissolved and light is released.

The chants in Thorat’s paintings visualizes the movement of breath as mist expanding, contracting, and shimmering as a vocalist offers invocations from different cultures and religions. On approaching the different works the breath of the spectator merges with that of the vocalist, momentarily sharing breath of different cultures. Symbols are taken from rituals and incantations from Maharashtra viz. Gondhal / Jagran, these dramatic narrations of mythological stories and folk legends are repeatedly laced into luminous surfaces, uniting the form and the image into a meditative visual experience. Each painting is built up of delicate webs of pigment on a white field. The differing patterns of markings are composed of words in loosely formed script that remain unknown to the viewer. Thorat makes each minute form so abstract that the word becomes deliberately unintelligible. Here, he brings to light the concept contained in many religious texts that creation began with word. Markings in most of the works extend out from an open center; they undulate upward and outward in all directions, expanding far beyond the limitations of the canvas. Works such as these are particularly powerful in that their dimension becomes irrelevant. In contrast, in the small work, the markings emanate from a single point.

To experience the subtle power of these pieces, one must view them at numerous distances and under different lighting. The process of viewing becomes an experience of unveiling. At each distance, further markings become visible. While some of the pieces have more easily discernible markings, the ones in which yellow lines were placed on white ground become manifestations of pure sunlight. Although these particular works show upon close examination equally minute markings, the yellow color on white makes them ethereal and diffused. While all the titles of the work in this exhibition are enigmatic, these are particularly so as in luminous darkness. As the yellow markings hover into light, it is hard to discern yellow from white. One senses that the sizes of these canvases relate specifically to the head, the upper body, and the whole body. Furthermore, some of the placements of markings within a given work also capture these proportions, adding another layer of interpretation to the viewing experience. Since Thorat sits with the works on the floor in order to create them, they retain a dimension of intimacy regardless of scale. Thorat’s oeuvre embodies a profound quest and spiritual transformation. Going toward an ever unfolding center, these works reflect the very essence of our existence as fluid and intangible, and are about the notion of presence. In his latest works, Thorat seems to create a matrix, like a tartan of experience, a temporary barrier to go toward. It is as if he worked through a whole cycle of transformation beyond the concept of death and then reached another level of existence, another dimension to penetrate. In this exhibition he does not include any direct references to that body of thought. The spiritual source for his artwork seems more inclusive. While confining himself to a precise visual vocabulary, Thorat succeeds in creating remarkable works of art with exceptionally insightful and illuminating experiences of the infinite nature of our existence.

On entering Ramesh Thorat’s studio, one saw what appeared to be a group of monochromes some black, some white, and all square installed in contrasting groups of large and small works. As one drew nearer to several of the paintings, however, one began to discern the presence of spirituality, meticulously transcribed onto the canvas in paint or pigment, where they proliferate like coral. From any distance, the work seems to illustrate perfectly the observation that abstract painting is a form of mysticism. But just as important, Thorat has produced convincing monochrome field paintings that refine and intensify post-painterly abstraction to uncanny new perceptual effect. Even more crucially, at least from the viewer’s point of view, Thorat’s paintings are unabashedly aesthetic, indeed beautiful. Under the auspices of spiritual idealism, these works become formally ideal. Like abstraction, beauty has also been thought to have mystical import, which is, regarded as a mode of transcendence and self-recovery. Thorat’s works restore spiritual feeling to abstract painting, His canvases seem to picture a perceptual epiphany, and the moment that spirit becomes manifest and one realizes that there is a center to existence and to one’s being.

Thorat’s titles make clear as well that he is in pursuit of what has traditionally been called the sublime; for his, beauty is its surface. The physical experience of approaching his paintings, then, is in effect a spiritual experience, that is, a process of initiation and revelation. From a distance they look like blank slates; as one gets closer one sees the more or less clear mandala like, peculiarly dense form embedded in their seemingly amorphous surface; and up close one discovers the intricate, excited, minute detail. The emerging center comes to represent the ritualized concentration necessary for inner illumination. Equally important, from a purely painting point of view, Thorat’s works show a patient perfectionism that seems increasingly rare today and thus all the more admirable.


- Abhijeet Gondkar


Publish in Art Blogazine digital Magazine 2022