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One genre of art production in the Indian context, which has gained rapid currency over the past decade, is the ‘art camp’ mode of art production. So much so, that there are artists now who have become consummate ‘art camp hoppers’ and whose primary output emanates only out of their serial attendance of art camps.

This is no longer the artistic muse anguishing in the privacy of individual studios, awaiting the grace of inspiration and a stroke of genius to produce a masterpiece. Artists seem more comfortable now in the manufactured collectivity of art sweatshops, sharing, dividing, multiplying — and transforming art, more and more, into being on par with performativity.

Of, course, art camp works have some positive and, often larger, negative aspects. The positives are its moments of interactive and dialogic process, which invites interpellation of form, technique, colour and content, helping to trigger off risky quests. The negatives can include the instigation of elements of one-upmanship and showmanship. Besides, the painting could transmit the feeling of a ‘work-in-progress’, like some sort of a sketch for the next project. Many works are even concluded in a rush towards the end of the camp.

Then again, when certain camps are ‘theme’ based, one can see the decline of art into the literalism of communication, albeit with the conceits of pedantic symbolism.

On the other hand, it serves as an opportunity to cut off from the hurly burly of daily routine and, transport oneself to the unfamiliarity of new places, new contexts and new colleagues and allow oneself the luxury of imagining it as a kind of a laboratory space where one can periodically permit oneself to abandon the ‘known’ and turn more experimental.

It was the expectation of such a possibility, which prompted me to consider the offer to curate an exhibition of the collection of almost 180 paintings built up by cgh earth, works of art produced by almost 70 artists in a series of four art camps through 2005. The artists comprised both the senior and the junior, the abstract and the realist, the traditional and the postmodernist.

I must admit that I was not disappointed. It turned out to be a rich body of varied works. From a rather straight portrait of the legendary E.M.S.Namboodiripad by Namboodiri to the batik-like abstractions of Bhaskar Rao, the rich and symbolic canvases of colourful birds of Karunakaran, Sathyapal’s powerful diptych ‘Memories of Other’, Ajay Kumar’s abstract ‘The Last Patch of Green’, Rimzon’s consummate charcoal sketch and the by now well known ‘Blue She’ and ‘’Red She’ of S.G.Vasudev.

Whether landscapes or portraits, whether symbolic or abstract, there is a running thread in these selected works of engaging with nature in a deep and visceral way. This makes some artists tilt more towards surrealistic constructions. C.N.Sanam with his red mermaid and green moon, Ananthan with his red banner against a ground of wood veneer, Shijo Jacob with his moon and ladder in a black sky, Homita K. with her O’Keefe-like flowers and stamen and Smitha Babu with a dog consuming flesh, all contribute to a sense of the bizarre.

While some artists, like Eva Claessens or Sunil Vallarpadam, have chosen to work with the genre of the abstract portrait, and some like Krishnaraj Chonat, Sunita Verma, Ponmani Thomas and Sreenath with surrealist landscapes, the largest body of work with the abstractions of space, volume, texture and colour. While T. Kaladharan explores the more conventional, mural-like floral motifs, V.Ramesh foregrounds a tree with black branches.

Jyothi Alva’s double face with layers of fossil-like figures, Srikanth Dhunde’s black and white feather forms in impasto, Purushottam Adve’s muted colours dividing water and sky, K.P.Gopinath’s Paul Klee inspired squares in ochre, green, black and white and Jayakumar’s man with money plant, pole and bird are sure to inspire a sense of the bizarre.

Babu Mon, Roopa B.R, and B.D.Dethan play with riffs of colour expressing depth and plane while P.Jayakani’s rather Ramajunanesque line drawings of flowers, trees, minarets, with fish, snakes and tadpoles cut and pasted on it or Muhammed Shah’s monsoon skies, gray rooftops and a row of blackbirds, are replete with symbolism.

Kaladharan’s four blue square windows or Sathyapal’s five small squares or Dimple Shah’s triptych of hibiscus and woman seated in landscape with bird or M.Sashidharan’s vertical diptych or P.V.Nandan’s rendering of the tiger in three square sections or Krishnaraj Chonat’s triptych with trees, mountains and ants or B.D.Dethan’s vertical diptych are all examples of artists exploring the fragments and discontinuities of space.

High symbolism marks the works of Sosa Joseph (colour codes), Jayawandh (interpretation of ‘Tholkappiam’), Rajappan (rising sun), Chandranath (kingly figure with sword and rose), Vallish (woman with boy, bird, sun) and Abhilash Unni (dragonflies in white).

Equally loaded are the abstract compositions in red and ochre of Visweswara Parkala or the Africanesque mother goddesses under the shower of T.Ratheesh. Similar piquancy is created by A.K.Salim’s brown boat with its prow in blue waters and tethered to a yellow rope or Nijeena Neelambaran’s gray/white room with curtains and balustrades with blue clouds floating low.

Indeed, this cumulative sense of fantasy, evident in the works of the above artists, indicates an interesting trajectory taken by them in an era of hyper-realism and the visual over-kill of ‘reality’ television. Realism almost seems insufficient as an instrument of exposing and revealing the human predicament. It is the surreal, the bizarre and the grotesque that retain the power to speak the truth through their elliptical significations.

I am happy to be involved in this collective exercise and feel confident enough of the process by now to feel tempted to exhort cgh earth to sustain the endeavour in a systematic manner over the next few years and bring to the fore a body of artistic material that will a benchmark of our times.

Sadanand Menon