Ganeshism 3 is a celebration of Lord Ganesh in art, through an exhibition of paintings at the Barefoot Gallery. It is the third show of its kind since 2008 by Sri Lankan artist Mahen Chanmugam.
Mahen has been painting for over thirty-five years and has devoted the last eighteen years to portraying Lord Ganesh. The paintings in this year’s show are part of a collection that attempts to present, not only the symbolism and iconography surrounding Lord Ganesh, but also the artists view of the powerful energies that Lord Ganesh represents, in the world around us, and within ourselves.
For Mahen Chanmugam painting Lord Ganesh, the deity with the elephant head, is a personal journey that was inspired by his spiritual connection to Lord Ganesh. In 1994, while working and living in Singapore, Mahen began a study of the iconography and symbolism of Lord Ganesh. He started exploring the classic forms, postures and the iconographic principles of perfect poise within the 32 forms Lord Ganesh appears in and translated these into contemporary representations.
The intensity of the search for new content in classic form has added an intellectual ambivalence to his work. Whereas the image topic is constant, the paintings now capture a range of emotions and themes. Today his art looks at Lord Ganesh’s iconography as a philosophical template that symbolizes liberation from ego, acceptance and the laws of cause and effect. Paintings like the Thousand Petaled Lotus of Light and Lord Ganesh with a Flute visualize the deity as a force that enables consciousness to evolve from its lowest to its highest. Deep, mesmerizing eyes gently look down from many of his paintings, reflecting his inspiration of love and awe from a single form that is so eloquently described in Progress of the soul by John Donne: Nature’s great masterpiece, the elephant, the only harmless great thing, the giant of the beasts.
Mahen has worked with all types of media, having mastered, then abandoned, oil painting and airbrush illustration for the transluscent brilliance of acrylic. He now works on materials as varied as canvas, wood, glass and mirror and sometimes, even on rice bags and other industrial packing material. He has had five solo exhibitions in Singapore and Sri Lanka and he paints and lives with his wife, two children and cats in his home studio, amongst the water monitors and bats in Nawala.
Ganeshism 3 will open at the Barefoot Gallery on the 29th of November and will run until the 16th of December.
Recent Paintings by Kay Beadman
Kay Mei Ling Beadman was born in England of mixed Chinese and English heritage. She studied Fine Art at the University of Reading in the UK, where she trained in sculpture but has since switched to painting and now works predominantly with acrylic on canvas. Since 1999, Kay has lived and worked in Hong Kong.
The paintings in Stepping Out focus on the humble and the not so humble shoe, an object that evokes a human presence; which may literally contain the imprint of the wearer. Here is a man-made artifact that encompasses the mundane to the iconic, that may be workaday functional or an aspirational object of desire.
The poem The Broken Sandal, by Denise Levertov, was a starting point for this series. In it she dreams her sandal strap breaks leaving her barefoot and meditating on life’s direction ‘where am I standing, if I’m to stand still now?’
What better venue than the Barefoot Gallery to exhibit this work?
Stepping Out – Notes on Technique
As I prepared for this exhibition, Barefoot Gallery Director Nazreen and I engaged in a stimulating dialogue across the time zones – thank goodness for the wonders of skype! One aspect of our talk was my painting technique and these notes are a distillation of Nazreen interviewing me on this topic.
The subjects in the Stepping Out series are all painted from life without using photographs or found images. These are real shoes and objects that are borrowed, bought or belong to me. Sometimes when I have a particular idea in mind it means searching the markets of Hong Kong to find the perfect teapot, toy or crystal ball! My studio is increasingly filled with an eclectic collection of objects which may one day find their way into a painting.
Arranging the composition is critical. The still lives can take hours of moving the individual objects in relation to each other, changing the viewpoint and trying different lighting options so the reflections and shadows fall as integral parts of the overall composition. Although the single shoes in the series stand alone without relation to another object in the picture plane, they were still carefully angled and lit until the composition worked.
I use acrylic paints for their versatility and because they mix with water and I prefer not to use other solvents. They can be thinned to watercolour consistency or used like oils but they have a very quick drying time. This enables me to work in layers in rapid succession. As I like to focus on one painting at a time and work solely on that until it feels finished, this saves me from having to set it aside to dry for days between layers of painting.
Where a high level of realism is required, I use a traditional oil painting technique. This starts with a monochrome, tonal underpainting. For this stage the image is painted fairly accurately in just one colour with dark, mid and light tones. I usually use a burnt sienna for this with added white for the highlights. It looks something like an old sepia photograph at this point. Then colours are added in thin layers or glazes over the top. This technique allows for the build up of subtle gradations of colour and can give the effect of letting light reflect outward from the object, creating a luminosity that is hard to achieve otherwise.
In other areas, in the single shoe series for example, I want to contrast the high illusion of the depicted object with the very flat 2D picture plane itself. These flat backgrounds look simple but to achieve the matt finish and the intensity of colour, there are between four to eight layers of paint, often with different colours in the underlayers which subtly effect the final tone.
A final word should go to the palette. In my initial training in sculpture, colour was never a major consideration, I was mainly interested in form. When I moved to painting, colour became important but was still limited to a fairly neutral palette. The catalyst that changed my colour sensibility was the experience of coming to Sri Lanka. In the decade I have been visiting Sri Lanka, the paintings have taken on a vibrancy of colour that has become a key component in my work.
Kay Beadman, March 2012