Forms twist, contort, confront, explode in colourful celebration or are muted in quietness or reverence. Whatever these forms are – human, animal, spirit or gods – they undeniably demand attention, insisting that your eye follow them along the path of the canvas, wherein lies their journey or domain. Such is the force of Gopal Jayaraman’s artwork, that characters he engages seem to have a life within and larger than the drawing or painting surface.
Gopal J’s work is imbued with an ever present sense of spirituality and intangibility which often cannot be seen but only felt through belief. There seems to be an imperceptible whispering between the various creations in his works which is not communicated through words but expressions and silent communion. We feel drawn, as onlookers, to pay attention to what is being observed, keen to overhear what the forms are intimating to each other. This no doubt stems from Gopal J’s own sense and awareness of the spiritual and higher, unseen realms that influence his own beliefs and daily actions. He tries to capture for himself, and us, a sense of divine and interconnectedness of all living things that often escape many of us as we rush around in our daily lives. This is often not a popular choice of topic in the business of contemporary visual arts, and yet I have rarely seen people unmoved Jayaraman’s work – not in the vein of an exotic cultural depictions – but by the sheer force and beauty of Gopal J’s works.
The intricacy of his designs, both Indian and African, instill a sense of sustained adoration and religiosity. Painted in gold and silver, such designs adorn the surface reminding one of religious paintings and architectural design from the world’s oldest cultures. At the same time they give a sense of playfulness to his surface, which is often marked by bold colourful strokes of thick acrylic paint or washes of transparent colour which flood his scenes, sometimes in quiet contemplation or in passionate supplication. Gopal J is deceptively skillful in managing to control his busy compositions be they in full colour or rendered in minute detailed black and white ink drawings. His ability to control the lighter ethereal planes, the lower darker realms and middle planes of colour and human activity add depth to his worlds which are never straightforwardly separated but are always interwoven and interconnected. One is aware of the harmony between various subjects and elements – from gods to humans to animals – and between line, paint, space and material.
It is hard not to compare Gopal J’s style to that of South African visual artist Dumile Feni in terms of the contorted figures, the simplicity and sometimes ease of line, but whereas Feni’s early iconic township artworks portray characters with a sense of ‘tortured ness’ of line and form, Jayaraman’s forms are more at peace with themselves, their environments and their belief systems. His forms often command and dominate their other worldly space and while it may be tempting to typecast Gopal J’s work as ‘surrealist’ or ‘magical realist’, both of these terms seem inadequate when trying to discuss the infusion of the spiritual with ‘the real’.
Standing in front of Michaelangelo’s Pieta sculpture, one can acknowledge the study of the human forms, the mastery of the material and the evocativeness of the expressions of both mother and sacrificed son. Yet it is the urge to believe, to be seduced into the narrative of the grieving mother for her child that underpins the impulse which roots me before this work. And I find myself similarly seduced by Gopal J’s work. There is something about the qualities of paint that continues to seduce. Perhaps it is the ability to channel creativity and magically transform a piece of white board and canvas into a natural representation or mystical realms, an abstraction of form and colour, an allowance for infinite possibilities and combinations without really any limit by the painting medium itself. Gopal J takes this notion of infinite possibilities and extends it into the conceptual realm, depicting worlds that he sees – and, for a moment, looking at his work, I am allowed to believe.