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  The Sacred Space  
 

The canvas is thick with polyglot voices. Images veer into sight, a motif appears as if from no where, tree twigs and profiles of faces press into being. A lot is happening here. In the rimless expanse, as far as the eye can see, amidst a sweep of white, images negotiate the rough opacity, dipping and ascending into the troughs and crests, the flats and floes of these highly textured surfaces. It is hard not be possessed by the atmospheric effects and not to be caught in the whirl of subtexts and dialects. We encounter the fabulous and the mythical, the raw and the subtle, the past and the present as it collides gently on the visibly tactile surfaces. Vasudev beckons you to view the canvas, sink into its lustrous and numinous world, to soak, renew and revive the spirit, within its sacred space.

Vasudev's works have always had an enormous pictorial presence. In the past forty years, this element has predominated his work. In his paintings and his tapestries, and even in his copper relief, the image has held its hypnotic sway over his viewer with its power to evoke deep reverence. His painterly eye has pursued images not just for their artistic value but also for a deeper viewing of life. Perhaps that is why his journey as an artist fascinates us. They collude with our own journey, as we attempt to quest alongside, seeking the very things he seeks. The artist and viewer - bound in a silent bond of sharing.

In the past four decades Vasudev been working on several media simultaneously. He has worked on silk tapestries, copper relief, obsessed and played with the line in his pen and ink drawings and his fondness for the traditional easel and oils has always been evident to those who follow his work closely. He takes to its lavishness easily, working meticulously on form and colour, texture and technique. In his paintings, he moulds and welds like a sculptor, he draws with the sparse cleanness of a good draughtsman and a deep understanding of colour transforms his painting into jewels that gleam like his metal relief. Conversely his tapestries and copper reliefs have the visual texture of an oil painting, transcending the medium to offer rich imagery and narrative.

His early themes the Vriksha or Tree of life and Maithuna are like gregarious folk songs dedicated to love, earthy and ardent, full of the joie de vivre that accompanies such a passionate partaking of the senses. The series called the Tree of Life is suffused with protean imagery where everything is worshipped and loved and everything accepted. Leaf, flower root and earth, animals and even small stray letters of the alphabet, abound as pagan and unfettered offerings to the joyous ritual of life. The colours are rich and mellow, brick reds and ochre, burnt sienna and browns. The early works pulsate with energy and vim, they fete the senses and glorify the very act of seeing.

In the Maithuna series the ideas depicted in Vriksha further evolve into a deeper understanding of love and life. These works primarily focus on union. The coming together of man and woman, the melding of earth and sky, merging of soul and body, in which the concept of union is more philosophical than worldly. It extrapolates to the realm of the spirit and the view of a world that is essentially unified and harmonious, despite its apparent diversity.

In his life as in his art, Vasudev reacts to the underlying dynamics of the visual medium. As a creator of images he responds to it as the manifested product of an intuitive process but equally he responds to the passing unspoken word, the unarticulated idea. While he understands better than most people, the enormous power of the created image to convey thoughts, feelings and also invoke traces and memories, he gives a lot of importance to the blank spaces on his canvas, the pauses and the thresholds which hold the inscrutability of the unknown.

No matter what his media, or his theme, a clear and undiluted artistic voice has been his strength. If his early works are extroverted and spry, his later works are characterised by introspective inner journeys as he delves into the nooks and crannies of memory, dredges the inner canvas of loss and grief and meanders through the desolate streets of the mind. He explores the fine and intricate bonds between people and also between man and his world. In works like The Theatre of Life, the audience is both the subject and the spectator, part of the canvas and outside it. This gives rise to an interesting complexity, for it is always the residual elements in art which sustains our interest and stays with us.

In his series called "He and She" the viewer is treated to a subtle play of relationships. Heads and faces of men and women, sometimes linked by the invisible threads that hold them together in love or a secret connivance of friendship are also sometimes emotionally severed by eyeless gazes even if they are nestling against each other. Irony and intuition define these works. The use of flinty greys, cobalts, indigos and blacks intensify the feeling of alienation and loneliness and the innate paradoxes in human relationships.

In the various ideas and themes he has explored, whether it has been the Tree of Life, Maithuna, He and She, Earthscapes, Rhapsody, Theatre of Life, the underlying and unifying threads have been the premises of truth, harmony and balance. His is a benign world view in which he can view the detritus of the human condition with a detached eye. The world and its contradictions, its pretensions and hubris is redeemed by a gentle wit and irony. His artistic trajectory is devoid of abruptness or sudden detours. He pursues his artistic career with disarming humility. There are no violent changes of heart or ideas and the progression has been steady and continuous.

In his latest series, Rhapsody, there is a muted underpinning of music as if a soft melody is playing beneath the skin of his canvas. The idea of inner melody has prevailed in Vasudev's earlier works too, but in the Rhapsody series, the work resonate with a deep sense of poetry and moves with operatic flourishes as it conjures up visual arias. The ocular is always accompanied by the aural. Rhyme and rhythm, they go together in his canvas as music, art and theatre converge to that centre point or Kendra bindu where all arts become the harmonious expression of a creative whole, That is why, although his themes can be viewed in isolation, with a life of their own, they also form part of a unified body of work with definitive links and patterns. You instantly recognise a Vasudev, identifying the constant refrains that surface and resurface in his works. In doing so, his work acquires a delectable familiarity. Yet, there is always an element of surprise, something new.

In art every detail makes a difference. Vasudev with his meticulous eye for detail makes us look and re-look, finding always something uncharted, something fresh to discover. In this way while the inherent sense of stability is retained, there is an overall feel of spontaneity.

Vasudev has always believed in the importance of collaboration. In his Copper relief, he worked with master carpenter Chandran. In his tapestries he has collaborated with Master weaver Subbarayulu. The tapestries are a tribute to the collaborative effort between the artist and the craftsman. They look like paintings and Vasudev accords the same treatment to them as he does to his paintings or copper. The use of colour and technique, the tonal effects and depths and furrows of relief work lend his tapestries a plasticity we do not usually see in fabric weaves. The silk lends the suppleness and added lustre.

His experience as an art director of progressive Kannada films, his love for literature, theatre and folklore all these aspects have contributed to his work. Sound, colour, words and textures assimilate, layer by layer to form a truly eclectic, finely nuanced body of art. His expansive vision rarely shuts out any other artistic expression and he truly believes in the porosity of artistic expression. "The creative expression and force wells from the same source and all arts influence each other" he reiterates.

His recent works are blithe and playful, suffused with light and colour and are reminiscent of his early Vriksha series. In a sense Vasudev has come full circle. In his new works, by using white textures on white backgrounds he creates illusions of eternity, subsuming his viewer into a seemingly endless space. This is where we see his work today: suffused with verve and vitality, harmony and repose.

I think of Vasudev as an intrepid traveller who chooses to steer his journey inwards, to get down to the source of where it all begins, to explore deep aquifers and listen to the timeless wisdom of the heart's pounding beat. That seems to be one way to explain the luminous bank of inspiration that embraces his life and his art.

- MANJU P PILLAI

 
 
Credits ® Copyright 2008 S.G. Vasudev Arnawaz Vasudev Charities