Organic Dreams

Works by Babu Xavier
10th - 22nd August, 2008

“If I draw a line with a paint brush I’m Picasso, if I draw a line with a pen its Paul Klee.”
- Babu Xavier

A layer of transgression, parody and cynicism seem to brood behind his otherwise fantastical forms and vibrant palate; these almost neon hues radiating through his current medium of acrylic while maintaining certain sensibilities in regard to his wash technique that are reminiscent of his earlier watercolour phase. With sinister revelry Xavier makes issue of a new urbane sense of ecology through his work. Both in regard to the interface between our natural and topographical surroundings, the imaginary world of the individual and on our dependence not only on nature but a simulated space that breeds convenient waste and ease in escapism for those products of modernization, those global citizens of a corporate and institutionalized world. Issues such as man’s relationship with an extended ecosystem, a contrived sense of belonging to a fabric of co-existence and interdependency that he has augmented to suit his own needs, placing the human species in the eye of the hurricane, the central position in this complex network of life at a whim and fancy all of his own are all issues addressed through this body of Xavier’s work.

At a time where global warming has moved from the realms of speculation to stark and irrefutable fact, exponentially growing human populations and dam projects, threatening the flora and fauna of the Gangetic plane and river that have evolved over millennia, pithy terms as ‘Organic’ and ‘Natural’ seem to emerge from the same brand of capitalism and corporate ethics that have in increments, prodded and nudged mother nature through the course of the post-industrial era to this point in history at which her most precious heirlooms are being sacrificed at the altar of human greed. The latent paradox implied is playfully juxtaposed with the musings and day-dreams of the artist in question, a dreamscape is established through Xavier’s work that clutches fiercely to the splendour that remains while caustically critiquing that which threatens it. ‘I always look for a reason to paint. Most often the inspiration is literary, because it gives me a formula of metaphoric comparisons and that is when I begin. Some images come from a sense of play, others from deeper concerns and qualities of life’s ponderings and modern day patterns of lifestyle.

The land on which I live becomes an important metaphor. Metaphorical grasp of land is not simply an ideal pastoral concern for me. It goes beyond what is merely pretty or beautiful. For me beauty lies in the intensity of being.’ This intensity of being that Xavier speaks of is made apparent through the ‘landscapes’ featured in this series. Landscapes which seem to be a cross section of many different scenes from a variety of different angles which serve to create a pastiche of sorts that is comprised of many variegated layers, in almost a similar fashion to the way in which sedimentary rock forms under the ground of the surfaces and topography that is depicted. They are characterized by a chaotic maelstrom of compositional elements, fragments extracted from an otherwise placid and tranquil paddy field, outburst of shrubbery and foliage, possibly a patch of baby blue sky littered with the cotton candy clouds of his home state of Kerala. Other landscapes also serve to communicate the feeling tone and disposition of a central human or animal figure that sometimes seem to float in suspension in the middle of the composition with the elements of the outer surroundings in some instances, spilling in to and unabashedly sullying the corporeal sanctity of the figure whereas in others the landscapes seem to be emerging through a gaping mouth. The landscape thus embodying the muffled cry, the silent screams of the protagonists of Xavier’s compositions. Screams that send ripples through the pensive vivacity of the larger composition. Thus, Xavier re-defines the traditional conception of the landscape with expressionistic qualities that serve the purpose of accommodating a set of politically driven aesthetic statements that are delivered with a characteristically Malayali sense of sarcasm and crude humor.

Another example of the same wry humor is the way in which Xavier draws from his experiences while he was pursuing his bachelors in zoology. He assembles these amalgamations of various specimens of flora and fauna while he acts as the antithesis of the Cartesian vivisectionist. Instead of splicing fish genes and incorporating them in to that of fruits and vegetables to ensure longer shelf life or genetically modifying plums and tomatoes in such a way that they rot from the inside out so that they may appear fresh in the supermarket only to reveal a putrid core on the chopping board, Xavier uses fish as the eyes of an elephant and flowers to act as a fairy tale representation of the expanse of hair that emanates from the tip of the tail. Each elephant in this series also represent varying moods associated with months of the year. There is also a somber and almost threatening quality to the portrayal of this species, who the world over has traditionally been known for their placid and peace loving nature. Paradoxically, there has been a recent increase in displays of unbridled rage, the incidence of rampaging and aggression towards human beings, their very own caretakers in particular growing at an astounding rate. Similar to a South Indian feast, assembled on a banana leaf flavours tend to bleed in to each other, merging in some areas and clashing at others corners lending the meal a dynamic and fluid quality that seems quite analogous to the interaction of compositional elements present in Xavier’s works.

An earlier sense of lyricism that was characteristic of his abstract watercolour phase has yielded to this uniquely pharisaical sensitivity that he utilizes to comment on market forces and the plight of the common man.

 

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