The first that I remember of Paramjit's works was years ago at Silpi Chakra. The works were in a corner. I have not forgotten this detail. It only goes to show that the compositions had left an impress upon my mind, though I neither knew the painter nor the group which had arranged this collective exhibition. Of this show I cannot recall any other composition, by any other painter. What was it that could have worked its charm on me? - well, it was something akin to a fairy wand hypnosis itself. Not prettiness, but some supernatural fascination, some spell which detained me in its witchery.
And I have continued to feel that, for years, in show after show, the painter has striven to perfection this very spell, the same snare. And it works, has worked, and was not broken despite all conscious devisings. His latest work, which I shall discuss later in this is of a somewhat different genre; it draws upon a different mental (or other similar) chemistry - more nature than supernature.
But let me return to that spell which lasted for years - both in the inspiration of the artist, and for the viewer. How does one explain it, what configuration? It may be, that here was a haunted space, a room of the open air, all, suspense, with nobody there. The absence was a sort of presence. It built up a kind of expectation, of an impending something, of the coming of a spirit, of an apparition though of no weird or unwelcome ghosts.
Thus the surrealism, if that's what the painter practiced unwittingly or with purpose, was completely free of the grotesque, the too macabre, the too fantastical, the too nightmarish. A dream it was but a believable one, one which the conscious mind accepted because it did not appear forced on it. Not too laboured nor too baroque as with its other practitioners. Dali's caprice or eccentricity is lacking here; on the other hand de Chirico, with whom Paramit had been compared certainly also expresses dreams. But there is a difference. Chirico, as far as I can see, is closer to the Belgian Paul Delvaux and he in turn, distantly, to Rene Magritte. For one thing, thematically, as I implied, Paramjit does not superimpose his own obsessions on the composition. He lets his bare theatre, so to say, speak to us by itself. Enact there, what dream you would. Chirico, as well as Delavaux and Magritte, give you the dream's contents, all too ambiguously. Delavaux's 'stage setting' is meticulously arranged - careful pillars, stalking nude figures frozen in sundry attitudes by his magicwand-like brush or pen. The contents of his consciousness are, a memory of the historical past, classical architecture, and some enigmatic forms of Freudian jigsaws. Delvaux's stillness is a different order of stillness than Paramjit's.
Most plastic art has a grain of stillness. The very nature of the medium ensures that. A physical stillness. But there is also the stillness which is the core mood of some works. Here the painter expressly searches for the quality and installs it in his canvas. Paramjit's stillness is the stillness at the heart of stones, of unpeopled spaces, the stillness on the moon. It is quietness, solitude, as sensed by invisible eyes - unobtrusively - from beyond the canvas. The viewer leaves his body and self out, for no sound or murmur must intrude on a sacred corner, from which gravity itself has been reduced to a minimum, if indeed it is not altogether absent.
It is thus that the meteorite hangs unfalling in space. A miracle Indeed. Contemporary art, and especially, such art as Paramjit has been practicing has been a reaching out after the miraculous. It is to recreate in our bone the wonder of the impossible, the improbable, the factually out of the question. But then this is the privilege of the true imagining and creative mind. This goes against the grain of naive realism. Paramjit, as artists will, sets out to surprise us, however unrudely, and thereby to delight the innocent eye.
What I'm trying to get at is at the special quality of Paramjit's vision. It has certainly been a sort of nature-ism with him, but one transformed into a planned garden, a garden only of the mind, of sensibility. Its surrealism is no more than the lyricism which is met with in the formal or, rather, the unfeverish uninflamed, contemplative inner eye. The eye that drinks the horizon, the eye that gloats on natural loveliness. The difference is that Paramjit has not put down for us the overused or blased natural beauties. He has approached the same thing through an oblique reverie. And also, as said above, this created world is free of the human shadow, of anxiety, or what have you. His is simply a paradisiacal inscape reserved, as it were for the spirit to flit about; the composition draws one away from one's self, from individual or collective thought and all such related associations and expectations and agitations. Other painters, other artists create almost similar paradises, I do not deny. But I'm here in search for the distinctness, not the kinship. The distinctness is really, and mainly, in the general simplicity of the composition and in the uncluttered neatness. The whole composition is well groomed, with no odds and ends left. Nothing is left to chance or, perhaps, nothing is made to look as though it is there by chance. Every movement, every blade of grass, the sheet of moonlight and so on are brushed and combed to comeliness. And appearances are important in works of art: in Paramiit's work an effect of disorder and turbulence will be disastrous, the spell will break. Ambadas can afford this whirlpool of random seeming brush strokes, but neither a Paramjit nor a Swaminathan. I'm saying the obvious, a self-evident analogy perhaps. But his is merely to point out the different psychic worlds inhabit, and we with them.
Paramjit's work has no use for overt symbols; no abstruse meaning can be loaded on to it. And, nevertheless, it has an appeal to the subconscious, quite like the one which moon - light has, if not a moonlight sonata. Some art always does, and perhaps always will look on the white goddess to draw its high enough tides - but silent ones, of no sound or fury whatsoever.
Paramjit's whole composition, its effectiveness, is not because of special elements, special configurations, novel and startling realities, but due to the steady focussing of the eyes on the on the commonplace. A commonplace seen through twilight, the soft light, the calm eye. This calm composedness is the essence of the work. No agitation, no superfluous questioning, no puzzles, no excessive reasonings, no bristling-with-experimental-forms or trickeries. This kind of art, then, has (in a manner of speaking) become autonomous, free of the trying and tiring predicaments of gross reality as well as the confusing maelstroms from the usual unconsciousness. It is, in effect the unconscious as also the factual, solid reality sifted and clarified, the disturbing and the distracting elements have been cleaned out. May we, then term it as escapist art? - well certainly, but to my mind that is no black mark. To create an area of peace or prayer is as necessary, as to show the grand and terror filling panorama. In the wide open gorge of a Krishna. Both are separate orders of experience, both equally valid.
To these early and in style, long drawn, compositions the stone is an important accompaniment. It is with this the composition receives its balance, its charisma, its supernature. The device is simple in the extreme, but apt.
The stone hung on the horizon, in sky, is the counterpoint to the general natural formality of the foreground. Some sort of tension, a psychic one, is created by this device. It does not stir us but enjoins on us belief in a form of imaginative salvation, a redemption of sharing in calm, as well as in accepting an event - the unfalling stone - which is beyond the powers of one's ratiocinative consciousness. The stone, the lowest, inert, lifeless seeming substance has not only risen in the sky freed of a cramping gravity but it also detains itself in the blue field of the sky.
Purely compositionally a visual sense is born here - a dialectics for the eye to dote on, to travel from point to point, like a fly; now resting here, now taking off to another location. But in the process of its journeying the whole composition, nevertheless, does not surrender its unity or its wholeness.
In these compositions, Paramjit used cool colours, deep green, marines, others. These graded variations, those shades, are by nature soothing, uncontrastive, unhurting; and they cater to the general mood of repose But no hint is created that anything is lurking in the shadows; it is not a tropical jungle, not a Rousseauish imagination. Rather, it is the lawn to a gentle Shiva to descend for doe eyed creatures to graze upon. Almost naive, in the manner of painting done on glass (painted on trucks or eating places) but not quite; the stone stops all such risk. There is no sentimentalism. It is the kind of stone that which is lifted up like a Govardhana by Krishna.
Here is pure pictoriality, but one of the times; the treatment is abstract, from some secret source of the personality which responds to nature as though in a daze and, nevertheless, with a relevant exactitude.
Through several group shows from 1958 onwards, through pow-wow with nature in Rajpur and Kulu, the painter acquired his life lasting love of colour, slope and stillness. He quickly shed made objects, like vases painter acquired his life lasting love of colour, slope and stillness. He quickly shed made objects, like vases and so on, for that found object, the stone, as if to be the mascot of his compositions. And an early work, "An Evening After Rain", became the hallmark of his decade long later compositions.
Paramjit admits that Sailoz Mookherjea may have influenced him in his love for colour, minus the latter's restlessness and impetuosity. One may say that here is a painter who is non-intellectual but intelligent. A pragmatic touch informs his explorations. He has, as he says, little use for theory, but much for thought as he arises as a contribution to work in process. He certainly intuits his image, but the question whether his style is romantic or nostalgic is very hard to assert or deny. I'm referring to works which he executed before 1975, in the main.
When the 'foreign particle' in his work is removed (I mean the moon stone, as he has done lately) the description of his work as romantic or nostalgic may stand with more reason. In this subsequent work itself he went through a transitional phase. The early work of 1976 was naturalistic, as in "The Ridge" and the "Path" (and I was frankly disconcerted, not because the works of the kind were unappealing, but in that they seemed to cheat one of the superrealism the painter had treated us to, so far). It was a reversion to his early academic period, almost. But he has thankfully come to grow wings of fancy. The works seen in the National Exhibition were certainly 'nature' works but the treatment was eminently sophisticated, adult. The perspective in this work is from some impossible angle and never dead pan. This daring gives his latest style a fresh excitement, but without the enigmatic or dramatic stone to give them company. In this sense he is going it alone; holding our interest even though he has dispensed with what may have been thought to have been the centralizing focus of the stone. To this extent he is a free sky dive, without recourse to the usual devices of dressing up the composition in strangeness or by the usual unknown or unfamiliar factor. Does this make some of his new composition tame, unmetaphysical? - this again is hard to determine one way or the other. A fine sensibility the new work certainly has, a sensuousness skimmed from nature; the painter's considerable experience in handling brush and canvas makes of the apparently commonplace something aesthetically contemporary and consequently acceptable, at least there is nothing make-believe in this kind of 'nature work; the element of distortion is just right - to give a blend of things seen by the unaided eye and the skilful addition to them of optical illusion. Here then is no exaggeration, either towards photographic blandness or towards a severe subjectivity. And thus, within its new genre, this new non-surrealistic composition becomes a mellowing and softening experience. There is certainly more movement in the new work, as in the "Water Under The Trees" and nevertheless, a tranquillity. In still under works, a cloud can play the awesome role of a dagger of lightening. Paramjit's April 1975 show (at Dhoomimal) marked the watershed. The Ridge and the Path were indicative of a thaw, the return to nature pure and simple. To repeat, one had misgivings that the magic had disappeared from his composition; as though it was all too elementary now. But I said this was only an inevitable transitional phase - the caterpillar age before the emergence of the winged moth. This has now happened with his later shows. The last show at Dhoomimal (February 1977) made this clear. Now though the stone has gone, many of the works are not simple naturalism. There is a Turnerish treatment in some of these; in others one is reminded (as in Descending Clouds) of the work of the neo-realist Hopper, the early American painter with his vast amplitude of sky and waving grasses. The Storm has the Turner feel. All these are certainly perfected works though there is an exaggeration in the azure of the former, and a trifle of sentimentalism in the latter with its flowers. "Near The Water and Grass" and are the best of the later works. Paramjit has a feel for grass and the contour of trees. Only whenever the trunks of trees are not well submerged in a sea of grass, or when a tree outline is broken by a particular tree sticking out above its fellows there is failure. In general the painter steers clear of elementary naturalism. The suppression and selection of natural detail makes all the difference in the world between nature imaginatively viewed, and nature copied in its literality.
Surely, in these new works a mysticism or romance of nature is built up by skilful optical or blurred effects.
These works are easy on the eye and also soothing; they do not have the stillness as of the earlier works but they have more of a feel of swaying and gently swinging grasses and branches. There is peace but no lull, no arrest of motion.
In one sense, the painter has foregone the advantages of the occultism of the earlier period to remain simple.
But he has gained in some ways, even if he may have lost in complexity or strangeness. But he has certainly helped art return to one of its primary duties, of delight giving - delight in the simplest way possible though without abandoning the subtlety with which such delight is provided. The guilelessness is welcome. It may not be warranted that all other painters now follow him in his naturalism; but his work is surely a corrective to excessive technical virtuosity, to experimentation as an end to itself and so on. By not trying to be original, the painter in his recent works offers a sound art, although some may well charge him with having diluted it, of giving us middle brow work. Be that as it may Paramjit will have drawn through the instrumentality of his new work many more people to art of art appreciations. This new art is more understandable or more approachable.
Born in 1924 in Miani (now the Punjab province of Pakistan), Keshav Malik was a renowned poet and art critic. He completed his education in Srinagar and served as personal assistant to the Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, from 1947-48. Malik received the Italian and French Government scholarships for art history and studied Renaissance and French art at Florence and the Sorbonne during the 1950s. He also studied at Columbia University from 1954-58. He was an art critic for the Hindustan Times from 1961-72, and then moved on to work for The Times of India from 1977 onwards. Malik curated an exhibition of Indian art The Human Condition, which travelled to Bulgaria, Poland, Belgium and Yugoslavia from 1973-74.
Malik lectured widely on Indian art and poetry, including Europe and South America. He was appointed the first president of the Poetry Society of India in 1984. Some of his most well-known poetry publications are Between Nobodies and Stars (1959), Poems C (1971), Shapes in Peeling Plaster (1985). Apart from publishing 18 volumes of poetry, he also edited six anthologies of English translations of Indian poetry. He was also the editor of Sahitya Akademi's bi-monthly journal in Indian Literature from 1972, fill his retirement in 1984. In 1991, Keshav Malik was awarded the Padma Shri for his contribution to literature and in 2004, was bestowed with the honour of the Fellow of the Lalit Kala Akademi for lifetime contribution. He passed away in June 2014.