“DRAWN WITHOUT IRONY OR COMMENTARY, HE PAINTS THE FEMALE BODY WITH A FIDELITY TO THE FORMAL ELEMENTS OF ART, THAT HE IS THEN ABLE TO MODIFY DELIBERATELY OR REJECT WITH CONFIDENCE IN MORE ABSTRACT WORK. BUT WHETHER SPRAWLED ON A BED, OR SIMPLY SEATED ON A CHAIR, OOMMEN SEES THE INEFFABLE IN HIS MODELS.”
“The purpose of drawing figuratively is to be able to see,” Oommen has said. His figurative paintings of women are mostly exercises, undertaken at the Museum of Fine Arts where he has been taking classes since 1992. Drawn without irony or commentary, he paints the female body with a fidelity to the formal elements of art, that he is then able to modify deliberately or reject with confidence in more abstract work. But whether sprawled on a bed, or simply seated on a chair, Oommen sees the ineffable in his models. An older woman in a black dress on a chair, turns her face away haughtily from the artist. In shades of black, white and orange, we sense her authority and remove from the artist. Seated firmly in the background of the painting, her shadow darkens the wall behind her. The floor in the foreground is left blank, penciled in with lines that represent tiles. Yet the mimetic qualities of the image do not overcome its mood, and the artist’s evocation of her elegance and age is quietly astounding. The naked foreground is a sophisticated gesture that grants the seated model greater distinctiveness and regality.
Regality and poise — these qualities unite Oommen’s women. The model in Altered Reflections is queenly and patient. She gazes at the horizon line on an abstracted wall, or perhaps where the wall meets the floor, in a brick-and-mortar room, but looking also into the distance beyond it for “her ship to come”, as Oommen puts it. In these paintings, we see him return to the long view, to experience seeing through the mechanics of it, paying allegiance to form by seeking out one or other feeling in the hearts and minds of his models. His considered, pensive portraits are disciplined examinations of the “concreteness” of things. Far from the chromatic energy and reflective air of his Kerala paintings, Oommen’s figurative work functions as a relief and a reaffirmation of his artistic commitment to truly “seeing” and representing an object with specificity and detail. It hones the focus and rigor needed to break free into the emotional and intellectual vigor of his abstract work.