Copyright 2017 Ashish Kumar Singh
Published by Ashish Kumar Singh at Shakespir
Table of Contents
To the memory of my dear friend, Rianne van Luxemburg.
Rianne with her husband Jorden.
Her last message to me was “…. I shall never stop hoping. I feel there’s a long life for me waiting, with many lovely moments and even children of my own. So I just keep on hoping. ….I hope to see you again some day. Love – Rianne”
I have always been interested in human creativity and democratic causes. Within spheres of human creativity, I have interacted with scientists, innovators, writers, philosophers, and artists but rarely one person who is all in one. I met a true renascence man, Dr. Sukant Khurana, now a friend, in a group art exhibition, The Textured Conscience, at one of Asia’s oldest art galleries, All India Fine Arts and Crafts Society, and realized how he seamlessly traverses the world of the cutting edge of science, technology, and art. After interacting with him, I realized that once he used to share the same passion as me for democratic South Asia and had even sacrificed a year during the peak of his career to fight against corruption in India but now is just temporarily in India, to eventually move to societies he can relate more to, places in North America where he did his Ph.D. and postdocs. It turns out that Sukant’s concerns for South Asia, India in particular, where he opposed fundamentalism from all religions and indoctrinated views of both the left and right extreme, worked for women’s empowerment, sustainable development, and conserving ecosystems, and penned articles and books on the same, costed him dearly, ranging from huge financial damages, repeat social media hacking, costing him first art related opportunities in 2012 and 2014 and then major blow to scientific career in 2014 and then two attacks on life after he returned to India in 2014. After realizing that all he is incurring is damage to himself and people surrounding him, without being able to make a difference either to democratic causes of South Asia or put his energies to science and arts that he excels at, he had a quite introspection for few months, after which he cut his umbilical cord with South Asia. While others might have taken a different course, some with Sukant like abilities to galvanize crowds into action even taking to politics in India but I do not think anyone would have anything close to give to the world as Sukant has from his innovation in several fields, so I think he has made the right choice for himself. After this final introspection in early 2016, he penned a book “”, which celebrated the spirit of North America, embracing it as his home, a place where he had grown up scientifically anyway, making it clear that he has moved on to making a difference through science, arts, and entrepreneurship. He also exhibited an autobiographical painting series [+ Making via Unmaking+], to talk of his life journey and mistakes, making it clear that his path ahead is of creative journey and not social activism. The exhibition was covered in all newspapers in the region and that is when I learned about Sukant, getting to meet him in person, only six months later at another exhibition. In just a bit over a one year of that transition in Sukant’s life journey, he has been speaking at international TED conferences every now and then and his science is on trajectory to topmost accolades, his start-up getting multi-million dollar investment offers, and him being hailed as one of the modern masters in art, making me wonder what lies ahead in a journey that can have transformative potential for a large section of humanity. I would not delve much into Sukant’s journey because I would like to study more before I write more about it. In addition to decades of life destroyed due to activism, Sukant also had very bad luck with his health and personal relationship, save his parents and few friends, who have been with him through thick and thin. This journey of every day effort not adding up to much, constant uncertainty, gave rise to one particular art form by Sukant, where he paints a later of painting, destroys it through natural weathering, fire, knife, acid, bullet, and what not, to paint over another layer, simply to repeat the process over and over again. What you see in this kind of art is a life story and not simply a final beautiful layer. This kind of art he makes is provocative, terrifying, haunting, and not beautiful in the regular sense but it is more soulful and cathartically, viscerally beautiful than anything you would have seen. Often they come with a fake smile. Then there is another diametrically opposite more celebratory art of his, where he makes one layer and washes it immediately, over and over again, such that final painting has small contribution from each layer, making more tranquil works than that of Rothko. It is no surprise that Sukant has chosen such diametrically opposite approaches and also broken all known art boundaries, such that his art form, which readily fuses across all art schools and movements, from prehistoric art, to Eastern and Western classical works to modernism and contemporary approaches. His style of not sticking to any boundaries has been called by several of his peers as . In addition to the artist Sukant Khurana, there is another manifestation of Sukant, the scientist who paints, when he comes up with questions of nature of visual art, how color can play independent of lines, contradiction of shapes, and so on. Underpinning all the experiments though is a deep spirituality and quest for knowledge that makes science and art no different to him. Also having had a very tough life, his art frequently brings out the incomplete, unsuccessful, and the ignored forward in art. I am glad to evaluate Sukant’s art. Even in art evaluation, I am only deconstructing his art in this first book. If I go into stories behind some of his works, which have been fifteen to twenty years in making then several of them can be massive manuscripts in themselves. I hope you enjoy this book as much as I am enjoying writing this first book on Sukant’s art. Sukant has conducted several experiments with juxtaposition with poetry and exploring visual through photography, which you can find [+ here+]. I am thankful to Sukant to discuss with me his art work and his life story and allow me to use images of his art for this book. If you wish to know more about several things Sukant Khurana is up to, look up his . Enjoy reading!
It would be easy to write about an artist who adheres to one form of art or could be put in one narrow context but writing about Sukant Khurana’s art can be best done in a non-linear manner only, where I try to explore sources of his inspiration, motivations, contradictions, styles, and final works in the context of his very interesting, inspiring, and tortuous journey. I would discuss the various things about the artist and his art that have caught my attention in several months of knowing Sukant, giving you an overall perspective, before zooming in on a particularly interesting journey in the process of making art, which can be best described as creative destruction and destructive creation. I would conclude this book trying to speculate the future of this approach to art, its limitations and revolutionary possibilities. I intentionally do not use specific examples of paintings, when initially discussing Sukant’s art because if I do so then I would need to write a book that is tens of thousands of pages long. I discuss what all I have seen and understood in the beginning and then bring it to fore when discussing the focus of this book: creative destruction and destructive creation.
Sukant’s overall works span the whole gamut from pure abstraction to very realistic works but most of his contemporary works use abstraction as a tool, instead of a guiding philosophy; like an ability to zoom in and out of some part of the story he is weaving. In fact the whole idea of modern abstraction was a search of breaking away from narratives. The invention of camera freed painters from being mere recorders of events. Most modern artists have used that freedom to even run away from narratives and in the process losing the captivating strength that Raphael and Da Vinci enjoyed. Sukant has used that freedom to in fact at times, weave more complex story than the greatest of classical painters. Sometimes he runs away from an obvious narrative, where one can understand the narrative, only when they learn the context in which he painted and sometimes he uses paintings as Jazz music, to evoke a feeling, without feeling the need to tell any story at all. I have seen Sukant use abstraction sometimes as a tool to create mystery or sometimes to remove the unnecessary details from an overall narrative. He uses abstraction in several ways, one of them being like a manual zoom of a camera. Being a master theoretician, he even has labelled some of entirely abstract works with such titles, such as “in search of a narrative”, “running away from narratives”, and “searching for a story, where there is none”. He uses abstraction, capable of a much broader subjective interpretation, as in itself a topic in his art, showing Sukant’s interest in exploring the particular theme he is studying as much as the capability of painting as a medium in itself. I have seen works, where he uses the same structure but just different coloring to evoke different moods and even tell different stories. In several of works, you can see circles, repeated circles talking to you. You can clearly see with the choice of colors, thickness of lines, the texture, and the medium, what the mood is and at times, what the exact message is in the paintings but what is not clear to me is that if this is just some metaphor for cyclic nature of things that Sukant has picked up or if it is a demonstration by a master that even by using so few shapes you can still convey complex messages. There are several works of Sukant stored in New York and New Jersey, made on wooden boards with acrylic colors that are simply called circling while followed by numerical order they were made in; and all they have are repeated circular continuous paths. The works that I have seen in person and not just in pictures, ones stored in India, have few such works, while most use it as a metaphor in small part of a bigger painting. There is heavy use of drip art and abstract expressionist tendencies in a lot of what Sukant does but that said there is often a heavy infusion of symbolism and realism, which is antithetical to abstract expressionism.
At times the word painting is a misnomer for what Sukant does because of the third dimensional element to his work. Only a minority of his works are planar with no texture. Texture in Sukant’s work is like spice in Indian food. Very unlikely that you would not find it. Sometimes the texture is in form of a blob and sometimes in form of knife attacks or bullet wounds to the canvas or fire treatment and sometimes in form of massive deposits of paint mixed. I know that an artist friend of Sukant has even joked that he should sell paintings by weight, given how heavy some of the works get with layer upon layer of paints.
Just like texture, sometimes you see juxtaposition of patterns. I have been privy to works of Sukant stored in India, so less than half of his total collection. I am not sure if these patterns are used as a repeat motifs or would be on a systematic basis but clearly in some works I see two sets, one synergistic strokes and in another antagonistic strokes, conjugated with appropriate colors, to tell the same old conflict of good and evil. Whether it is conscious or a primordial story that all of us know inherently that comes out in clash of patterns is something I yet need to find out myself to be able to comment about it.
Foreground and Background
In classical paintings there has always been a more detailed foreground and less detailed background, mimicking even the focus of a human eye. Sukant in his crazy analysis experiments has played with even the basic tenet of what is foreground and what is background. Across his works, including some that are part of the series that this book focuses on, there are his works where the object, person, or form in the center of painting and from the perspective most in front of you, is blurred, while the background is detailed. That is intriguing but not at odds with his approach of process to art, where a beautiful detailed layer can be completely hidden by another plain layer.
Western art is dominated by a central focus to art, which frequently go along with a undertone of man in contrast to nature. In comparison, there are several, not all, works from South Asian paintings and sculptures where instead of a central focus there are several character, nature, all interweaved in form of works, say that of the depiction of Bodhisatva. Instead of former or later being a rule for Sukant, it seems his scientist mind has used it as another alphabet in the language of painting, to play with it freely as he chooses. I tend to see Sukant’s experiments with minimalism from this lens also, although I know he has also been a closet designer, where minimalism has influenced designs of products he plans to launch in future.
In South Asia there have been interesting experiments in Buddhist paintings, most notably of Ajanta caves, focussed on reverse perspective, where instead of distant images being smaller they are larger. It is not clear what the motivation for these were but they create a surreal image. There are several works, where again Sukant has used reverse, normal and distorted perspective in the same painting, especially his neuroscience themed works, which explore how hallucinogens can alter perception. Again a case of Sukant taking a style and making it an alphabet for writing poetry through painting in his free form Jazz way.
Sukant seems to be as good of a synthesizer, a sponge, absorbing every style he comes across as he is an analyst. In fact if one has to classify his seemingly disparate art works, one of the few meaningful spectrum one can think of is of analysis and synthesis. One would find his works in two clusters, one near the synthesis end of the spectrum and another near the analysis end of the spectrum, leaving the middle sparsely populated.
Another seems to be spectrum of pre-planned works and evolved works. You can clearly see most works at the analysis end of spectrum are pre-planned, while the more the synthesis of different styles, the more is playfulness in his art. They seemed to clearly have evolved as the work went along.
Another dimension to think of classification of his works is to think of narrative or the lack of it, just as well is another dimension of complexity. I am going to present images of some of his works, so that you can also start to engage in evaluation of his works, just as I have. I hope through this journey of exploring Sukant’s works, we would get to know ourselves better.
Here are some pictures of Sukant’s works. I am not posting titles or information about series, so you can scratch your head and build your own narratives. When you get tired you can search for the images online and would find details in form of various books, blogs, coverage of exhibitions but I hope you would enjoy guessing for some time, just as I did. Isn’t the purpose of modern art to bring out our own poetry out of it, in addition to the one artist wrote, through colors and shapes?
About the Author
Ashish Kumar Singh is from Rae Bareli district of Uttar Pradesh. His keen interests in human rights issues have pushed him further to explore the field both by taking two Masters in social sciences and by engaging in a range of organizations, working towards making the society a just and democratic place for everyone. He has more than five years of experience in fields such as policy research, project management, governance assessment and development communication. Ashish has also honed his skills in doing data collection, literature reviews and preparation of reports as well as concepts notes for three academic institutes in India. Ashish says, “Writing is forte as I began my career as a journalist and still keep adding to the list of things I write – both on paper and online.” During his studies in Norway, Ashish has been involved with International Students Union at Oslo University College, first as Public Relations Officer, then the President at his University and then the National Vice President. The International Students’ Union of Norway is an independent, democratic, non-profit, non-partisan student-run organization that is committed to the interests of all international students (coming from 40+ countries) studying at institutions of higher education in Norway. He has also led a group of students from Norway to India to understand the similarity and differences in the pattern of migrating youths. Apart from that during his course work and stay in Norway, Ashish was involved with a few organizations (Networkers South North, SAIH, FIAN) working on projects related to different developmental issues. He is involved with various youth led initiatives in India with the aim to bring in positive change in the society. Whenever he can take time out of his social science research, Ashish likes exploring the sources of human creativity and nature. You can connect with him on , , or .
This book is about a first stab at making sense of the unique art of Dr. Sukant Khurana. Sukant Khurana is a renaissance man, whose works in neuroscience, artificial intelligence, drug discovery are creating waves just as much as his visual art, poetry, fiction, and other artistic adventures. His art at times lends to easy analysis and at times requires a different way of looking because of the number of extensive layers, sometimes hiding previous layers and sometimes building on each other. Thus some analysis is required and I have attempted to deconstruct it in the context of contemporary art dialogue.