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Abstract goes expression

Abstract goes expression
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The recent addition to the country’s years long affair is artist Rakesh Bal’s series of abstract paintings and murals. The artist has  been painting since his early 20s. After many years of curating for others,  and making paintings on demand for commercial use Bal, for the first time, showcased his works to the public at a recent exhibition held in the Capital’s Visual Arts Gallery. We got talking to the artist.

Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get into this creative field?
God has been kind to bless me with a creative mind and some artistic skills. I have always been able to express myself through art or architectural design throughout my life. After many years of meeting larger obligations to family interests, I feel fortunate that I have returned to painting as a full time occupation. Since 2008, I have been painting and exploring what I feel deep inside, through a medium that I enjoy passionately.

How would you define your art?

‘Abstract expressionist’. Even in my realistic renderings, the themes of my work have been abstract. Painting real scene is one thing, but sharing images from my being, is my art.

What would you consider your major influences?

The European impressionists and expressionists of the late 19th century (Van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Cezanne, Degas, Gaugi), the abstract expressionists and cubists of the early 20th century (Picasso, Braque, Matisse, Kandinsky), the American art movement of the 1940’ and 50’s (Pollock, de Kooning, Warhol), and the psychedelic art of Peter Max have been major influences.
Being Indian, naturally my palette and thought processes have been moulded by everything I have witnessed since birth and the art of Husain, Raza, Hebbar, Sabawala, Ramkumar, Maity, Sunil Das and Jatin Das are my favourites.

How is abstract paintings different from others?

Since the advent of photography, real life depictions by an artist need something extra, a deeper sharing and expression of the artist’s inner being. This form of painting is broadly known as abstract, though there could be many other ways to describe specific styles. The very word ‘abstract’ means not necessarily representing reality.

Do you believe in this high art - low art distinction? Because according to the definitions - you have dabbled in both.

Art is art, and its distinctions are made by the viewer. One may distinguish between realistic abstract (surrealism, as in my black and white drawing ‘The Quest’ of 1972), and geometric/cubist abstract. My current series may fall in the geometric abstract category.

Initially you were making paintings on demand and now you are showcasing them at art exhibitions. Did that change your perceptions about art?

My perception haven’t changed. They have only been revealed. Painting and design for others was also a challenge, and a rewarding one.

My present journey of self-discovery and exploration of my artistic expression have both satisfaction and self-doubt mixed in equal proportions. But certainly, I am now working with greater commitment and passion than ever before.

What took you so long to showcase your works in public?
It took me several years before I was able to create a series of works consistent with my inner expression, and have the confidence of having a body of work and style I could call my own.

Any moment of inspiration in your career?
Every artist seeks a moment of inspiration that can define his or her art. I once saw a movie about Jackson Pollock Howing, a scene where he is contemplating his next brush stroke and notices paint dripping down from his brush on the canvas on the floor. In the 1940’s, he transformed this accident into an art form. I am waiting for such a memorable moment as well.

Do you think art can be a bridge, for peace? Have you ever faced any criticism that is not art related?

You cannot work without facing some criticism. And by its very nature, abstract art invites cynicism of the average onlooker. Artists by their very nature are peace loving and accommodating beings. Often they express the anguish of true suffering in their works, and in this way may influence some to heed the cry for peace. Hitler was also an artist, though.

What lies next in the pipeline?

My current exhibition has been a major milestone in my journey but I am back to drawing and painting. Some galleries in Delhi are also discussing putting up my works, and hectic days lie ahead.
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