Simpler times existed in the black and white era. No more than three shades – white, grey and black – elucidated the canvas. Relying on one’s eyesight to spell colour(s) beneath the self-willed tinges of grey was sheer guesswork. Perspectives and debates of tonal balance and their underlying impact were open-ended and varied. The blues could pass as greens, the pinks as reds. Oranges could have been yellows and violets blues. At the end of the day, a difference in opinions was recognised rather welcomingly.
The induction of colours into all things in print and behind screens entered our sophomoric civilisation with jazz. From comics to cover pages of publications, stamps to photographs, and lip-smacking cookery shows to technicolour movies, colour became a part of our social mores naturally. It breezed in with a dominance so high such that its presence felt customary. As if they had never been absent, neither in sight nor on a medium. Monochromatic shades in greyscale that seemed content in their world of a threesome had now a task to attune to umpteen palettes. And permutations and combinations. Fuchsia and magenta are two distinct pinks, as are cyan and turquoise in the ménage of blue. Talk of having to make a choice on the basis of technical differences!
I have a soft corner for black and white monochromes. Especially when they’re composed of photographs or art. I connect with them naturally. Even if the culminating picture is a clump of tangled cables. Or a fractured switchboard. The portrayal of sentiments in a black and white representation feels raw as if it is letting hang a tale. It feels like creators want to entrust their interpretation(s) to the onlooker. Or, they just gave up. The midriff of a black and white portrait is layer-free; there are only two colours on it. Points of views are straightforward for the finer features on canvas have nothing to hide behind. The candidness of a sketch, carved or printed, is undisguised. Vehement and sore. All that there needs to be on canvas is on the canvas. Art for art’s sake. There is no camouflaging one’s illustrations or notions under protective colouring. Expressions, whether facial or arrested from a chawl’s corner, if absolute or abstract, appear vivid making it easy to imagine its backdrop. Its context. Its existence in the larger picture. Starting with a black and white collection to look at, sets a rather sunny precedence for my day.
Last week, I was at the Kochi Muziris Biennale where I chanced upon stills and artworks in black and white. At different venues. Call it a trickery of lighting, the stills’ positioning or the display room’s composition, there was an unadulterated vibe around these. Like a lull of Gustavo Santaolalla in the air. The portraits by Sandesh Bhandare and KR Sunil influenced attachment to cultures and commercial aspects of the Indian households. While the former caked his collection with socio-economic status and the latter challenges of the contemporary, their core fastened to repositioning. In the era of globalisation, in the age of cultural degeneration, and in times of declining arts and crafts.
A peculiarity of Brij Mohan Anand’s works is the use of a pin. A die-hard socialist, his scribbles highlight the fascism trying to penetrate Asia. At the Biennale, his collection is on scratchboards. The base dyed in black ink, Brij Mohan Anand has carved his pictorials with strokes from the sharp end of a pin. A slight touch of the forearms or the elbow, or a mistaken jut on the scratchboard could mean having to start from the pavilion’s end. Or, accept the misprint. As a precaution, Brij Mohan Anand placed a board of sorts in front of the scratchboard to rest his elbow. Despite which, there could be slip(s). A sign that observes he too is human.
There was a bed of stones crowned with a cushioned pillow at one of the Students’ Biennale. Its configuration was a potential lead to the reasoning of karma. Of the unceasing cribbing and moaning. Of futile discrediting and critiquing. Of how we no longer identify our boundaries to put an end to our whining. From the daily traffic to the oh-so-sunny days. From a slapstick response by a colleague to pressuring timelines at work. We find things to be either unfair or offensive. Here is to hoping that we do not live to see a tomorrow delivering us a bed of stones to knit our dreams on. Could this silhouette alternatively be someone’s last bed?
The vicious cycle of karma or the end, once and for all? Rebirth or moving on? Abstract or absolute?