LOOKING BOTH WAYS
at PEM

Hassan Musa and Atul Dodiya


Caption (Left Image): L’Art de l’art (avec Hokusaï), 2000, Hassan Musa, textile ink on cloth, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. René Pageard
Caption (Right Image): The Bombay Buccaneer, 1994, Atul Dodiya, oil, acrylic and wood on canvas, Chester and Davida Herwitz Collection, PEM

Hassan Musa, in his painting L’Art de l’art, and Atul Dodiya, in his self portrait Bombay Buccaneer, have created believable but imaginary spaces borrowed from the performing arts. Since theater and film are generally regarded as artifice, the artists make it clear with these references that whatever meaning there is in their work it is transient, changeable, and subjective. The meaning can depend on who is looking and what, as Musa says “…their situational interest is” at the time they are looking.

Dodiya mimics a cinematic close-up by contrasting the distant space behind him and his frame-filling head. Then he uses the reflections in his dark glasses to penetrate the picture plane and draw the viewer into his space while simultaneously shutting them out by covering his eyes, traditionally regarded as the most telling facial feature. In the lenses he painted portraits of two artists who have influenced him, David Hockney and Bhupen Khakhar. Dodiya also includes a black-and-white clap stick, a symbol of the motion picture industry, the romantic-sounding title, Bombay Buccaneer, and a handgun to further the cinematic connections.

Musa treats his canvas like a stage. Three sides are bordered to look like a curtained proscenium and there are two perspective lines in the lower right-hand corner to make the figures look as if they are on a recessed, stage-like space. Musa carefully organized the iconic figures of Western art so that they appear to be speaking to, or at least relating to one another in some manner. Then, by allowing the printed fruit and flower design of the fabric he has used as a canvas to float in the stage space he denies the depth perspective, accentuating the artifice of both the original images and the new image he has created with their combination.

It is interesting to consider why Musa selected the particular artists he did for L’Art de l’art. Mantegna’s frescos represented the boldest example of “Illusionism” found anywhere in the entire 15th century. A master of perspective and foreshortening, Mantegna made important contributions to the compositional techniques of Renaissance painting. It was through him that other European artists became aware of the artistic discoveries of the period that still characterize Western art today.

In other works Musa chose the well-known entertainer and stage personality Josephine Baker as a subject for a series that comments on the malleable and fluctuating nature of identity. Musa’s references to performance art are not confined to two-dimensional representations. Many of his art works include site-specific performances that involve the audience.

RESOURCES

Atul Dodiya is a leading artist of India, known especially for his unusual use of popular imagery and everyday objects in his art. Originally from Ghatkopar, Gujurat, he now lives and works in Bombay. Dodiya knew at the age of 11 that he wanted to be a painter. After struggling through school he immersed himself in his true passion -- art.

As an artist Dodiya is committed to the revitalization of the two-dimensional painted surface. He engages with popular culture, referencing comic strips, popular religious oleographs, advertising billboards, movie posters, and favorite paintings from the Indian, European and American traditions. Assembling images from these disparate sources into autobiographical narratives, fantasies spawned by the movies of Bollywood, and other postmodern ideas addressing global consumerism, politics and the arts, he creates paintings that can be introspective and amusing while dissolving the boundaries between “fine art” and popular culture.

Dodiya is known for referencing Bollywood and the cinema and he does so for good reason. India leads the world in movie output, with more than 900 films produced annually. These films command an enormous domestic market and have become increasingly popular abroad, particularly in other parts of Asia and in Africa. The major production centers are Mumbai (also known as Bollywood), Madras and Calcutta. Movies are the most popular medium of entertainment in India with most commercial cinema revolving around social dramas and thrillers featuring numerous song and dance sequences. Recently, art cinema that takes a serious look at Indian society has become popular. Recognition of Indian artists and directors at international film festivals is increasing and includes an Oscar awarded to the late Satyajit Ray in 1992 for Lifetime Achievement in Cinema.

As influences on his work, Dodiya cites British painter David Hockney, Italian Surrealist Giorgio de Chirico and American neo-Dadaist realist Jasper Johns. Other influences include Indian artists S. H. Raza, Tyeb Mehta, and especially Bhupen Khakhar. As an expression of his recurring preoccupation with impermanence and transience, Dodiya does not sign his paintings.
Atul Dodiya Bombay:Labyrinth/Laboratory exhibition catalogue published by the Japan Foundation Asia Center, 2001

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David Hockney is a British painter, draughtsman, printmaker, photographer, and designer. As a student at the Royal College of Art, he achieved international success by the time he was in his mid 20s, and is one of the best known British artist of his generation. Hockney’s early paintings earned him a reputation as a Pop artist, a label he rejects.

In the late 1960s Hockney painted some striking portraits in a weightier, more traditionally representational manner. He has spent much of his time in the United States, and the Californian swimming pool has been one of his favorite themes. Hockney is a brilliant draughtsman and has been as outstanding as a graphic artist as a painter. He has illustrated and written books, taught at universities, and designed for operas, fashion magazines and carpet companies.

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Impressionism A theory and style of painting that originated and was developed in France during the 1860s and 1870s. It was characterized by a concentration on the immediate transitory visual impressions produced by a scene in nature with light and color being of primary importance. The desired effects were achieved with the use of unmixed primary colors and small strokes to simulate actual reflected light. Noted Impressionist artists include Pissarro, Degas, Monet, Renoir and Cezanne.

Bhupen Khakhar was born in Bombay and lived and worked in Baroda, India. He is a self-trained painter who has earned an international reputation for creating paintings that address universal humanity using Indian subject matter and popular imagery. Khakhar’s father died when he was four years old and the boy was raised by his mother. To satisfy the expectation of his middle-class family Khakhar initially trained as an accountant. He began painting in the early 1960s when he moved to the University town of Baroda, north of Bombay, where he completed a degree in Art Criticism.

Khakhar’s early works draw on his interest in the imagery of Indian popular culture -- cinema posters, calendar art and street kitsch. This interest is less apparent in his later works. With the eye of a satirist, Khakhar chronicles the more comic aspects of middle class Indian life. Inspired by traditional Indian painting styles, Khakhar's visual language is saturated with jewel-toned colors, decorated with gorgeous landscapes, and populated with a variety of human figures. These figures co-exist harmoniously, celebrating love and contentment. Khakhar’s are completely original works that address the universal human needs of closeness, interaction, and pleasure.

Colonial rule, industrialization and the rise of Nationalism in the 20th century influenced Indian art and the development of a true Indian aesthetic. Issues of identity and the complexities of contemporary Indian culture remain central to the work of contemporary artists like Bhupen Khakar.

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The Renaissance was the transitional movement in Europe marked by a revival or rebirth of cultural awareness and learning that gained ground during the 14th and 15th centuries and ended in the 17th century. The movement was centered in Italy, but also took root in Germany and other European countries. Characterized by a renewed interest in ancient Greek and Roman art and design, the period was characterized by a humanistic revival of the classical influence that was expressed in a flowering of the arts, literature, and philosophy. It also marked the beginnings of modern science with an emphasis on human beings and their environment. Noted Renaissance artists include Giotto, DaVinci, Michelangelo and Raphael.


Art Elements and Principles
Six art elements can be thought of as the building blocks artists use in forming an art work. Seven art principles that organize the “blocks” can be thought of as the construction methods.

Elements - The building blocks
1. LINE A mark/stoke longer than it is wide: straight/curved, horizontal, vertical, diagonal, and thick/thin.
2. COLOR What we see when light is reflected or absorbed by surfaces: saturated/diluted and warm/cool.
3. VALUE (Luminance) Degree of lightness or darkness of colors: tint(light)/shade(dark)
4. TEXTURE Appearance of surfaces both represented (2D) or physical (3D): smooth/rough, glossy/flat, undulating/jagged, and transparent/opaque.
5. SHAPE (2D) FORM (3D) Area defined by lines, colors, values and textures: geometric/organic, soft/hard and sharp/smooth.
6. SPACE Distance or area between lines or shapes: deep/shallow, crowded/empty, and grounded/floating.

Principles - The construction method
1. UNITY Each element in art work is necessary, none can be left out with out changing the work significantly.
2. BALANCE Even distribution/arrangement of elements in an art work.
3. DOMINANCE One element is given more importance than other elements in an art work.
4. REPETITION Use of an element(s) more than once in more than one way in an art work.
5. RYTHYM Arrangement in an art work of element(s) in an ordered sequence to create/suggest motion.
6. CONTRAST Use of opposite elements (see parings above) in close proximity.
7. VARIATION Incremental changes in any element(s), especially a dominant element in an art work.

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