If our thoughts were to be realized the dead would return home. —Konkani proverb
Thoughts have their own trajectories, slopes and energies. Through our ideas we are propelled, compelled or impelled towards, or away from, various phenomenological encounters. Edges may be seen in cornices, crevices, orifices and precipices. They in turn evoke emotions and feelings fuelled or muffled by societal norms and indulgences. Making a mark is a sign of affirmation and could as well be one of distancing and negation. Those among us who are attracted to the world of marks, erasures, scratches, crosshatching, impasto, and rubbings, are allowing the body to reflect, rebel, revolt, repulse, rejuvenate, remap time; in doing so, have found one way to engage with reality.
Since early childhood, I was drawn to colour, detail in objects and faces, and things that projected unique lines. Lines convey movement which in turn express what even the senses cannot take in. Besides such pulls, trains (and in extension the variegated vocabulary of the railway) played a role in my visual imagination during my early years and youth. These included other elements; sounds emitted and aspects that rendered themselves visually: steam, smoke, the sound of wagons being shunted, and tracks being changed—my father was an engine driver. My mother was blessed with many talents, and undertook tailoring projects like frocks, school uniforms, as well as the rare wedding gown. She stitched all our shirts and styled them well. We did encounter our slices of life--the company of neighbours and working class kindred spirits courtesy of living among Bombay Port Trust rank and file. They saw us as quaintly exotic; the women wearing dresses and my father in his suit and a cigar during festive occasions. All these engagements paved the way I see line and form. The line as a journey into time and space has kept pointing towards, as well as projecting into, space ideas through conjunctions as visual grammar. It was the late George V. Coelho of Bethesda, Maryland who pointed this connection and suggested the phrase, The Hem and the Rail which was the title of my talk at the Goan Convention in Lisbon in 2007—The Hem and the Rail: We do not Come by our Thoughts; They Come to Us.
As a child I could tell if darts on dresses were not symmetrical by a process of mental superimposition. Such observations, my mother reminded me, were not becoming of a boy. Perhaps it was an early attempt at viewing fullness—a childhood thesis in fecundity! Everything around was subject for rumination—why were things the way they were? Could they have been any way else? These beginnings led me to see myself as a labourer—an artistic labourer whose concern with artistic metaphors spans religion, sexuality and consciousness. The shaping of shapes and a concern towards meaning is within my being--an artistic existence rooted in artistic labour as a path to independence.
Our yearly trips to Batim, Goa lifted our spirits in a way that is appreciably true for those touched by Goa. The raender and his journey up the coconut tree was a metaphor akin to Jacob's ladder. To me Goan culture has always been about restraint and on the other hand a spirit of allegria and inclusiveness. I saw this through my father's existence as a parent and a worker—who could relate to all manners of individuals. His journey was about seeking understanding of the direct encounters when faces greet each other. My parents, Maria Otilia Lucinda Jovita Figueiredo and Antonio Bernardo Benedicto Pinto, strove to give me and my bothers (I have no sisters) direction and a lot of paints. I needed two to three boxes a year, while my classmates did well with one box for two years. I later tried to contribute to the family income by making Christmas decorations. The Emergency in 1975 created a window for excesses which directly affected my father. He repeatedly failed his eye tests, which were certainly rigged; demoted, he never recovered from this injustice.
As an artist of Indian descent, born of Goan parentage, my focus has been to incorporate the essence of various cultures to create complex wholes as a means to understanding. I seek out multiple ways of understanding phenomena that traverse across and within my senses. Recent works focus on drawing, and continue to be reflections on ideas situated at the intersection of religion, sexuality, and social consciousness. Drawing, to me, is one of the most organic of processes. I am comfortable in the non-figurative as well as the figurative, but prefer the former to express emotive ideas. My expression is of thoughts and objects--the spaces they inhabit. Who assigns the sacred? What objectifies the profane or mundane? How do I view an altar? Is it only for holding statues or a space that may also carry our heavy and innermost secrets and desires. Looking into the spirit of language and the spirit in colour is a critical part of my process, whether by seeking depth in a proverb or being touched by colour resonances. Ethics more than aesthetics concerns my focus. The aesthetics fall into place once I am sufficiently propelled to act on form. I paint to understand my thoughts and others' in the context of a larger consciousness. By this, I mean the why of things, of occurrences, of excesses, the stirrings, the evocations, the space between one's legs, the tilt of a head, the space that certain people simply seem to completely inhabit. In that sense my concerns are phenomenological. This concern perhaps stems from a desire to give meaning to differences in my existence compared to that of another person.
I believe in allowing myself to indulge in a range of resonances but the subject dictates the approach. Not maintaining curiosity is a sure way to deaden oneself, and that is not what I seek. If art has to be vital, then the artistic existence has to reflect that vitality. Fear cannot be part of the equation. So when I consider Theophany as opposed to, say, In the Distance of Affection—what keeps me going is that in the first place those thoughts had come to me. The paramount thought on the part of the artist to engage with the surface or ground should not be underestimated. A title should never hermetically enclose the meaning of a work, but allow the viewer to share in its completion. So a work may have many meanings beginning with the inspiration of its creator.
Konkani mhonneo (proverbs) had a familial place in our home in Mumbai. The impact of these was quite unlike everyday language. They alluded to space, smell, and rawness-which were temporarily assuaged on trips to Goa. I was drawn to seek out and impose upon nooks and crannies--the visual layers of imagination in my mother's maternal home in Batim, Ilhas as well as in homes of my paternal relatives in Nerul, Bardez. A crevice in the inner wall of the well, besides having once been a refuge to a juvenile bipto wagh (leopard) that had fallen in, led to a place far away containing wondrous spaces! Such imaginations were fuelled by light changing over the day, of odoriferous mists emanating from the orchard, the fugao (earthen stoves in Goan kitchens), the brief sweet smell of moist red clay at a grave, of water gushing through the fouhee (culvert), of the pig being castrated, the undulations of the durig (enclosures of stone or mud) as if having settled after an unobserved levitation. Time was time; and time held secrets.
It is one fact to be born—we do not choose our parents; but I hold to the belief that to be born Goan is a birth that affords possibility in simply being. Whatever the nature of the being--it is Goan in breadth, and cannot be duplicated nor erased however subtle the influence. Towards that consideration, one may reiterate that we do not come by our thoughts; they come to us. This to me is Goaness—a Mobius strip of devotions, sensibilities, colour, proverbs, sexuality and other flagrant exuberances projected into the third dimension. This dimension where we encounter ourselves and others is where I am at my best and worst as a visual thinker. My concerns have been about promulgating a Catholicity of being and openness by suggesting nuance and detail in otherwise opaque subjects. This includes my interest in working visually with religious thoughts and ideas. A collective of feelings and objects collude to create emotional spaces—mind spaces. I enter spaces through my artistic labour and in so doing bring about a nature I otherwise would not be privy to. Spaces to me, much like cultures, hold in their geometries, mindsets which find their way into shape, and form artistic metaphors.The following piece appeared in the Fall 2007 issue of Dekh, the magazine of Casa de Goa, Lisbon.My drawings on flickr.