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A complex world of intriguing, interacting forms, colors and symbols
"The initial effect of conglomerate, multiple individual shapes provides the viewer - intent on entering a highly complex world of interacting forms, colors and symbols - the opportunity of initiating a journey that leads towards an ultimately unified, single synthetic whole."

This is how art historian Carmel Berkson describes Milburn Cherian’s work. Curiously, the artist herself describes the process of painting as “I just paint”, and does not really think about the externalizing process of her complex inner world.

Mapping her artistic journey, she says, “I had little formal training in art, and relied largely on my instincts and inner urge to express myself and visually express my artistic concerns.” She was always interested in painting, and cultivated her love for art by extensively wide reading on Indian and international art trends. Her studies at the National Institute of Design (NID) helped her to build on her aesthetical awareness.

She was greatly influenced by Pieter Bruegel and his portrayal of figures placed in believable contemporary settings. He took a more empirical view of reality; an approach that she identified with as she looked to imbibe traces of reality and to reinterpret them. There is also the influence of Christianity, which is evident in titles of her new works like ‘Give ear to my prayer’ and ‘Feast of the Righteous’.

Her medieval themes are done in a soothing palette of ambers, ochres, sepias and earthy browns. She showcased 32 large acrylics and archival prints at Mumbai’s Art Musings and then at Jehangir art gallery.

Giving a comprehensive view of her oeuvre, Carmel Berkson notes in an essay: Milburn Cherian’s paintings are a further contribution to the established traditions of authentic art of east and west. Predictably, her paintings will play a role in the future unfolding of international painting. There is simultaneity between her paintings and the masterpieces at Ajanta caves.

“We can examine how figures and color patterns in her paintings and in Ajanta’s stay in their own space yet are juxtaposed, interrelated, coordinated, or contrasted; how shading, at the most minute detail is, in reality, subtly structured. Perhaps at Ajanta, the deeper knowledge concerning the teachings of the Buddha was largely responsible for the calm that one encounters in the paintings there. However, Milburn Cherian happens to live at the end of the Kali Yuga so her art is one of head-on confrontation with the prevailing reality, as is known to millions upon millions of Indians.”

Art critic-author Adil Jussawalla once mentioned to the artist that her works resembled British painter Stanley Spencer's magnificent resurrection paintings. Milburn Cherian hadn't seen Spencer's work, and wasn’t aware of the connection, and if any, it was purely incidental. Spencer's resurrection pictures have the energy of those who have found release from death forever, whereas her works depict the helplessness of those condemned to live forever.

However, there has been a distinct change in her depiction of human condition. Her characters seem to have calmed over a period of time. The artist explains: “There is a perceived change noticeable in the depiction of the faces that speak evocatively of the human condition. Definitely, they are now more at ease with their own physicality and their emotional realm. Previously, they were like shells, compressed and withdrawn; now they are more liberated.”

The artist transfers onto many of her canvases what perhaps can never be expressed verbally and only visually by a person capable of empathy and deep identification with her subject.

Deciphering her oeuvre from a broader perspective, Carmel Berkson concludes: “Ultimately, the individual painting will rely on an underlying invisible diagram. In one of the largish canvases - very close to the exact center - for instance, a triadic composition the holy Christian family in Indian dress is the hub of the work, out of which localized substructures emanate; or the ones that are random, staccato inclusions as well as separate compositions at various localities of the picture plain. Finally, all weights in perpetual motion balance out one another. One is prompted to search for and identify these internal structures in many paintings.”