'Solo Show of Paintings'

Venkatappa Art Gallery, Bangalore

Catalogue Essay

- Hans Varghese Mathews

Ravikumar Kashi's new work is nominally collage: but it solicits the eye as Painting nonetheless. Before going on I should note that I do not restrict the term ""collage"" to the rather narrow range it had in the first half of the century: it long ago worked itself free of the frame and the plane of the picture proper and developed (via Rauschenberg's combines) into the assemblage and the installation, (and onward.) Collage began by contesting Painting: by intruding 'alien' material into the media proper to Painting, so as to arrest and reroute the flow of signs there. But almost a century later Collaging, in its variously evolved manifestations, has become a common — if not the dominant — plastic mode: while Painting has long since lost the pride of place it had. The once subversive practice of collaging has been normal¬ized; but as such, precisely because, it is now a customary practice, it should afford Painting distinct formal opportunities: to introduce its own `mediumic' signs alongside or across — to comple-ment or to contradict — the movement (1) of readymade 'material' signs through collage. (I am going to assume that the formal differences be¬tween working in a medium and working with unconventional materials are tolerably clear at this date: however hard they may be to articulate.)

Kashi paints around or between the signs of collage, one could say: his work attempts to open up certain sorts of space for Painting within the plastic regimes of Collaging. One can see that plainly in the pink motifs that fall along the left of the canvas in Fig.l, (beginning with the shallow arc at top left and ending with the oval at lower center-left.) The way paint is brushed onto and around the magazine clipping there allows the readymade motif set well within it (2) to enter the painted series without disrupting it. But the final effect of this 'entry' — in the plastic functioning of the work as a whole — will not be to convert the readymade sign into a painted one: what I go on to say will, I hope, bring out how the painted signs in the series are in fact slightly 'lifted' out of their medium by the inclusion of the readymade motif, and themselves acquire a tincture of its 'coolness.'(3). And then I hope the reader will also see why a work whose surface is so largely painted may, all the same, properly be said to have been painted `between the signs' of collage.

Together with the other motifs in the clipping above, and given the 'decorative' feel of the piece(4), the readymade pink motif brings to mind — in a generic way — the late 'cut-outs' of Matisse. But this allusion to the past of Collaging has a curious effect. Though Matisse's cut-outs are technically collages, there is no tension in them between Painting and Collaging: no contraposing of Me-dium to Material. (Collaging has been subducted there into the complex economy of Pleasure (5) that governs Matisse's mature painting.) The formal result here, in consequence, is to help damp what¬ever 'expressive' charge the brush might develop; rather than exaggerate it, as might otherwise have happened.

Let me try now to indicate where and how the rest of the piece likewise cools the brush. Just how the tone and saturation of the painted motifs in the series above transmit the visual feel of the photographed pink in the readymade motif is obviously important. Look next at the clipping diagonally to the right, (and above the oval which ends the series,) which shows a piece of a plaid shirt. This has been brushed over so that the readymade pattern works itself in, again, with the painting in its vicinity: with the slatting to its right that runs the width of the piece, for instance. But the brushing does not, importantly, erase the source of the pattern in an advertisement for a shirt: note the button that has been left on. Now look to the immediate right of the slatting, to the greyed lilac enlivened by thinned viridian seem¬ingly brushed over the pinked orange quadrilateral lying 'under' it (6). The rectilinearity of the ensem¬ble of motifs here links it, via the slatting, to the plaid. Again, the linkage seems to reduce the formal difference between the painted and the readymade sign; they begin to address the eye in cognate ways.

For instance: the track of the painter's 'hand' in the shallow S-curve at the top of the ensemble visually connects to the fall+C26 of the plaid, and that is pointed up by the button. But because the button is a trace of Advertising, whatever 'individuality' the curve might have shown is now bleached out as it were by the generic and 'impersonal' feel of the mass-media image( 7).

Before going on I should try to set Kashi's work in some sort of postmodern context. Distin¬guishing Postmodern from Modernist Art with any precision is difficult: but there seem to be work¬able formulae. In an early and influential essay (8) Rosalind Krauss suggested that postmodern art is better seen as being produced by certain sorts of `logical operations on cultural terms' — rather than by manipulating the various media that art had hitherto employed. The cultural terms in question are Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, Landscape, the Photograph, Film and so on; and the plastic notation, so to speak, for these opera¬tions is developed through Collaging (9). This formula is best applied to what one should prob-ably regard as the first phase of postmodern art: to the (then, but no longer,) radically contestatory practices of the later Sixties and the Seventies. Painting seemed to recover from this first postmodern assault through the Eighties: which, however, required the pictorial internalization (10) of its immediate past as a cultural term, And perhaps it is too early to tell how successful that was, (and so how complete the recovery was as well.) My abbreviation of recent developments in art is more applicable to Europe and America of course: but it does provide a backdrop to what Kashi is doing here.

Returning to the work at hand: the presence of Painting as a cultural term in its past allows the notion of Genre a certain scope in looking; and the pictorial genre that readily proposes itself is the Interior. But it is important to note that the work does not invite the question ""Is it an interior ?"" The Interior, rather, should be thought of as a mimetic horizon: it acts as a formal limit, con¬straining the mutation of pictorial signs. The `natural' progression of signs in mimesis is from the mark to the motif to the image (11). Here that process is far from direct: pictorial signs shift between these semiotic 'positions' in various ways. To see what I mean look at the right side of the picture; the slatting now suggests window-blinds, and the half-disk at upper right could be a lamp¬shade. But 'simulation' of this sort is not the only way motifs are 'brought into focus' as images; fabrics, for instance, are naturally found in interi¬ors, and it is obvious then why the two readymade motifs we have discussed would begin to refer. We cannot, however, read any of these motifs as images for very long; as the eye begins to move off them they 'lapse' back into being motifs, and even marks, (because of how marks and motifs else¬where which cannot be so read 'reflect' them.)

As a formal horizon the Interior also pro¬vides what one might call schemata for pictorial space (Cf. Note 6,) and for the organization of the picture-plane: since there are certain sorts of space, and certain sorts of arrangements of objects which are typical of interiors. Looking — which discov¬ers certain trajectories and develops its velocity through the disposition of marks and the dynamic of colour to begin with — is then further 'chan¬nelled' by these schemata, and so acquires a definite rhythm. And because the Interior remains only a horizon, (and the pictorial sign does not generally come to rest in any one semiotic posi¬tion,) looking does not settle into seeing; specifi¬cally pictorial meaning — which is generated by how the work releases the painterly potential of the readymade sign, while at the same time 'cool¬ing' the painted sign — is continually modulated by the mobility that the painting encourages in the eye. The painting abets the Glance, one could say, while it eludes the Gaze(12).

I hope I have managed to convey some sense of Kashi's tactics and strategy in this work. Much of the above should apply to the other works reproduced here, with the necessary changes of course (13). Kashi's success in putting these sorts of formal strategy into effect must have something to do with his early study of Pop Art at Baroda: which probably made him more than ordinarily alert to the potential of the mass-media image. I had begun by saying that Kashi's work solicits the eye as Painting: I hope I have been able to suggest how, (even though I have neglected important formal aspects: his handling of the 'edge' of the picture, for one.) I'll close with an apology for the style of this essay: putting things in quotes seemed the best way to alert the reader to how the more intricate structures of visual grammar in 20th century painting — on which Kashi's work de¬pends so much — often elude words.


1. My use of certain figures of speech - ""flow of signs"" and the like - will I hope prove appropriate as I go on.

2. The colour, shape, size and alignment of the motif itself are, of course, important; but to see how it’s being set within the clipping matters; try and imagine what the effect would have been had the motif been cut out by itself and stuck on.

3. A peculiar `ecstasis' as it were of the painted sign - outward from the 'substance' it has in its own medium, and toward the 'thin' space of the magazine image - is one of the pleasures of this particular work.

4. But this is a complex quality here : see note 5

5. Matisse had no objection at all to being called 'decorative' - provided the word was understood properly. He once said that he aimed in his work for 'an appeasing serenity'. But Kashi's work is not governed by Pleasure : rather, whatever pleasure this painting yields is more 'remembered' (from its Modernist past) than 'created' which seems to be the only option for the 'postmodern' eye. What Igo on to say will bring this out I hope.

6. My reason for putting ""under"" in quotes should come clear shortly.

7. It is important to realize that Kashi's work does not contest the mass-media image.

8. 'Sculpture in the Expanded Field, reprinted in Hal Foster's POSTMODERN CULTURE.

9. With materials which usually serve as indexical signs to these cultural terms.

10. The ""neo"" prefixed to postmodern recuperations of Modernist 'isms' seems to acknowledge just that. There would be various strategies of internalization of course. (In note 5 I tried to describe an elementary one.) To cite well known work : Gerhard Richter's ""Studio Paint¬ings"" are complex but still pictorially clear examples of what I mean by internalisation.

11. By ""mark"" I mean a pictorial sign which cannot readily be segmented; (something like 'phoneme"" ors ""morpheme"" to a linguist.) A motif is an aggregate of marks which is perceived as a visual unit; or a sufficiently drawn out mark. (But a 'simple' mark can function as a motif when it is suitable repeated.) An image is a motif which refers to something in the world outside the frame of the picture. Needless to say this is a very broad classification: pictorial signs can occupy various Positions' between these basic ones. And, importantly, what the eye takes for marks, motifs and images depends on the particular picture it is attending to. I should also note that my terminology is taken from analytic Philosophy of Art - see Wollheim's 'Painting as a Art' for instance : though my use of ""image"" is different - and not from recent criticism; in particular, ""mark"" here is not a formal 'negation' or 'refusal' of ""gesture"".

12. Norman Bryson's 'VISION AND PAINTING: The Logic of the Gaze' has a chapter which sets out the formal differences between painting which invites the Glance, and that which submits to the Gaze.

13. In Fig 2 & 3, for instance, it is the City which provides a mimetic horizon. And, importantly, it is not remembered pleasure (Cf. Note 5) which produces whatever excitement there is in our sensuous contact with the works' surface.