FEATURE -PROFILE: Akshay Seebaluk / Your Meteorites In My Skyline / Sushma Sabnis
Young artist Akshay Seebaluk hones a view finder to his ambient surroundings for his multiple media works. Using the style of Landscape painting as a lens and a lexicon for his works he documents the changing visages of the social, political, environmental and cultural world of contemporary times.. writes Sushma Sabnis.
The advent of science and technological advances is aimed at bettering the quality of human lives, living standards and the overall progress of the whole world. What happens when this ‘progress’ like an auto-immune disease, begins to deceptively eat away at that very Natural core. Mauritius born artist Akshay Seebaluk looks at this apparent, ugly metamorphosis of the ‘natural’ changing the quintessential skylines all over the world by employing an art practice which traverses multiple mediums, from the visual lens of a Landscape.
Akshay is in his MFA – Painting final year at the Indira Kala Sangeet Vishwa Vidyalaya, at Khairagarh. The artist uses the visual language of the ‘Landscape‘ as an alphabet of his versatile works. Today, the landscape is regarded as a primary first step in art education and has been a neglected style of painting in the main stream of art for quite some time. Academically, landscape is the first subject taught in art education and upon its mastery one moves on to other relatively complex visual styles / languages like still life, portraiture, etc. The Renaissance period saw the creation of landscapes as a mere background to enhance the protagonist in the foreground, demanding the complete attention of the viewer, as seen in Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, and other paintings much later. The landscape began to be regarded as an independent artistic style when British painters chose to create panoramic views of meadows, farm houses, rural locales, vistas of the sea, among others scenes. The word ‘scenery’ arises from these engagements with varying terrains. Artists John Constable, William Turner, and the later ‘plein-air’ Impressionists and even the Surrealists adopted and adapted this art form in varying levels of engagement altering the ubiquitous landscapes into mutable presences in their art practices. With various new age art movements changing the climes of visual culture all over the world, the landscape took a back seat relegated purely to art educational purposes. Albeit a little late, it is quite refreshing to see its much awaited revival in very recent times.
In the earlier works of Akshay, one finds the influences of his home land, Mauritius, brought to life with a palette which reflects the vividness of the island nation. Foliage is of prime importance in some of his early landscapes, where the details of the plants and trees native to the island are quite distinct. Greens, ochres, yellows, reds and blues dominate the compositions, reflecting the surroundings. What one usually sees in such cases is the seriousness with which subtle documentation happens, perhaps unwittingly a demographic arises in the viewer’s minds about a certain populace, their culture, particular life styles, (in this case coastal / islandic), economies hierarchies, environmental dependency of a society and the political nuances of it. One could glean all these in Akshay’s early works with little effort. Without making it obvious, he generates a picture of the people of the terrain, a portraiture of inherent multiplicity and spirit which could be seen as the true essence of a landscape; its ability to bring out the unseen almost as an intuit of the invisible within the visible.
One sees the horizons change, geographies change as Akshay moves about for his art education to Bengaluru and to Khairagarh where his skill takes on a deeper meaning and exploration of the art form. In his 2015 and 2016 works his techniques are developed and one would see the palette of the artist metamorphose according to the surroundings. The bright fluorescent greens, reds, yellows become subdued and tamed by the harsh Indian summers and winters; the geographical markers of coastlines, islands and seashores, give way to ponds and lakes in landlocked terrains; the open blue skyline gets mosaicked with mountains and peaks. The atmosphere becomes somber with pale blues and faded greys of monsoon and winter months. While all this could be attributed changing locales, it also displays the influences which change the artist’s view considerably and the impact these vistas have on his art process. In his earlier works, there is an idealistic, idyllic view of his surroundings, but as his education introduces him to the Impressionists and their obsession with light and shadow, his palette becomes lighter and more ethereal. In some works simple outlines of foggy mountains and panoramic views of fields or uncultivated lands occupy a small part of the pictorial surfaces. Space becomes the pursuit in these works. The focus becomes more concentrated and sharper, while in his earlier works it is more the capturing of details of everything filling the pictorial plane. This also can be seen in his very recent works as the artist changes the perspectives of his works from the eye-level view to the tree top / hill top level view of the land.
In his ongoing series of works which have been selected for the Student’s Biennale at the Kochi Muziris Biennale 2018, Akshay has modified the lexicon of his landscape from mere perspective to an idiomatic expression of a ’whole-picture’. These are ‘narrative’ landscapes. They subtly narrate the story of an entire place/ village/town as seen in one instant by the artist. Almost reminiscent of Miniature painting styles, these works are painted in the most subdued of palettes, sticking to neutral greys, beiges blues and the introduction of the rare black. Akshay believes that black is a very difficult colour to control as it has a tendency to dominate a composition, and it was this challenge which egged him on to use it in each of the works. The outcome is that of a completely balanced image, brimming with details of a village life, right down to paddy fields, trees, mountains, dirt paths and children playing, schooling, right up to the dark appendages of urbanisation creeping into a majorly agrarian society, humorously placed as small collaged bits, cut out of newspapers in the work.
These new works could also be seen as the landscape of places which have been etched in the mind of the artist. The actual visuals that he sees on a daily basis (be they real or virtual) and which his hands have memorised over time, superimpose themselves upon each other to create these realistically improbable visuals. Hence there is a sense of the fantastical to them while they seem completely familiar. This makes the landscape in Akshay’s new works relatable, irrespective of their latitudinal or longitudinal genetics. His paddy fields could be from rural India or Thailand or Africa as are his schools and cycle riding people who group at nondescript corners of rural or urban spaces. This gives the artist’s works a global essence.
In some of his recent installation works, he transcends the portrayal of peaceful terrains and addresses the socio-economical and the political terrains. Here the works address natural and manmade catastrophes while maintaining the adhering to a conflicted landscape. For example in his work traversing multiple mediums, ‘Crash’ about war on terrorism which comprised an installation made in the shape of twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York covered with the newspaper coverages of the incident, along with a video on a loop showing the actual footage of the incident and a painting which interpreted the decimation of the twin towers by forces of terrorism. Here the landscape changes from one of assumed idealism to that of an ugly truth in the mind of the artist. In another of his works he portrays the deluge that destroyed most of Kerala and its scenic beauty recently. Akshay manages to trigger the conscience of the viewers with these intense landscapes. In these works, and the others which are subdued yet more polemic in nature, the landscape becomes a conflicted socio-political zone, without any actual physical boundaries, yet mapped, etched and even targeted in the minds of the warring agencies.
In the works from these series, the palette fades almost as if to balance the dominance of the black used in the works. The rest of the motifs are either drawings or textual elements which offer an entry into the work and its intent. Akshay has been influenced by the Japanese language and has in some of the works employed letters of the Japanese alphabet which read the word ‘love’. While the landscapes depicted are more metaphorical than realistic, Akshay insists upon highlighting their deep impact on the psyche of the entire generation who witnessed or experienced these catastrophes and survived. Here we encounter the actual shattered landscape transcend planes of perception, from past, present to the future using the locomotive devices of visuals. When a realistic landscape be it urban or rural revives the memory of a conflict zone which survived a catastrophe, (eg: ground zero) one is left with a haunting ephemerality of the original landscape. Here one notices that landscape as an art form, transcends the physical to the metaphysical. Akshay manages to bring about this transit quite convincingly through his recent works. A cursory comparison between Akshay’s early works and recent ones would educate the viewer of this effortless sojourn.
A war torn landscape of the world is the reality of today’s times in which Akshay builds these tiny monuments using history and empathy through his works. When the artistic style chosen itself becomes the lens to view from, the view finder aimed at the surrounding never falls short of inspirations. These juxtapositions of rural and urban imageries within his canvases remind the viewer of the empathetic artist of contemporary times; the artist who witnesses pristine beauty and the decimation of it, all in the same world he inhabits, at times simultaneously. The works become a registry of the conflicted human of today’s times, one who covets progress, yet abhors the steep price paid for it by his generation and the ones to follow.
Evolutionary scientists have often postulated that earth has endured numerous natural disasters like extreme weather, meteorites from space which decimated all life, etc. Each time the earth has regenerated at its own pace and reanimated its landscapes. Akshay Seebaluk in his works questions the possible outcome of human-made disasters which are the root cause of drastically changing landscapes today, while dreading the earth’s response. Be they of meteorological or nuclear origin, the artist witnesses his skylines change and these changes deem to be uncompromising.
( Images Courtesy – The Artist)