As part of the long process of ‘moving myself on’ from an active practical engagement in deep mapping, I am trying to clarify the alignments between my ‘academic’ thinking over the last few years and what I might now do in the studio.
Primarily, of course, this process requires looking at and thinking about different types of painting. In the case of recent Indian painters, often with the help of clues drawn from Ocavio Paz. Oddly, his two texts on Marcel Duchamp – The Castle of Purity and Water Writes Always in Plural – have been very helpful in this respect, serving both to illuminate and counterbalance to my current interest in the work of Arpita Singh, Gulammohammed Sheikh, and others. I’ve found Paz’s highly perceptive reading of Duchamp’s ‘anti-retinal’ approach helps me to link back to, and rethink, the work of the narrative painters I felt close to as a student and into my early teaching career. I find Paz’s sense of Duchamp’s supposed atheism, informed by his own studies of Indian thought, particularly helpful. Paz suggests that to speak of Duchamp’s ‘atheism’ is only appropriate if we insist of thinking “in the context of the Judeo-Christian monotheistic concept of God” particularly significant. Just as I do Gulammohammed Sheikh’s ‘secular’ referencing of a whole constellation of spiritual figures from different traditions in his City, Kaavad and Other Works.
I have also been reading Timothy Hyman’s 2003 book Sienese Painting: The Art of a City-Republic (1278-1477), which is dedicated to a writer and a painter. The painter is Gulammohammed Sheikh, whose work I referred to in my last post. Hyman concludes the book by stressing the importance of Sienese painting to what might be called ‘postmodern narrative painting’, illustrated by the work of three painters of the generation that proceeded my own: Bhupen Khakhar, R. B. Kitaj, and Ken Kiff. It is not difficult for anyone familiar with these artists, or with Sheikh’s Returning Home After a Long Absence to see why this is link to Sienese painting is wholly appropriate. These artists are, to borrow Hyman’s words, preoccupied with the visual language of “an urban vernacular”. But there’s something else there, particularly in the synergies between later Sienese painting and Ken Kiff’s work, that Hyman passes over.
My own preoccupation at present is not with the work of the Lorenzetti brothers, Sassetta (much as I love his work), and so on, but with a work by the Master of the Osservanza, his hallucinatory St Anthony Tempter by a Demon in the Shape of a Woman (c. 1440). It’s here I see a telling proximity with Ken Kiff’s long-standing dialogue with Jungian thought.
In this context, I have just finished a ‘secular’ reworking of the Master of the Osservanza (in the Indian style), which provisionally be called: An Old Man Surprised by His Anima.