My friend, Abhimanue…
Friendships that artists have with one another are relationships of deep comradeship and are often instrumental in fashioning the development of their work. In most instances it is during our college years where such friendships take root. I met Abhimanue in 1979 when he came to Baroda to join the undergraduate degree program in the painting department. Already a graduate having studied philosophy in the Calicut University, he then enrolled into the College of Fine Arts, Trivandrum in 1977, but discontinued this course after his father tragically died in an Air India plane crash on the 1st of January 1978. His student-day affiliations with politics had always been of grave concern to his father, and with the student strike at the College of Fine Arts, Trivandrum disrupting his studies, he made the decision to leave Kerala to study at the Fine Arts faculty in Baroda, after the demise of his father.
In Baroda his closest associate at college was K.Prabharkaran who also joined the painting department in the same year as he did. Abhimanue’s experiments with the figure as a narrative pictorial device found alignment within the existing focus on figuration, that was the prevailing hallmark of the Baroda School during those years. Unlike many of his classmates in Baroda, his intellectual growth was already fuelled by his engagement in Kerala with literature and cinema through the discourses with friends who were artists, writers and filmmakers. His father Govindan, who was a self-taught architect, had always encouraged his son to read. Abhimanue, who lost his mother when he was just three, was brought up by his stepmother Janaki. He along with his brother and sister got absorbed into a family of eight siblings as family life over the years progressed. Unlike the traumas of an unhappy childhood that many people carry as scars from their youth, Abhimanue in fact had a very normal and balanced life growing up. Perhaps his ability to adapt and integrate into new situations with stoic reserve reflects even to date in his life as an artist. He chose teaching as a profession to sustain a family, but never discontinued his engagement with art, despite the strenuous nature of survival within a city like Delhi. Today after many years of being a teacher at the College of Art, New Delhi, he has chosen to make his home in Baroda. Returning like the prodigal to the fold of co-existence with old friends, who substitute as his second family, it is the comfort of collective interactive belonging that holds the stimulus of intellectual rigor, which attracts him most.
The birth of his daughter Kanmani in 2009 shifted the order of his personal universe quite radically. A second chance perhaps to rectify the chaos of his earlier experiments with a more bohemian lifestyle saw him now seek greater order and discipline within his existence. His concerns related to creating this balance offered him investigations into many unusual venues of self discovery – food, health, exercise and travel – a strange mixture of sorts, but one which on closer inspection does join the dots of a holistic circle of survival. Abhimanue’s approach to life is now governed by small actions of everyday living, set within a pace that eliminates extreme fluctuations of any kind. Often taking off to travel alone, you will receive wonderful photographs taken of incidental things that perhaps some of us have lost the ability to find connect with. These photographs show new yet familiar territories for one to re-enter, that is all about the opening up of ones senses to the world around us.
If one is to take an overview of Abhimanue’s art, one would perhaps see his work divided into two categories – the phase of figurative narrative interests, and the departure into structural arrangements of shape and forms that occurs around 2010. When I enquired into this he said that he found the insistence of articulating content through narratives means too burdensome within figuration. He wanted to free himself to look purely at the compositional arrangement of forms. He declares that he finds it more challenging and interesting to experience painting in this manner. He empties his mind completely of past influences to look at life around him with a new and open vision. However the unconscious residues of his delight of artists like Piet Mondrian and Sol LeWitt can still be seen within his work despite his retreat from pedagogic affiliations. Like Sol LeWitt's vocabulary of lines, basic colours and simplified shapes, which were neither predictable nor necessarily logical, Abhimanue’s art too depends upon the process of conceiving whilst working. For Abhimanue the final objective therefore is to formulate a compositional delivery that appeals to him.
When questioned about his work he acknowledges that his language today could be viewed as having its roots in an abstract idiom, and perhaps more closely to the ideas and ideals of the Bauhas School of painters or the De Stijl movement. He also shares that he has an avid interest in world folk and traditional representations of geometrical forms, like the kalamezuthu or kolam traditions of the south and the aboriginal designs for ritualistic purposes. Cartography is also a device of tracing spaces that has intrigued him.
He has no desire to fit into the dominant discourse of what is considered the Avant-garde. Instead he embraces empathy for a language that does not conform to cultural decoding, but instead seeks a more universal approach to its readability. In todays art climate this rejection of an overly intellectual process on the part of the artist is a conscious break away that he takes as a considered position. By doing so, he is choosing to constitute his own autonomy by delinking himself from today’s cultural preoccupations and investing his language to abide to pure sensory means of association. This quiet act of self-determination comes without defiance and isn't intended to be an action of resistance, or does it in fact subscribe to being just that? It is his need not to be coerced to conform, but to stand instead in an annexure of self-realization and self-awareness that makes his own journey one of delight for him.