Updated: Apr 5, 2020
“In my paintings, I try to transform myself into the things that I paint, whether it is the radiant light or the darkest shadows. I surrender to the speed of the running deer or to the calmness, action or repose of the environment. I try to surrender to the object, whatever it may be, living, still or moving, and in this attempt, I feel the impulse of an eternal joy”– Abani Sen From Saffronart
If I were to ask you what is darkness you would probably say that it is an absence of light and you would be totally correct. A shadow is created when an opaque object blocks or obstructs photons, not letting light pass through it. But to an artist, the darkness is as much an entity as light itself is. In the hands of a master artist such as Abani Sen, the darkness and the shadows tend to get a life of their own. They are as real as light is. In the physical world, light can be measured and dissected by scientific instruments but in the surreal world of visual art, darkness is as much an entity as light is.
In this piece that I call ‘escape’ by Abani Sen, I am taken aback by the ‘darkness’. How it mixes and melds with the light to create a mesmerising portrait. The world inhabited by the subjects is a dark, inky and unlit place plunged in perpetual twilight. Though the landscape is clearly discernible from the sky, the darkness perpetuates everything, the sky, the sun, the land and the grass.The darkness is like an overlay over the entire landscape reminiscent of the times in which the artist existed, a post-independent India, the ’50s and ’60s. It was quite a different place with tremendous internal turmoil. The socialist mixed economy was hardly a success and growth rate in the country was quite stagnant. This painting has flavour which almost mirrors the general sentiment of those very times.
The most striking element of the ambience in the painting is the red distorted sun. Like a dystopian dream the awe-inspiring and life-giving sun is replaced by cruel strokes of red and tangerine. The hazy, warped, contorted and twisted sun invokes a sense of despair and anguish in me. Elements, that would otherwise usually and ordinarily impetrate happiness and joy, such as a placid lake, blue skies and a carpet of green, have been turned sinister and heavy with the use of dark tones.
But alas, it is the central human like figurines that steal the attention. The artist has masterfully captured motion and emotion in those figurines. Going from left to right one sees 6 headless figurines reaching out towards something far out of reach and unseen. The sense I get is that of trapped human souls, trapped in the material world, trapped under the weight of their own desires and wants and the ambience represents the futility of those desires and the futility of the material world.
All the light that exists in this painting has been awarded to those figurines. The glowing figures represent the light that exists within every sentient being, that least understood thing that many call consciousness. Trapped in the material universe we reach out, never fully understanding what is it that we are reaching out for. Most of us look and search for something everyday, every moment, without ever realising or knowing what is it that we are looking for. There exists a deep yearning in most of us, but what is it that we yearn for? Even with all the materialistic satisfactions in the world the human soul feels empty and incomplete, and thus I feel, for its abject futility, the material universe is represented by the darkness that exists all around the figurines. And the headless figurines, I think, represents every one of us and our society, perpetually reaching out towards something larger, something unknown, something un-understood, something obscure, something undefined, something un-ascertained. Though the bigger question is Why does one reach out in the first place?
Abani Sen was truly a master. How I wish I could watch him, talk to him, ask him questions that wander my mind. But alas, he left the material universe in CE 1972. This painting is a masterpiece which, to me, is a snapshot of humanity’s struggle, struggle to come to grip with that great unknown that lies far beyond.