“FULL OF MOVEMENT, EVOKED SPECIALLY BY THE POWER OF WATER TO DISTORT AND TRANSFORM BRUSHWORK, THESE PAINTINGS POSSESS A PURITY THAT IS ALMOST PRIMITIVE.”
In George Oommen’s abstract work, we see the essence of his repertoire. The quiet majesty of a painting from the Sacred Places series or the exuberance of a Kerala sky — all of these are examined and developed in subsequent work. In them, we see an artist in conversation with himself. We see experiments and adventures in technique. We see responses, sketches, and questions.
In AB08 and AB08, paintings from the Northern Landscape series, the artist wets a sheet of white paper. Upon it his brush delivers some black ink. A thin line, unsure of itself, tentative but already determined to exist, like the seed of a thought, or the feeling that finally dares develop into action, begins its quiet journey. Another line, this time more firmly applied, begins to run, until the artist lifts his brush and the line diminishes into a flash of whiteness. Against the paper’s brilliant white blooms a blot — a blot that reveals that magical confluence between artistry and accident, between possibility and the limits of possibility. Walls of ink fan out and flood into broad vertical washes, from lines as thin as string, suspended against a white background, broken on and off and barely suggested.
Oommen’s Northern Landscapes are abstract, elemental evocations of cold climates. Full of movement, evoked especially by the power of water to distort and transform brushwork, these paintings possess a purity that is almost primitive. Their physicality is rich and stark; unlike his paintings of Kerala and Cape Cod, these landscapes —whether emotional or physical — brim with an almost luxuriant melancholy. The fragility of their lines, reappearing and vanishing, their jagged, runny appearance, and the ghosted, diluted washes that spring from them and alternate with thick patches of black — these are gestures that signal an interested and productive discomfort with what one thinks should be the appearance of a landscape. Yet, by manipulating the wetness of the paper and the saturation of ink applied on it, the landscapes are reflective and mysterious.
They ask questions of the viewer about how a landscape should be. How should it stimulate? What should be one’s impression of it? How much visual evidence is needed of its physicality to impress the senses? The shifting, cloth-like, wind-blown impermanence of a wall of gray and white is hypnotic and endless. Does it really matter whether it represents land, or water, or the unified effect of both on the mind? The Northern Landscapes series inspires these questions. This is their success.
Oommen refuses to identify with an artistic movement or even define his style, which is largely abstract. His works are expressionistic in their nostalgia for Kerala and a heightened spiritual awareness; they are impressionistic in their fidelity to colour and light as it might appear on a rippling sari or river. The difference does not matter, because he paints to reawaken the feeling the image brought when he first saw it.