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Artist Profile3
Core artistic concerns of an unconventional practitioner
Artist Abir karmarkar’s photo realist images - sharp and edgy, sensual and satirical - are as real as a picture, but as phantasmagorical as a quirky piece of art. Working with a mixture of readymade or found images including his own images and other photographic references drawn from personal and archetypal iconography, he reuses and transfigures them, manipulating them to make them relevant to the intended artistic output - to narrate an imaginary autobiography on the canvas.

This innovative practitioner leverages technology to juxtapose these images in his work, which often depict two personas residing within a single body. He explains, “I create a virtual reality, a sort of parallel world, to explore my ‘other’ self, and convey or question certain prevailing concepts and notions related to sexuality that I find odd and unjustifiable.” He pays minute attention to detailing, color and lighting in his works that portray a different shade of sexuality with a hint of intimacy and eroticism. He says, “To some extent, I dramatize or magnify the core concept, but the idea is to get to the root of it, and not to provide a shallow representation.

His critical concern is depiction of flesh in all its materiality and corporeality. It’s part real, part fictional and part autobiographical; one cannot demarcate the boundaries! The images, carrying a touch of eroticism, come with a touch of melancholy and accentuate the feeling of isolation, which is inherent in his creations. The artist’s primary intention is confessional. He lures the viewer into a secluded world where attitudes of homoerotic desire are performed before our gaze. The domestic space or the lurid hotel room becomes for a brief period of time a stolen habitation. The underlying theme is, of course, that of sexuality; our preset notions of body, our obsession of it, and the resultant glorification in media and society. The artist does not want to associate his concept with popular tags, such as ubersexual and metrosexual. In fact, he finds such terminology quite redundant and restrictive, at the best.

The canvases to him are more of an exploration into a fantasy world where he can touch, feel and explore his own body. He invariably employs himself as the model; often painting his own self as an androgynous double - a split image of him - both as a woman and a man. Abir Karmakar's self-portraits clearly occupy – besides their opulent interiors – a psychic or inner space. The clothed and naked figures in his paintings are mirror images of each other, whatever the differences in their expressions and postures. He explains, “It’s a performance that I indulge in for projecting my artistic aspirations on myself. I use myself as a medium. It’s a self-image, not a self-portrait.” According to the artist, he simply looks to freeze a moment, a milestone in his curious artistic journey, on the canvas.

An amalgamation of photographic and painterly techniques, it depicts his alternative ego, ‘the feminine being hidden within me’, as he has stated, “I look to blur boundaries between the feminine and masculine, by questioning such notions. I am neither propagating any ideology nor passing any message. I merely articulate my viewpoint through my works. As an artist, I am more concerned with enhancing the visual, conceptual quality of my works.” In a note accompanying his latest solo, entitled Room, Interrupted in Passage’ at Mumbai-based GalerieMirchandani + Steinruecke, art critic-scholar Ranjit Hoskote elaborates how he returns to the interior spaces, which exercise a particular fascination over him: the bedroom, the bathroom and the hotel room, each a space of transient intimacy, each a repository of private and even secret experience rendered curiously, awkwardly public through the gesture of being imaged in a painting.

The writer explains, “An artist of the fraught interval, Abir Karmakar has measured it in various ways in his previous work: as the brief emptiness between exit and entry in the lamplit glow of a room; as the pause between one flamboyant, seductive act and the next in a masquerade of androgynous selves; as the threshold state at which an individual stands besieged by demons, uncertain whether to retreat into enclosure or escape into the open; or as the aftermath of mingled pleasure and regret following transports of passion, surrender or self-revelation. These rooms, as if caught in an offguard moment, interrupted in passage, are obliged to cast up the mysteries they encode in a peculiar pattern of clues and traces; they resist the probing imagination, to their credit and our surprise. In the gap or lag between what we view and the way we interpret it, which he dramatizes, we discover the subtle moral slippages and psychological shadings, which define us as viewers.

In ‘A Long Whisper’, one of his video works, a solid figure tends to dissolve into shadows and phantoms, imprints itself on a curtain in segments, striations. His ‘Shadows of Distressing Dreams’, on the other hand, features four protagonists, none of them apparently actors, to play their part in an involuntary, unscripted, awkward choreography of sleep, dream, nightmare and wakefulness. Here, too, the artist’s quintessentially painterly approach is evident. Numerous incarnations of these figures surface on the screen, one after another, in successive superimpositions. The artist’s refusal to give up his accomplished painterliness is remarkable, at a time when painting has begun to enjoy a global resurgence, but through idioms that prize an episodic, fragmentary and unfinished gesturality over technical finesse and compositional virtuosity, Hoskote concludes.

To sum it up, the shocking and the elegant come together in the subtly – aesthetically – provocative paintings, akin to his complex stories. They evoke an inward-looking world replete with imagined situations and layers of psychosomatic content.