Shadows of the Real

Entwined in the very roots of being are the impalpable sources of sensations. The body, is a tangible instrument that experiences and breaks the opaqueness of the world. The self too has a body, its exterior dimension, its surface, a biological anchor, and then a mind, its interior dimension, the invisible infinite space, its abstract force, treasurer of indelible impressions, innumerable associations and memories. The mind and body or the inside – outside dialogue is an ongoing one, always undergoing transformation.

The antithetical structure of the world intrigues G.R. Iranna because of the inherent dualities that govern life. Although it is rather difficult to comprehend why, if life is movement, one seeks stillness, if a journey, one seeks destination and if transit, one desires permanence, it does appear that just as opposing forces aim at unity, it is this negotiation between the body and the mind, surface and depth, the past and present that engage Iranna’s sensibilities. The artist sees the self through confusion, contradictions, narcissism, caught up in things, front and back, a past and future and it is from this mingled feeling of pain and pleasure that Iranna’s art flows. His recent paintings reflect forms and images that belong to an agrarian environment – the earth space, its energy, agricultural tools, the ox, all recurrent in his art. They do not reflect the urban industrial city where he lives and works now. Iranna belongs to the village of Sindgi in Bijapur, to an ancestry of farmers. Early in his life, he was religiously and culturally oriented to the Lingayat sect as a believer in Lord Shiva. He moved from attending a Sarangmath in Singdi to a Fine Art School in Gulbarga and from there to Delhi, to attend the Master’s Program in painting at College of Art. Amidst the urban social fabric, the old and new values stood in sharp disparity. The complacency of the past and the challenge of the future equally nourished his life, helping him break frontiers between the visible and the invisible and between secret and knowledge.

G.R. Iranna’s work seems to be conceptually engaged in the dialectics of immobility and transition and these may well be the thoughts that predominantly surface in the art of one who migrates from where he is rooted to where he is temporarily placed. The dim and distant is revived by an intimate contact, while the immediate environment is removed from the here and now.

Iranna draws the world of which he is the center. His paintings are a private landscape illuminated by long drawn recollections, by shadows of the real. Farming and fertility images have an overwhelming presence in his work. As if extolling the earth, his pictorial space transforms into expansive field tracts, muddy ochre and browns, representing the sensuousness of the earth’s body often bathing in yellow sunlight. The plough is the most sensuous tool for Iranna as it splits opens the body of the earth to participate in the regenerative process. It is as the farmer’s son perhaps that he realises the importance of fertility more than others, worshipping both the fertile land and the tools of his livelihood. The opposing energies of procreation have been fused in our traditional images of Shiva and Shakti and the linga and yoni which are strong, potent visual symbols, sacred and ritualized. Iranna draws upon such iconographical source but personalises them. He speaks through himself. As the experiencing self, he appears naked, standing or reclining without moving – still and rooted within his territory, gazing into images that soothe him.

In his earlier works, the self was so monumental and rock-like that it was compressed or fitted into space either through truncation or fragmentation. There was a dislodgment felt by the figure in an undefined space. The recent works seem to represent figure-space reversal, the figure reducing in size and the world in terms of space extending beyond. Even the emblematic tool has become large and psychologically more important than the figure.

A preference for large canvases and tarpaulins highlight a painterly approach, where the pigment itself transforms into a sensual sunstance, swirling to represent the action and the object as well. Using the process of overlaying, Iranna animates the surface with riotous profusion, evoking a range of tactile values. His is a volatile libidinal energy at work that enjoys the carnal presence of the paint as it carries overpowering sensations and the raw feel of the erotic.  It is rather interesting to see how convincingly he articulates the interplay of surface and depth on a two dimensional format. Through colour, he creates visual illuswions of cavities, paint raining on the canvas, the earth opening its mouth or simulating a small cut in the canvas making its dark interior visible, with things sprouting our from within, revealing simultaneously the inside and the outside. This is beautifully achieved in the painting captured in the magic of the nocturnal light where amidst the verticality of the lit candles carefully organised in space, one’s attention is fully drawn to a dense black shape that suggests a mysterious opening to enter into, while the golden flat shape juxtaposed becomes suggestive of its lid. The theatricality of the figure and the object is in its positioning, more often than not creating between them a magnetic pull. One sees a figure placed on the magnified blade of the tool, the sliced pice of which is pushed above and tensely positioned. The static and the moving, the strong and the vulnerable, the soft and the hard, the sharp and the round, the delicate and the coarse are contrary forces meaningfully construed to be felt with the same intensity. Often on a large canvas where everything is hard and outlined, our attention is pulled by the strength of a small blue soft form. Visual equivalents of sound, touch and even taste are articulated and made visible.

In Iranna’s pictorial world, the self acquires an uninhibited, unfeigned presence in a private space, subjectively projected in signs and symbols that carry within them a poignant nostalgia, made sacred in gold and silver. Images imprisoned deep within, as if unknown secrets, surface to seek liberation.

Roobina Karode, Art historian, Critic
September 1998