The art of George Oommen is nostalgic in the best unsentimental sense. His paintings evoke a kind of sheer unearthly beauty. They are inspired by a place on the planet, however. one of the impulses behind them is to evoke an atmosphere that is at an opposite pole from the austere ambiance of Boston where he resides most of the time.
For a few weeks every year Oommen goes to Kerala, at the southern tip of India, where he was born and raised. Kerala is not that well trafficked but is known far and wide as an earthly paradise. He immerses himself in the tropical climate and rich color and this supplies him with images and sensations to take back to New England and convert into paintings. At present Oommen is inspired by two main forces. The first is the stylistic one of Indian miniatures. This influence is felt in the compact format he often favors, a square within a square. Although as in the miniatures the emphasis is on line, an American viewer might be reminded of abstract expressionists such as Newman and Rothko whose compositions reflect geometry whose canvases evoke a limitless space. It is not surprising that Oommen’s art has underpinnings of geometry for he is an architect and city planner and these are both rational disciplines. But his elemental images, even if they are details made grand or washes of various shades of green, hint at an unbounded hedonism.
The second main influence is a contemporary painter: Sir Howard Hodgkin, one of the foremost British artists. He is a painter who has gone to Kerala. Hodgkin mines everyday reality for his imagery which initially reads as abstraction. Likewise, something in an Oommen painting that might at first seen like an abstract exercise in achieving luminosity could turn out to be a near-precise description of light striking a river in Kerala. It is fascinating to contemplate the necessary existence of these paintings, for Oommen isn’t a romantic on the order of Gauguin who foes to a tropical place to escape civilization. Oommen is deeply involved in contemporary urban life. His Harvard thesis was a project for housing homeless people in a bridge then being constructed in Calcutta. The Indian government was interested in pursuing Oommen’s ideas but the bit of Gauguin in him was wary of “bureaucratic tangles.”
Oommen’s colors are especially intense. They are also very pliant allowing him to achieve either areas of dense color or especially runny washes. The secret is Oops Paint sold at home depot. Naturally it is marketed as house paint, but modern artists have always taken to varieties house paint. Oops comes in especially bright colors and, as the name implies, is very user friendly. The magical world that Kerala seems to be, and a wall of Oommen’s works hung salon style makes a deluxe travel brochure, evoked with a paint that is aimed at the commonplace world makes it seem ever more magical and something that will occupy Oommen for the rest of his painting life in as search for the equivalent of precise sensations.
Already George Oommen has been a painter for several decades and he has explored many styles and attitudes. In a very real sense he is a complete artist: he is at a point where his work, though intensely retinal, has a wide range of meaning. Rooted in sensuousness, and realized in an everyday manner, Oommen’s vision of Kerala, has given him a concentrated approach to art and enabled him to achieve a conspicuous spiritual dimension. A series was entitled “Sacred Places within You.” And one can expect George Oommen to be preoccupied for some time exploring enchanted places.
William Zimmer, Contributing Art Critic To NY Times
Mankotta Reflections, 2000