The last weekend of March was a cold and a dark one. Spending a lazy weekend at home is not my kind of relaxation. I decided to haul a couple of my cousins visiting our family for a quick trip to the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University (about 15 minutes from our home). It is a fairly good museum by New Jersey standards and we were fortunate to run into works by the Indian artist Natvar Bhavsar who was having a retrospective there. His work was characterized by very large abstract forms and shapes thickly overlaid by oil, encaustic and sand. My cousins were very excited on seeing the abstract art although they could not make much of it.. We also visited a hall that exhibited abstract American artwork (1960s – 1980s) and also imbibed some brilliant Soviet non-Conformist art of the 1970s. By the way, the Soviet art representation at this museum is outstanding…
They asked me a lot of questions on what each of the paintings meant and how we could read meanings into diffuse forms on the canvas. I am not so sure if I gave them proper perspectives, but from their faces they seemed a little confused. After about three hours at the museum, we headed back home all charged up on artwork and abstractions… They then decided that they were going to create a quick piece of artwork if I were to lend them a canvas to work on… (considering their original plans on watching a Spiderman movie that night, I thought the museum visit really set their creative juices flowing).
I told them the ground rules were that I would not participate in the painting process, but would offer suggestions and oil paints whenever needed. I told them to open their minds, forget what they learned at school and just express their thoughts on the canvas (easy words to say – I still cannot seem to practice it). They initially asked for color pencils and wax crayons and then proceeded to fill the canvas with words and phrases that they were taught at school with smaller pictures dotting the periphery and the centers of the canvas a la Basquiat style. I then handed them dabs of oil paints mixed with linseed and proceeded to give them disposable brushes with which to apply the oil at spots they felt would highlight aspects of what they had drawn into the background.
Title: Undecided; Artist: Aswin, Anusha and Hari; Material: Color pencils, wax crayons and oil on canvas; Size: 4 feet wide X 3 feet high (Click here for a higher resolution image.)
What they had created is pictured above. Of course the artwork was helped by bits of finishing touches added on by my three year old son (who had proceeded to hijack one corner of the canvas entirely to himself – the dark splotches at the top right corner was his handiwork). At the end of the exercise they felt elated, forgot about Spiderman and wanted to work on another canvas right away. It was about 10:30pm and I told them that it was late for bed and we could work on another one the next time they visited our home. I was very excited to see the activity and the energy that my cousins displayed on developing the artwork.
The next day, I remember feeling a little alarmed that I might have demolished some of the careful teachings in artwork that their teachers were imparting at school beginning with forms like drawing a house, sunrise and animals. In retrospect, I am not so sure if I did the right thing in exposing them to abstract art at so young an age but they sure had fun doing so. I would be very much interested in your thoughts…
My cousin’s names were Aswin and Anusha. He was 9 and she was 8. My son Hari will turn 3 in a couple of months.