"Every so often a painter has to destroy painting. Cezanne did it; Picasso did it with Cubism. Then, Pollock busted our idea of a picture to hell. And then, there could be new paintings again."
~ Willem de Kooning, 1940's ~
The 'creation' of 20th-C. Modernism, in the 'Gallery' sense, involved the painterly 'destruction' of outdated visual modes of Realism and Classicism – a feat accomplished in the early decades of the past century by such schools as Cubism, Surrealism, Action painting, Kinetic Art and Op Art. Such artists as Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Picasso and Warhol were fervently promoted by the West as the 'creators' of such 'Modern' Movements. However, the deepest essences of Abstraction lay centuries prior to such movements, in non-western folk art and craft's most ancient, authentic roots – including textile-art, wall-painting, decorative and weaving traditions of the East, Africa and the Oceanic nations. Some 20th-C. Western 'Action' painterly modes, of 'throwing' fresh paint 'spontaneously' onto large urban canvasses from a long distance, had already existed visually for centuries – in ancient eastern and African methodical templates of Batik textiles, stylised totemic wood carvings, wall-murals and decorations done with the fingers, and various other tribal forms of visualisation. Abstraction—as a freer, 'easier', and yet potentially more evolved form of artistic expression—existed, in this sense, many centuries before more formalised Figuration.
Jackson Pollock understood this latent, primeval source of the painterly Abstract, when he said, "I have no fear of making changes and destroying the image, because painting has a life of its own. My pictures don't have any 'beginning' or 'end'. I express energy, motion, inner forces. Every good painter paints what he is." Closer to our current context, the Gurgaon-based 77-year old painter Jagdish Chander Puri conveyed a similar thought to me, when I asked him to describe his manner of Abstraction: "I am depicting Nature in every sense: hills, stones, skies, rocks, water, colours."
Puri has been immersed in his joyful, free-form Indian Abstract painting for over five decades, despite having worked in the corporate sector for most of his life. He has produced 500 striking artworks in vibrant palettes, evoking anthropomorphic and galactic energies with a brooding sense of the mysterious. In his Aquarelle paintings in a small, intimate format of 12 " to 24", it is as if one can 'see through the apparent', into the inner life of the sea, sky, rock, tree and human soul – Prakriti's soul, as it were.
Puri began his journey into abstract water colours in 2005, leaving figurative oil painting behind. He describes his earlier art as "more casual," despite its apparent 'realism' – while his current vivid abstracts are his true, "serious" genre. Puri elaborates: "Art, for me, is Meditation; I paint for my own inner satisfaction. My state of health is because I don't go after wealth."
The 1935-born painter traces the origins of his art to "wandering as a young boy through the hills of Simla, Jammu and Kashmir -- which made me see all the wonders of Nature." Puri has completed a 5-year course in Commercial Art from Simla's Government College of Art in 1956. Puri described to me his unusual transition, from the Corporate to the Artistic, in the following words "Stroke by stroke, and canvas by canvas, I regained my touch... and soon, it seemed I was never away from my Art; that Art was what I was always meant to do. What had started as a pastime in my basement soon became my passionate pursuit – much-appreciated by family, friends and art-lovers."
Describing his muse, Puri says, "nothing but Nature inspires me: it conveys happiness. And I only like bright colours." The benign senior painter's basement studio, in Gurgaon's DLF-1, is scattered with a sheer riot of his Kinetic Action paintings, all scrawled playfully in his favourite watercolour spectrum. These are paintings that are complex in their simplicity, methodical in their freedom. They have, undoubtedly, 'dismantled' the apparent constructs of Realism --- deliberately, in order to 're-create' a higher realm of Abstraction.
Describing his studio as a 'Halwai ki dukan, filled with sweet colours," Puri explains to me the reason for his deep love of the watercolour mode: "I enjoy the uniqueness that only water colour can lend to a painting. Bright, beautiful, transparent colours allow the white of the paper to shine through, making the paintings seemingly glow."
Looking at Puri's uninhibited Batik-like swirls and spiritual splashes of paint, that seem to evoke the playful smudge-art of very small infants, I am reminded of Picasso's wise words: "I re-learnt how to paint from children." To create a mature visual mode of such spontaneity, however, requires disciplined introspection, which is now a daily essential of Puri's existence --- including the regular practice of Yoga and Pranayam.
Most of Puri's mysterious paintings convey abstract nuances of the natural landscape – while some have subtle hints of the human figure and animals in mystical, contemplative repose. All of his artworks bear an illumined quality --- an energy that, at times, verges on hallucinogenic Sci-Fi outer-space visions of distant galaxies. The senior artist has, in a sense, transcended certain visual limits with commendable mastery.
Puri has created an oeuvre of his own, un-influenced by fads and gallery briefings. He humbly claims to have sold around 25 paintings, "by word of mouth", for a modest price, allowing galleries their commissions. He now wants to showcase his art to wider audiences, and has hence created a website where affordable prints of his works—as well as originals—are easily available.
What is very clear to my eyes is Puri's raison d'etre – the experience of joi de vivre, of sheer happiness, that being an artist now gives him, on a daily basis. May Jagdish Puri's galactic journeys in paint reach higher, more mind-spinning and ethereal planes.