Thursday, April 2, 2009

The relentless waves of art and architecture

This is the transcript of a lecture of mine which I had given at the D.Y.Patil College of architecture, Nerul, Navi Mumbai.

Art and architecture comes at us like the onslaught of waves at a seashore ... relentlessly, continuously, one after another.

The Dutch painter; Vincent Van Gogh's story ( ) is one that of intense introspection... his need to contribute to the world around overwhelmed him, made him continuously restless... he never fitted in anywhere. Only his brother (Theo) believed in him completely and supported him as much as he could. (Both the brothers were eventually buried side by side.) Vincent died unrecognised and unacknowledged, except by his brother, and a very close circle of friends- many of them who were as eccentric as he was. You can feel both the "mother earth" inside Vincent and the rise of the male testosterone; the raw energy that propelled him even though it also made him fairly incommunicado with the opposite gender. (He experienced unrequited love several times in his life) He tried many things in his life (tried to be a miner, a priest, ... ) Nothing gave him that sense of complete satisfaction, he even cut of his ear once in a fit of rage...eventually ended up taking his own life.

Many consider his paintings to be a major deviation from the art scene of his fact, I personally believe he paved the way for the west to accept Indian philosophy and the Buddhist way of looking at things. (e.g. the generous acceptance of contrasts and in-betweens) Hitherto, western art and philosophy had certain reductionist approaches which were not easily dislodged. I am no art historian, but even a casual reading of Vincent's work would indicate this.

It was not just his paintings that made many people sit up and think but his life was also a story that simply had to be told. And what a story it is! .... it was narrated by Irving Stone who wrote his biography "Lust for life" That book is so riveting that it almost does manage to stand on its own merit rather than derive the strength merely from Vincent's life. To me, that book is the other wave that got set in motion See

And then the movie made after on his life (the screenplay was based on the book). A classic directed by Vincent Minnelli and George Cukor ( ) where Kirk Douglas (the father of Michael Douglas, a current hollywood favourite) plays the role of Vincent. This movie is a must-see, and sometimes they used to show it on some Indian TV movie channel. Don't miss it ever, even if you have read the book. The handsome, craggy face of Kirk Douglas and the way he goes about clumsily in his large frame is very impressive indeed (Vincent was a very muscular type -- opposite of what an artist is supposed to "look" like) It was nominated for many Oscar awards, and won quite a few. To me this movie is yet another wave crashing at the seashore.

And then the song: "Vincent" made by a then fairly obscure American musician, Don McClean ( ). He supposedly never compromised on his music and so never begged in front of Music producers/radio stations and hence never went onto the real high end acts. His song, "Empty chairs" is beautiful not just for the music but also for the amazing lyrics of a love gently lost.

Much of his music was redone by many other artists. For e.g. his very lengthy song; American Pie is an all-time favourite which has seen covers done by many other artists. To me, his song "Vincent" is probably a musician's condensation of what Vincent and his work was all about. Here are the chords and lyrics ... and here is the video (which is quite a good composition on its own) I feel, the composer of that YouTube presentation has understood what it means to be an impressionist (one of the styles that Vincent Van Gogh painted in) where nothing is presented in "pure blacks" but as fleeting impressions of his life and works. In the whole song, there are very few instances of the word "Vincent". The crafting of the words is so subtle and intense -- many interior designers and architects can learn quite a few things from the words themselves! (e.g., when explaining a color scheme to a client!) "Starry, starry night/Flaming flowers that brightly blaze/ Swirling clouds in violet haze/Reflect in Vincent's eyes of china blue"

Don Mclean did have a few big hits but as he was not willing to compromise his artistry he did not get much airplay. Other musicians respected his talent though, and now ... for another wavelet ... this time generated by Don Mclean

Roberta Flack, when attending one of Don Mclean's performance heard his love songs ("And I love you so", "Crying" are two very touching love songs) which inspired her so much that she wrote a song about Don Mclean himself! It is called "Killing me softly with his song"
Here is a beautiful rendition of the song by another person (on guitar)

Later on at Wikipedia, I learnt that actually Roberta Flack was inspired by another musician Lori Lieberman who was the one who had actually heard Don Mclean. She wrote a song called "Killing me softly with his softly with his blues" inspiration comes from many directions...

So the waves keep pounding on the seashore, relentlessly, one after another. Where did the waves originate? In the above series; it was from the restless heart of Vincent Van Gogh.

Such things have happened in India enough number of times in the past, though we do not get to hear of them much as they are often not documented. For e.g. the troubled life of Dada Saheb Phalke -- how he went around influencing the Indian art and film scene. (The painter Raja Ravi Varma was one of Phalke's influences ... that "wave" is not known much. Ravi Varma also influenced a lot of calendar art) Phalke had seen an emotional movie about Christ which inspired him to take up movie-making.

Film director, Kamal Saroop is now documenting his life. The life and works of Kamal is also a story waiting to be told sometime... he was one of the directors of Ghasiram Kotwal, the movie and today he is a big influence on the Indian underground alternative movie movement. He was also one of the assistant directors of Gandhi, the Attenborough movie. A website is assisting in the documentation of his movie making. It will take several years before the movie comes out, and I hope we all get to see the intensity that was Dada Saheb Phalke.

But why remain in the past?

I can see many of you, maybe after several whole nights of hard work, finding that wisp of inspiration in the early morning dew; crafting something so intense and with so much thought that it would set into motion waves that will continuously lash at the seashore of art/architecture in India.

1 comment:

Ugich Konitari said...

Your address to the DYPatil students brought back a sense of optimism , and I would certainly like to believe that creativity and originality flowers and is nurtured in these disciplines. Most non-architecture disciplines , unimaginatively perceived as bounded by discrete parameters end up curbing a person's imagination in the name of vague "rules" . Just experienced an episode and blooged about it Here .....

I guess we never learn .