Gimmickry in art is not a new thing. Even renowned artists like MF Hussain resort to publicity stunts. Why then can't Nepali artists resort to some subterfuge? Especially since the level of artistic and aesthetic appreciation among Nepalis is low, a little gimmick here or there is always desirable for this helps draw people to art.
Kiran Manandhar is the one who brought gimmickry into Nepali art, the most well-known one being his action painting-painting while others are writing and reciting poems. But I for one, have tended to look upon such attempts with suspicion for the simple reason that this often turns out to be nothing but a ruse to lifts one's own art into the highbrow category. It was therefore with a fair amount of caution, if not scepticism, that I went through the ongoing exhibition of Ramesh Khanal's paintings, Arupan. In the end, my suspicions seem confirmed.
I have attempted to be thoroughly objective and detached in my assessment of the works of the artist-I make no overtures to the artist, or attempt to know from the artist of the process that led to the creation. Often one can't judge or interpret-especially when it comes to abstract or non-figurative paintings. Yet I endeavour to critique Khanal's collection based on BP Koirala's stories that are on show at the J Art Gallery at Durbar Marg.
As the title of this exhibition itself suggests, all the paintings-most of them are miniature paintings-are abstract in form and, I dare say, content. So no visible form emerges from the melange of predominantly primary colours rendered in swift and easy strokes. Or in the black that is splattered or allowed to flow over the paper. There is a certain similarity in the application of colours in almost all the paintings, and below the transparency of the colour no preliminary sketches are visible. It points to an artistic preference for action paintings, characterised by the direct application of colour without formal conceptualisation, an over formalistic approach.
But action painting entails a spontaneous use of strokes or of any other colour application technique and generally precludes any thought or concept. So, if my reading isn't wrong: How could paintings done in the manner of action paintings be based on stories of BP Koirala? Besides, most of Khanal's paintings are miniatures-unlike the large spaces that action painters prefer to play on till the desired composition is attained.
Since the paintings are putatively based on BP Koirala's stories, the search is for characters, emotions, and themes of BP's stories in these paintings. Do these paintings provide a glimpse into BP's work? No. Forget the postscripts below the painting, even the thematic aspects of BP's stories are lost in the abstraction.
This exhibition highlights the aberration so common in Nepali abstract art. In the name of abstraction, the unimaginable is passed off as art. While the genre does allow for loose interpretation, the tendency of our so-called art critics is to take what artists say at face value, together with the post-modernist definition of art, has contributed to this aberration. These apart, any painting has to show fond indulgence of the artist. Khanal's paintings lack even this indulgence-they appear to be just some strokes delivered in a few minutes.