Colours of the unconscious

Colours of the unconscious


Colours of the unconscious

The magnificence of these works also owes a great deal to the deep and rich layers of vivid colour that masters like him gave to their paintings, which have incredibly managed to stand the atmospheric ravages of time too.

So much so that, one wonders why there aren’t many artists around now who care to work with this technique, the excruciating and time-consuming effort involved in this technique notwithstanding.

So, then, is this oil glaze technique done in multitudes of layers extinct? Not exactly. Holding the technique alive is Kathleen Scarboro, who happened to visit Chennai. In other words, it is a case of new wine, in old bottle.

The Indian connection

Incidentally, Kathleen’s visit to Chennai was borne out of her spiritual connections with Guru Parthasarathy Rajagopalachari, whose discourse on Raja yoga she happened to listen, back home in France, at a time in her life when she felt that her ‘mind was too chaotic’. Now a committed practitioner of Raja yoga and a regular visitor to guru Parthasarathy’s ashram just outside Chennai, Kathleen muses, “India is a country that represents spirituality.” She adds, “And perhaps Tibet.” 

Kathleen’s paintings are like photographs, in the sense that they are shots of frozen instants of time. But the focus is on people, not situations. The people in her canvas are ‘us’ rather than demi-gods or even ‘them’. She doesn’t glorify her subjects either, preferring to present them as they are, in an unconscious instant of time. The instants of time are of everyday affairs and routine chores, rather than of spectacular and significant endeavours. Anchored in this dose of realism, she takes us through her protagonist’s mind into surreal dimensions, dreams, questions, remembrances, and nostalgia.

Some other works have slices of different worlds merged in the same painting, as in ‘A child’s world’, a forlorn looking child holds his face in his palm and dreams of magical worlds that only children can envisage.

Someone who travels a lot, and also a sculptor, a muralist and a mosaic artist who undertakes commissions for public, open-air mosaic works, Kathleen has her hands full. Though based in France, Kathleen keeps travelling out to India and other places for a good part of the year. And this extensive travel comes to her rescue, as the people in her canvass are never repeated; through they are similar people in the sense that they are the people of our villages who miraculously retain spontaneity rural, each of them sport a distinct identity.

 The perspectives that Kathleen chooses for focusing on her protagonists are sometimes straight, as in the painting ‘Feminine’, where a little girl’s eyes peer at you mesmerisingly with a direct eye-level glance. At other times, it is refreshingly different, and you begin wondering where the person’s face is. At times she focuses on individuals, and at times on groups. But even if it is a group of people that you see in her paintings, they come across as distinct individuals rather a side-study for a situation.

Spectacular colours

The full impact of the multi-layered glaze technique comes through in the spectacular colours she uses to clothe the Indian people and landscapes in her canvass; not to mention the esoteric shades she uses to bring out surrealism. Perhaps she oversimplifies the thrust of her painting by providing titles for all her paintings like ‘A small world’, ‘Soul Search’, ‘Introspection’, etc, which becomes as tiresome as stating the obvious. Perhaps, it might have been a better idea to have kept the paintings untitled, and leave space for the viewer take his own path of flight.

To Kathleen, beauty is crucial. “Not the beauty of a model; more like the beauty of a person’s glance; or even just how light falls on objects,” she clarifies. In other words — not glamour or opulence, but spontaneity. That is perhaps why she likes to observe and paint sleeping persons, a time when a person is totally unaware and totally spontaneous and genuine. Not that sleeping beauties are her only prerogative. She finds Indian women and children very appealing, the rural ones of course, who still haven’t come under the sterilising wrap of global fashions.

“How naturally lovely Indians are,” she gushes. She elaborates, “You see, from a distance, you get a clearer vision of something. As a foreigner, I see a country which is still holding on to its spirituality, which I think is really remarkable, given the sterilising global wave that is fanning uniformity around the world, a wave that is severing the spiritual facet of man.”

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