9-15 January 2015 #740

Journeying for art

Gurung’s approach reflects a sensibility that should be welcomed in contemporary Nepali visual culture

The art of the landscape has faded into the backwaters of the Nepali contemporary scene. That’s understandable given how we haven’t seen a whole lot of thought-provoking material in that genre. They certainly exist in their own world of kitsch but at the end of the day if you’ve seen one, you have seen them all.

An exception is artist Dhwoj Gurung, a third year BFA student at Lalit Kala Campus. Gurung was studying Environment Science when he realised his passion for art and switched majors.

With an art practice that is only in its fifth year, Gurung may not be a ‘veteran’, but the sheer volume, quality, and the nuance of visual thoughtfulness in his work belie his fresh entry. Efficient brushwork puts a no-nonsense sensibility in his work, but he defies the norms of conventional art and gives you a dose of visual drama. Every square inch speaks volumes about his enthusiasm.

Consider “Around Kalbhairav” (pic, right). It is an intricate painting full of activities, but everything has a direction and a purpose. You can hear the noise on the street and feel the real brick road at Basantapur as your eyes meander away into the distance of Maruhiti. The “Landscape from Rukum” has magically drifted into place rather than a canvas that is painted on. There is the whimsical and half-formed image of “Dancing Trees” that are still expanding and growing on paper. The washes and dabs of colour in his paintings have a will of their own, trying to break out of their outlines but heeding to an unseen discipline nonetheless.

Carefree as his images are, there’s a threadbare framework holding the chaos together. They say that everything is political; my argument is that within this visual dynamic in Gurung’s work, there is scope to explore subversion. I encourage Gurung to move away from the postcard-ready scenery and take on the grit of reality.

There is a kind of aesthetic of the unfinished in the sweeping gestures of his whirlwind lines and brushwork. Of course, the word ‘unfinished’ is representative of so many facets of Nepali life and history. The funeral pyre scene is poignant in its own cold, matter-of-fact way. The people in it are but hurried strokes that still manage to convey emotion from behind its mask of objective rendering.

His direction comes as little surprise when you learn that he grew up in the valley of Daraundi, under the shadow of Manaslu. However, his life has also been the often repeated artists’ story of “nature inspires but family discourages”. Gurung has taken it all in stride, and with his trusty cycle by his side, has covered an impressive tract of ground all over Nepal, from Nuwakot to ABC circuit to Janabahal.

This exhibition represents but a step in Gurung’s journey. The subject matter could use less of the mundane, but Gurung’s approach reflects a sensibility that should be welcomed in contemporary Nepali visual culture. While others might state that the very genre of watercolour landscape or academic painting is Western and therefore a lost cause, I am not as cynical. There is an earnest quality in the execution of his work that adds a personal narrative to his images. He’s certainly taking the old school road, but building a foundation of trust on the way.

Moreover, in our age of visual saturation through publishing, TV and internet, when you find people still working en plein-air, you have to give them some credit. Supriya Manandhar   Dhwoj Gurung: Journeying for art

11 January to 12 April

Park Gallery, Pulchowk

11am to 5.30pm

Read also:

Art for heart's sake, Stéphane Huët