Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Mahabharat

All these years, there was a thought in the back of my mind which surfaced now and then, like a migratory bird which keeps on taking the same route over and over again and it has lately been picking furiously at me: read Mahabharat.

So I picked up an abridged version of the massive original text, Mahabharat A Modern Rendering by Ramesh Menon. The book is written in contemporary English and thankfully there are no traces of prudish archaic Victorian prose. Though it is an abridged version, it has around 1500 pages and appropriate credit must be given to the author for his handling of the plot while keeping the pace of the story tight.

These are my biased opinions on the story and its characters, reading which was an epic journey of a month in itself for me. The fact is, I can't write anything unbiased; In India, almost every child grows up with the bits and pieces of the stories from the epics of Mahabharat and Ramayan and I was no exception to that. I have fond memories of them. Though unrelated to Mahabharat but just to exemplify the memories related to Indian epics, I played a part as "Ravan" in our 7th grade skit which poked fun at Ramayan and such a bad-ass time we had preparing and presenting that 30 minute skit during the annual cultural fest in the school.

If my views sound unintelligible or confusing, please bare with me because I haven't read the reference text of about 13000 pages, which might have enough room to explain some of my doubts.

1. Yudhishtira and Vidura are very much the heart of the earthly wisdom which is conveyed through their conversations with various characters. Especially the advice of Vidura to Dhrutrashtra just before the war begins is pure ethics and full of wisdom with which it can easily compete with the Bhagwad Gita and can even beat Gita for the agnostic/atheist souls including me.
2. Duryodhan ended up in Heaven even if he was the key antagonist in the great war. Why? Only the reason that he died as a Kshatriya on a battlefield sounds hollow in the present context of the world. Maybe at time in the Vedic Indian kingdoms, it might have had the utmost importance for a Kshatriya to die in battle. He was quite an interesting character though; probably the full text has enough stories about him which throws light on good dimensions of his character besides his greed and envy of Pandavas.
3. Krishna's character seem manipulative as well as arrogantly high brow at times. He is quite frequently referred as the Blue One with a smile on his face. I asked the whole time whenever his mystic knowledge of everything was hinted, if he think he can get rid of the darkness all by himself then why does he wait for the bloodshed and let it happen instead of cleaning the negative things himself with just a flick of his wish: Maybe then we won't have a story to read and maybe to acknowledge that destiny is not something which even the God incarnate can bend.
4. Karna is probably the most cursed and probably that is why also the most beloved character for many people including me. How he is forsaken since his very birth, how he gets cursed twice, how Indra himself weakens him by asking for his golden armor and golden earrings as charity, how he is told just before the war who he really is and what really belongs to him, even after all the revelation, how he renounces it and how he fights for the sake of loyalty and his friendship with Duryodhana and dies for him is a tragic life story in itself. "Mrutyunjan" by Shivaji Sawant is on my to-read list for 2017 ;) It tells the story from Karna's perspective and the most amazing thing is that the original novel is written in Marathi!
5. The female characters of the story definitely play the most pivoting roles. Kunti and her gift of the Mantra to summon any god she wishes ends up procreating the demigods called Pandavas from different gods as fathers. Draupadi and her timely "bitchiness" instigates the hatred between the cousins. Matsyagandha and her family's conditions before agreeing to marry Shantanu ends up in a lifelong celibacy for Bhishma. It all beautifully boils down to the finality which is the cruel war.
6. I enjoyed reading the "Adi Parv" which craftily develops the backdrop for the enmity between the Cousins: Kauravas and Pandavas. Especially the role of the Vyasa, the original author of Mahabharat, who keeps on coming in the story and even helping keep the Kuru line alive by fathering Dhritrashtra and Pandu who are fathers of Kauravas and Pandavas respectively. The story of how Vyasa himself is born as well as how the hundred Kauravas come to the world is bizarre and pretty interesting.
7. The role of Bhishma is also confusing given that he was one of the wisest ones in the story, but still he turned a blind eye to the whole game of dice and Draupadi's harassment. Maybe because he was indebted to Dhritrashtra and his sons for providing for his respected place in the Kindgom.
8. The Bhagwad Gita section of the story is actually the most boring part of the book. It is full of esoteric metaphysics of Hinduism told by Krishna while he freezes time on the battlefield when Arjuna is heartless and looses the courage to fight and kill his cousins, elders and teachers. But for sure, I will read Gita in itself someday with enough time to ponder upon what Krishna says. Probably I am not going to buy most of the Godly stuff in it anyway but from the cultural and philosophical point of view it will be an interesting undertaking.

After getting involved for days on end with the intertwining plots including wise old rishis who either mediate, lustly shed their semens with seductive Apsaras or angrily destroy someones life with their curses or bestow lavish boons, handsome and evil princes, ugly as well as glorious rakshasas, gods(not the God), weapons, oaths and other fantastic stuff, it is not astonishing that I felt void at the end of the war, when pretty much every interesting character is dead. I felt pity for Yudhishtira who was himself drastically depressed though he became the emperor of the Kurus after the gruesome war. At the end after settling peace in the world for decades in form of Yudhishtira's kingship, the death of Krishna and his people is solemn and portrays how it was all destined to be and how even God incarnate binds to the laws of fate and curses.

Finally a quote from the Bhagwad Gita which I came across during the post-reading research which left me with an arcane feeling: "You were never born; you will never die. You have never changed; you can never change. Unborn, eternal, immutable, immemorial, you do not die when the body dies."  

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Where to stop?

One of the most confusing aspect of painting is to know where to stop. For example, I painted the following landscape by following a tutorial from a book. In the first seating, I just painted the background with earth tones including Burnt Umber and Raw Sienna as well as the sky using Ultramarine Blue mixed with white.

On the left side is the result after second seating, where I added rough details in the grass and greenery. On the right side is the result after the third seating, where I pimped up the painting by adding enough contrast for ex. darker green values at the edge of the "supposed to be" grass field and tree lines, also the changes in the tones on mountains are more varied now. (Unfortunately both of these photos were taken at night with artificial light, resulting in deviations in true colors in the photo. The final photo at the bottom is taken in direct sunlight depicting the true colors.)

 

The original painting "New Mexico" by Becky Bening (included in the book "Complete Guide to Painting in Acrylics" by Lorena Kloosterboer) has more details but not necessarily so much more that I would venture to blindly copy it. My goal was to get the hang of color mixing and the process of landscape paintings.

Mixing the hues of greens/yellows for the grass and trees, different blues for the sky and mountains was a helpful learning experience. It is hard to imagine that in fact a red pigment (Cadmium Red) was used to gray out the saturated greens coming directly out of the tube. I would write a post on color mixing in near future.

Unlike portraits or still life, landscapes require a slight different approach. Its not an individual component that matters but the painting as a whole which is important. In portraits, the painting will be screwed up if you get the proportions of a single facial feature wrong, although everything else might be perfect. There is a bigger room for error in landscapes but that doesn't make it that simpler. Composition and perspective must be nailed otherwise it ends up looking flat and uninteresting.

Here is the painting after adjusting that unexpectedly bluer hill in the right side image from the comparison above (third from the right in the landscape):


Acrylics on a 24x32cm Canvas Paper
Painted in 2016
Well, now my question: Do I proceed with a fourth seating to sharpen the details and to add more contrast or leave it here?

I stopped and hanged the painting on the wall ;) Maybe later sometime I might continue adding the details.

Friday, December 2, 2016

First Sketch


This was my first sketch 3 years ago, when time was ample and money was scarce. 



And here is the link to the original blog post from the old blog.

Friday, November 25, 2016

La Madre dell'Ucciso - Franscesco Ciusa

One can go long and long about philosophy of arts, various artistic mediums and their final effect on human perception and psyche, skills of the artist and so on. But the greatest of the art pieces have something in common irrespective of the mediums, aesthetics, craft of the artist or the popularity; the ability to poignantly express human conditions. Look at Edvard Munch's Scream or Michealangelo's David or Van Gogh's At Eternity's Gate. Of course, "what is great art" is subjective but the common denominator of human subjectivity, I guess, overlaps greatly with the complete possible spectrum of "greatness".

I first visited Sardinia in 2015 and the island struck a spell on me with its landscapes, seascapes, history, nuraghes, food, people and beautiful small towns. I visited it again in 2016 and stayed at Nuoro for a night. It's a hermit city quietly resting in the mountainous inland of the island, away from the bustle of touristic businesses along the coastlines and has still preserved that "aboriginal" feel. It was a little boring or precisely expressed, a little lifeless compared to other cities like Bosa on the island, but there was something different about it. I usually plan some of my travel days specifically according to the Musuem opening times and if fact, we visited three Museums in Nuoro in just one and a half day. It is said to be Athens of Sardinia for its native brewed writers, painters and sculptors.

The second museum was a Nuoresi sculptor's museum. It was almost empty during the siesta hours with only handful of people walking and gazing at the sculptures of the artist. The corridor was long with small rooms on both sides and at the end, on the left side, there was a quiet darker room. Upon entering the room I was frozen for a second to see a life-size sculpture of an old woman wearing a headscarf, sitting stoically, holding her knees together with her old frail hands. A small light was amplifying the mystery by just throwing enough light from the top that one could barely see her forehead under the scarf. The wrinkles on her face were telling, her cheeks were showing bones and the veins on her hands were so alive that I could not stop observing every inch of the carved stone. The most striking thing about it, was the expression on her face and her slightly pursed lips: she was sad but proud, she was old but strong, there was a touch of regret, pain and misery on her face but nothing called for pity. Minutes flew by, I stood there, locked, wondering about the old woman and at the prodigious skills of the sculptor. Then I looked down to read the name of the sculpture, it was like those rare revelations: "La madre dell'ucciso" with an English translation on the label "Mother of the killed".

Those few minutes left one long impression on me and even after months, she keeps on mystifying me when I think about her. I didn't have a camera with me, so I take liberty to post her photos here from Wikipedia.

La madre dell'ucciso - Franscesco Ciusa
Photo by Davide Mauro / CC BY-SA 4.0

Coming back to my point about the greatness of art, this sculpture has become one of the most beloved pieces of art for me for its sheer humanity, besides the awe-inspiring craftwork from Ciusa. It is perfectly executed with precise dimensions and proportions just as if she was alive. No blood is flowing through those veins and nowhere is there a beating heart, yet it deeply moves the onlooker. I believe Ciusa poured an eternal life into something which was once just a stone. And that makes great art really great.

La madre dell'ucciso - Franscesco Ciusa
Photo by Roburq / CC BY-SA 3.0