Art bridged by words and images

Sharan Apparao explores the interaction between the visual and text, and believes that it offers an incisive semantic portrait of our times.

Banoo Batliboi 2

“Word and image” have become something of a hot topic in contemporary art history, largely because of what are often seen as invasions of the visual arts by literary theory. The relation between words and images is an extraordinarily ancient problem in the study of the arts and in theories of rhetoric, communication, and human subjectivity. In the arts, the comparison of poetry and painting, literature and visual art has been a consistent theme since antiquity in both Eastern and Western aesthetics.

Contemporary culture has made the interplay of word and image even more volatile, intricate, and pervasive. What is it about the construction of the human mind that makes the interplay of words and images seem, despite innumerable historical and regional variations, to be something like a cultural universal?

Alternating between fact and fiction, the public and the private, the universal and the particular, the text sometimes offers an incisive semantic portrait of our times. The images can be read as all things simultaneously, and yet resist any one reading when viewers see more possibilities unfold.

Some of the most well known artists international using the written word in their work or including an aspect of it are Cy Twombly. Robert Rauchenberg, Jasper Johns, Ed Rusha, Bruce Nauman, Joseph Beuys and later, Jean Michel Basquiat, Ugo Rondinone and Jenny Holzer to name a few. Love ,the famous sculpture spelt out in letters by Larry Rivers became one of the most iconic works in this genre especially at the time of the pop art movement. Artists were sometimes inspired by literature, at other times the need to emphasise the play of words and further in artists’ notebooks to pen their mindscapes as another expression.

Artists’ books that maintain the traditional structure of a book are often known as book art or book-works, while those that reference the shape of a book are known as book objects. Other types of work produced by artists in book format include concrete poetry, where meaning is derived from the spatial, pictorial and typographic characteristics of the work, as well as from the sense of the words. Books by contemporary artists are noteworthy for their many different forms and perhaps because of this they have an equally large number of precursors and influences. Artists have been associated with the written word since illuminated manuscripts were developed in the medieval times. Artists’ letters, gleanings and drawings have often been known to give a glimpse into the innermost sanctums of an artist’s thinking.

KCS Paniker 1In India, the religious manuscripts gave into legitimate platforms to extended the non-secular elements to secular explorations as in the work of K.C.S. Paniker’s words and symbols series where he worked with mathematics and the joy of the script against his earlier impressionistic garden series. Redappa Naidu also an iconic figure in the Madras Movement, used the script dramatically creating a beautiful gauze like shadow in his now iconic series of the Mahabharata that he created in the seventies.

The younger artists of the next generation like R.M. Palaniappan, C. Douglas, and Muralidharan are joined by A. Balasubramaiam, N. Ramachandran, George K., Sunil Shree, Bhavna Sonavane, Rajesh Patil, Bangalore Srinivasa Reddy, and Sunil Shree Prasanna, in still more different aspects of the written word as a layer to their paintings and sculptures.

Prasanna, for example, works in a space where he explores the communication with the blind with a series of white on white works that make complete sense to the sight impaired while almost being missed by others … It is this communication, that sometimes words bring, that is revered and respected by those who open their minds to see and listen to what lies in the pictorial space that artists create. It is but a narrative, a chronicle of a time, a personal line that art brings us… and for us as followers of art and viewers of these personal thoughts, it is the form that we are left to enjoy.