I would say, in a way my entry into visual art, that is, painting, was almost destined. Nobody in my family could think of sending me to an art college. Art – painting, music or dance – was not considered as a profession. But when I expressed my desire to enter College of Art (Delhi), instant support came from my father. Because he alone knew how deeply involved I was with painting and could make a professional career out of it. However, the saving grace was, that nobody opposed such a course for myself. That open and silent support for my desire has been my strength all along.

In the College, some of the teachers appreciated my abstract renderings and some were indifferent. But, I respected all of them, unreservedly, though liking those who were encouraging in their behavior more than others. Over all, things went in my favour all along. This was really a big gain. I am still very thankful to the late Sidheshwar Dayal, who ran a gallery at Mandi House, New Delhi, for hosting my first solo show while I was still a student at College of Art, Delhi the National Capital. And I am still deeply thankful to the then College Principal, Sh. O.P. Sharma, who suggested my name to Mr. Dayal.

Both these facts helped my take off. In fact they cast a die in which my career as an artist was shaped.

I have, from my very first show at Siddheshwar Dayal’s L.T.G. Gallery, worked in the nature-oriented abstract idiom that leaves me free to culture my picture-space with whatever forms that I came to fancy or choose as a building bricks for my work. And such a free choice has been continually finding an echo in the hearts of those who appreciate and value abstract art (though I think that all art is abstract irrespective of its general categories such as figurative, surrealistic or realistic). Of course my sense of ‘abstract’ art is a bit different from what is generally considered as “abstract art”. I use the term abstract in terms of essence and not at all mean what can generally be described as non-figurative.

My art evokes a different feeling because it is close to nature. It tends to provide a view with the intention of evoking a feeling which one gets when one roams about in an inviting landscape. I can therefore say that I provide my audience a scape that is engaging enough to compel them to peep and survey, to implore and explore and then return to a stake of enlightened equilibrium. And to relish what they’ve surveyed like the after-taste of a good meal. My colours, my formal littering and my sense of space-culture are all there for providing my audience a romantic interlude apart from any intellectual pretentions. It’s simple recourse to aesthetics or, one can say, rather a personal version of it.

Metamorphosis and Transcendency

When talking to Hem Raj you feel like speaking to an artist with a conception of art dating back to a time ling before secularization of art took pace. He emphasizes the “Dignity” in art, specially of painting, if it’s “aspiring vocation”. Remarkable for the oeuvre of the 1969 born Indian painter. His paintings gained early national and international recognition and appreciation; they deal in a liberal, almost cheerful way with transcendental bearings, along with an intensive abstraction, an almost purificatory style rarely found in today’s art world. A hint may be seen in the titles of his recent production: “Metamorphosis”, “Voice for voiceless” and “thou”. In all his work, starting with the early Tantric inspired paintings and leading to the recent large coloured squares, named by the ecclesiastical English title “Thou”, a respectful devotional invocation, he in-cludes naïve drawings of animals, stylized sexual objects, pictograms of plants and animals. Some-times they are scratched into a thick layer of paint, sometimes washed on top with a seemingly fast brush. Yet the picture planes are always distinctly organized and screened. Squares, spaces shoved against each other, graphic elements organize the canvas and put it to distinct order. Tantra, the ecstatic way in Hindu and Buddhist philosophy, is all but far from Hem Raj’s meditative paintings. “Pictures”, he say, “ought to bring peace to the spectator as well as the painter”. He uses the ancient Indian team “Anand”, “bliss” in English, which can be translated with utmost happiness. Animals to Hem Raj are means to express wildness. To him men alike is driven by carnal desires even when trying to ignore them. Lingam and Yoni (male and female genitals), sperm, symbols of fertility like serpents and blossoms testify to this way of thinking. He is convinced that the artist is a medium, obliged to express truth and manifestations beyond common reality. His way to express this is paint and canvas. And then again paint and canvas are medium to him. Just think of Gertrud Stein’s famous line: “A rose is a rose is a rose…”. On first sight this concept of art is utterly astonishing. Should we step back to pre-renaissance art in order to discover such a philosophy? The artist a “Creator alter”? Not at all when you think of the theories e.g. of surrealism, initial essays of Kandinsky and early reflections on abstract art; all of this is very close to the thinking of Hem Raj. During the recent years Hem Raj has somewhat moved away from the stern, highly defined construction of his paintings. The are very colourful and gained more freedom in configuration. Very large, often radiating monochrome spaces are arranged in daring combination. Numerous erotic sings and highly stylized presentations of animals are dancing along the rims as graphic design. They don’t push into the intensive coloured expanses which dominate the larger parts of the painting. The paintings thus become icons for meditation and transcendency.

©Ernst W. Koelnsperger, Munich, May 2004

©Translation: Arne e. Fuchs


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