Wednesday, 28 February 2018

C. Douglas - Meet the Artist

I’ve been working as a language editor now, for some months. Yet some distance from realising my dream of living the artist’s life. My ‘office’ has a certain dress code, like most workplaces do. But today, just for today, I’d wanted to go into work a little casually, in my jeans, to take things a bit easy. Sure enough, before the first half hour was over, the HR person came around to remind me, very politely, that today wasn’t Friday and would I please stick to formals Monday to Thursday? Sitting there, suddenly, I saw myself as the figure in one of C. Douglas’s paintings.

That forlorn figure borne down by ‘life’, the demands, the responsibilities, the rules of society, living with eternal inner conflict, reining in the need to soar, to be, to live its own truth, just so it can fit in, be accepted, earn a living, losing its self bit by bit every day, until it is one day disconnected from its inner voice, spiritually dead, and empty.

That figure in Douglas’s painting is not a portrait of any one particular person. It could be the artist himself, you, and even me. Because what Douglas conveys through his paintings is the story of every modern man, and woman, the plight of the ‘Universal’ man, caught in an existential crisis, or dealing with lose or personal struggle.

His art is not about making ‘pretty’, about making a 'beautiful' picture in an obvious way, just the need to express and a willingness to find, to accept what the process, the medium, and the moment bring forth. What you will find in Douglas’s works are raw human emotions beautifully conveyed in a new visual language. All the rules one may have come across in art classes or painting books, like perspective, chiaroscuro, proportion, etc., are overridden, absent (as in a lot of art of the times),  to lay emphasis on the idea. You’ll find familiar things in the paintings, besides the human figure, like dogs, butterflies, flowers, cocoons, random spots, lines, patterns, numbers, text, in fact, some of the paintings seem to be cluttered, with no apparent focal point, much like the mind of us modern folks. Your eye will roam around the painting for something to rest on, and by this complexity, the work holds you captive, slowly drawing you into it.

A good painting is one that you can keep interpreting, Douglas believes. Just like a good book, which gives you new insights every time you read it. And books are a very important part of this artist’s life, and a great source of inspiration for his works.

My first introduction to C. Douglas and his works was at his solo show “The Blind Poet and the Butterflies”, in 2012.  At first I thought he was a foreigner come from across the seas to exhibit here in Chennai. Soon I learnt that he was in fact a stalwart, very much a part of the Cholamandal Artist’s Village and the local art scene for years now.

Born in Kerala, in 1959, Douglas came to Chennai in 1970s, and studied art at the Government’s Art College. In the 1980s he lived In Germany for a few years before making Cholamandal his home. And now lives the consummate artist’s life, or so I believe, in a pretty cottage by the sea, spending his days reading the best of books or creating captivating works of art, on crumpled paper, with lots of mud, dark pencils and subdued colours, and ever so often inviting his artsy friends over for some green tea. His oeuvre may be all about the lost soul, but this artist has managed to keep his well intact.

A master artist, C. Douglas is one of the most collected Indian artists today. And an inspiration.

(This article is preliminary an essay for a book of essays titled 'Your Art Is Not My Art'. Details soon.)

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