I have always been fascinated by images. My fondest memories are of long walks with my mother, gazing at clouds and imagining creatures into existence. The walks have now stopped, but the gazing continues.
My engagement with art, though, has hardly been poetic. I was encouraged to doodle with pencil and dabble in paint, as most children are, going on to copy biology diagrams for my brother at school; so much so that I ended up studying it as a subject in my last years at school. It was here that I endeavoured to transform what was perhaps nothing more than a hobby into a more personal space for self-discovery, reading, visiting galleries, meeting artists, and learning to paint from books and the internet. Yet, I was always a little over scrupulous, carefully constructing images rather than spontaneously conjuring them up. In hindsight, however, it was probably this almost academic concern with representation that somehow allowed me weave together layer-upon-layer of meaning into the painting, though sometimes at the risk of the larger picture.
I enjoy drawing and painting in oils and watercolours and prefer doing portraits in particular, though I have done some landscapes as well, on vacations to the mountains and the backwaters. In my portraits, I am particularly concerned with various issues broadly regarding ‘identity’, both individual and social—ideas not externally manifested, but quietly contained, which I try to explore through the paradoxical relationship between the chaotic forces within and the rational, coherent appearances without. I initially did a lot of ‘live’ portraits and self-portraits, and do so now as well, but prefer to focus on the fundamental, complex expressions.
In one of my last paintings purposefully titled TTYL, I explore the changing nature of social identity in our increasingly gadget-driven age. The painting shows how we are all inextricably caught up in our phones and (virtual) social networks, or rather, an entire way of life. I have tried to capture, in the expressions of the ‘texters’, a loneliness, an emptiness, and a somewhat eerie immersion in their mobile phones. The hands, here, become a metaphor to describe the power equation between the gadget and the user and so does the projected image of the phone on the face. On the left, a girl seductively invites the viewer into the virtual reality while on the right there are various people texting away, presenting the real reality. I have attempted to present a sense of loneliness compounded—that we (use) Facebook and fauxt (fake texting) often not to appear lonely, yet that is what makes us more and more lonely.
All expression is relegated to emoticons as social networking becomes a world unto itself – an imagined community, and in this sense, saps of our identity, turning it into a virtual essence of profile pictures, status updates, and comments. I am also toying with the idea that in this age obsoleteness, if gadgets are becoming passé sooner than one sets eyes on them, so are our relationships.
The painting is however steeped in ambiguity, for I am myself as much an insider as an outsider to this little universe. And if all paintings are supposed to be self-portraits by nature, so is this, but taking on the form of a larger phenomenological portrait.
Images – Saarthak Singh