Friday, November 30, 2007

Mandelbrot moments

Most of us have had a lot of fun deciphering indeterminate forms in the nature that abounds us. Be it in the shape of leaves, the gnarled branches of a leafless tree, the leaf laden oak that dwarfs that old rickety home or the recursive edges of a sand grain under the microscope. Looking at the skies yesterday over Lady Liberty, I must say that I felt equal parts elation, melancholy and awe.
Sunil, 'Fractals over the Lady', Digital photograph

Thursday, November 29, 2007


Sunil, 'Paganism', Charcoal on 400 series Strathmore paper, 11" X 14"

Dabbling versus specialization

Recently an uptown gallery in NYC (Anita Shapolsky gallery) held a very special show – an exhibit that showcased the work of writers who in their part time became artists and went ahead and created some very compelling pieces of art. Comments on some online forums covering this event seemed to deride this as a wannabe attempt by non-artists at producing art and hinted at the fact that writers should stick to what they do best – writing. They also gave the example where exactly zero publishers would flock to publish a novel if written by a major artist (which I very much doubt). Though not related, take the recent example of moviemaking by Julian Schnabel as a supposed exception.

In a short piece for Art and Perception due to be published later today, I hope to delve deeper into this perception that we are live and breathe in a specialized society so much so that one must not stray too much from ones roots. In the odd case of such hucksterism, transgressions may be met by the threat of being proclaimed as second rate.

Hmm, coming to think about it, I have an engineering background…

Also, I take this opportunity to let you review the work of a writer Patrick Woodroffe, one of whose oil paintings are depicted below.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Sunil, 'Untitled', Charcoal and ink on 300 series injet printed Strathmore paper, 9" X 12"

Conceptual thoughts

I was reminded of the seminal essay "Paragraphs on Conceptual Art" as I read about two exhibitions currently underway - one in New York and the other in London. 'You' by Urs Fischer at Gavin Brown in New York comprises a 38 'X 30' foot crater that is about eight feet deep and extends to the walls of the gallery, surrounded by a fourteen-inch ledge of concrete floor. 'Shibboleth' by Doris Salcedo in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall is a minimal piece that comprises just a cleanly executed 167-metre-long crack in the floor of the gallery.

While the crack in the gallery floor conceptually explores issues of racial segregation, social exclusion, class politics and rich-poor divide, 'You', (by demolishing the gallery floor space) aims to deconstruct the almost cultish aura that surrounds the archetypal white-walled gallery of today hawking million dollar paintings in their pristine, almost vacuum-sealed environs.

It is indeed interesting to note that at a fundamental level both of these inspiring works aim to attack the concepts of separation - while the former applies to class, gender and race, the latter explores the same concept as it applies to separating artists with the right contacts exhibiting multimillion dollar pieces within clean sterile walls and those that do not have the right connections languishing along the wayside...

Sol Lewitt in "Paragraphs on Conceptual Art"

I will refer to the kind of art in which I am involved as conceptual art. In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art. This kind of art is not theoretical or illustrative of theories; it is intuitive, it is involved with all types of mental processes and it is purposeless. It is usually free from the dependence on the skill of the artist as a craftsman. It is the objective of the artist who is concerned with conceptual art to make his work mentally interesting to the spectator, and therefore usually he would want it to become emotionally dry. There is no reason to suppose, however, that the conceptual artist is out to bore the viewer. It is only the expectation of an emotional kick, to which one conditioned to expressionist art is accustomed, that would deter the viewer from perceiving this art.

Doris Salcedo 'Shibboleth' (Photo ripped from

Urs Fischer, 'You' (Photo ripped from

Stitching poems

Sometimes you could take utterances by an individual over the course of their lives, stitch them together and form a composite of the person’s thought process. I had a little bit of fun the other day when I happened to cherry-pick utterances made by a well known individual at various points in his life. None of actual lines were written by me, they were just ‘sentenced’ together to create a poetic form… The stitching was fun…

Muddling through...

I don't particularly like it
when people put words in my mouth,
either, by the way, unless I say it.

I'm the master of low expectations,
I was a prisoner too, but for bad reasons.
I know what I believe.
I will continue to articulate
what I believe and what I believe, I believe.
What I believe is right.

I'm also not very analytical.
Just remember: it's the birds
that's supposed to suffer, not the hunter.
One has a stronger hand when,
there's more people playing your same cards.

Oftentimes, we live in a processed world
you know, people focus on the process
and not results. Are we going to be facile
enough to change? Will we be nimble enough?
Will we be able to deal
with the circumstances on the ground?
And the answer is, yes, we will.

I understand how tender
the free enterprise system can be.
When somebody builds
a new building,
somebody has got to come
and build the building.
And when the building expanded,
it prevented additional opportunities
for people to work.

You're free.
And freedom is beautiful.
I think we are welcomed,
but it was not a peaceful welcome.
And, you know, it'll take time
to restore chaos and order,
order out of chaos. But we will
I promise you - I will listen
to what has been said here,
even though I wasn't here.

And so, therefore,
we're cautious, about
encouraging people to
return at this moment of history –
I'm looking forward
to a good night's sleep
on the soil of a friend.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


Sunil, 'After the festivities', Digital photograph

Friday, November 23, 2007

Fall colors

Sunil, 'Premium Roof Cement', Digital Photograph

Sunil, 'Premium Red Maple', Digital Photograph

Sunil, 'Premium Home Foreclosed', Digital Photograph

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The audacity to choke - and squeeze further

I recently read an article in the New York Times that had me thinking about the swaths of self denial that certain institutions use to cover themselves as they continue their business of making money off the global marketplace.

Read the report here in detail but one statement in particular got to me.

The report focuses on the ever growing trend of companies in the United States fanning out over larger areas around the globe in their search for the eternal lucre and profit. I can’t find too much fault with this behavior given that variants of capitalism seems to work OK in a majority of nations around the world (of course, it has it’s attendant warts that I shall list in some post later, but in its most basic form, it is a fairly feral animal that weeds out and mostly tramples slower moving animals leaving significant road kills in its hunting grounds while providing game meat for the villagers…)

With our economy currently heading towards a state of extended stasis, it is only natural for the capitalist machine to seek our greener pastures and feed itself. This way the economy grows, we keep the industries from dying out and innovation is spurred (add in a couple of hundred extra millionaires and all are happy with equilibrium). Most of us are ok with all of this because for the most part, the system works and we can go to the movies and have that bag of popcorn unhindered on weekends…

What does get to me is when senior analysts (the well educated suits) at financial firms start to couch naked capitalist aspirations with ennobling messages that portray financial companies playing a role in alleviating people in other countries from their current economic conditions to a higher, more modern, purportedly better condition while trying to explain their actions… Cunning contortionist are among the phrases that come to mind, but the quote is very telling.

“Think of 400 million people in China going from the 6th century to the 21st century over the last 15 years,” said Robert Barbera, chief economist at ITG, a brokerage and advisory firm. “The same thing is going on in India as well. That’s still the big driver for growth. It could self-destruct for any number of reasons, but that underlying story is decades away from being over.”


This statement is plain wrong and misleading for a lot of reasons.

- If people still think that countries are stuck in the 6th century then they would need to revisit their high school history, geography and civics classes (not to mention maybe a flawed education system)..

- Even if the above is true, it is indeed puerile to think that it is the capitalist industrial complex that is responsible for lifting people from the 6th century to the 21st century…

- A reason for some nations to become stuck in less modern times might be due to the reckless plundering that oiled the economic engines of countries fuelled by ideas of enlightenment and industrial revolution (here the plundering of nations was not just limited to human beings in the form of slave capital, but also materials hijacked from these nations to fill the coffers of the plunderers)… Think King Leopold II.

- At a psychological level, the statement just shows the brand of hidden elitism that a lot of us have towards the purported ‘third world’ (how I hate that term) countries. The elitism is normally well disguised in polite dinner chatter, but wells from the collective subconscious during times like these…

If one is in the business of making profits, just say it, it is sad when I see individuals believing that they are lifting people from their supposedly un-modern conditions when the alternative – leaving them untouched might have led to a better state – we just do not know for sure – do we?

Maurits Escher (1898-1972), 'Predestination', 294 X 422 mm, Lithograph, 1951

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Stopped to smell

Walking to work the other day, I was struck by splotches of bright orange and red along the sidewalk. It was maple leaves blown down from trees lining an avenue I frequent to catch my morning train. A light rain falling made the leaves glisten in the immature morning light common at half past six. Everything looks clean, fresh, pure and ready to start. The air was free of smog and cigarettes. Stepping on the rain-moistened leaves cushions the gait as the water laden green carpet absorbs and lightens the walk. It was a glorious sight and one which could not be reproduced by human hand yet endlessly reproduced across the country by nature at this time of the year. It also made me reflect on the profusion of art that is prevalent around us and was happy for the moment that I took to stop and feel.

In this regard, the words of art critic Micheal Kimmelman rings true in his recent review of an exhibition in the NYT here.

Art works that way. It can turn up, unexpectedly, and once you see it, you can’t imagine how you missed it in the first place. The art is there in the worn, throwaway sheets, dog-eared or tattooed with the rusty imprints of paper clips. Art is about what’s inexplicable and out of the ordinary. Painting is the world’s oldest conjuring act, colored dirt smeared on a flat surface to create an illusion. We may know it’s not real, but we still enjoy seeing how the magic is done. But art — whether it’s the mnemonic art of Rabbi Hirsch Dänemark, remembered in the show via a 19th-century German handbill, beautifully printed in Fraktur typefaces on luxurious mold-made paper, or whether it’s the art of those ancient pornographers who left naughty mosaics at Pompeii — reminds us that the world has always been messy, weird and wonderful.

Sunil, 'Lady and Cranes', Digital photograph

Monday, November 19, 2007

Big questions

The Templeton foundation hosts a big question every month and some of them are well worth a read. Among the discussion items include the following and may be accessed here

- Is It Good To Be Good?
- Can Happiness Be Measured?
- Do We Live in a Multiverse?

Does the Universe have a purpose? and Will money solve Africa’s development problems? seem particularly relevant and poignant…

"The great accumulation of understanding as to how the physical world behaves only convinces one that this behavior has a kind of meaninglessness about it" - Richard Feynman

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Weekend painting

Sunil, 'Untitled', Acrylic paint, wood stain, Indian spices and gesso on dricore board, 24" X 24"

Friday, November 16, 2007

Drawing post: Black(water)boarding

Sunil, 'Black(water)boarding', Charcoal and pencil on paper, 12" X 9"

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

On the recent police killing of a Brooklyn teen carrying a hairbrush

A young man was fatally shot last night in a hail of 20 bullets fired by five police officers who responded to a 911 call in Brooklyn. The police said they believed that the man, Khiel Coppin, 18, had a gun. But when the gunfire stopped, it turned out that he had been holding a hairbrush.
More here

Recently, my brother traveled back to India for what was a routine visit home to see his family. He studies culinary sciences at a University here in the United States and I am sure he wanted to try his new found cooking skills on his family back home. The flight usually lands at Bombay and then one catches an onward local flight to Bangalore - the town (now it is a bustling city), where we grew up. On landing at Bombay a random group of passengers were sorted into a separate group and were herded into a waiting line for no apparent reason. After a couple of hours, they were half heartedly told that they would be searched and checked for validity of passports and documents.

Questions on the seemingly random course of actions elicited blank stares and threats of police action from the officials. After the random group was submitted to a partial search of belongings and scrutiny of papers (the process took another couple of hours and the officials could not find anything incriminating), they were told to wait in another room. You must remember that most of the connecting flights were long gone at this point in time. In between, my brother was solicited by seedy characters for cash, electronics, perfumes, alcohol and other imported articles. After another couple of hours of what seemed now like an endless wait, they were let go and told to find the next available flight for their onward destinations with a verbal promise that they would be refunded. Bewildered and confused, when my brother approached an airline official for explanations and an apology, they looked at him as if he were an exotic alien who had just landed on this planet. With little will and energy left to fight the system that did not explain (after a seventeen hour flight from the States, nobody is in any mood to press on), he waited for another four hours before managing to land a 'lucky' seat for his flight onward to Bangalore. He told me later that calls were never returned and he never got an explanation or the incident at the airport. Efforts to coerce the officials with any kind of legal threats were dismissed with indifference and veiled implications of the use of lethal force.

It is only when one experiences the indignities to civil rights and individual liberties that get trampled on blatantly in other countries does one realize the importance and the luxury of having them and taking them for granted here in the United States. The United States still stands as the single greatest country that can safely assimilate people into its great fold, warts and all while helping individuals feel secure in understanding ones potential abilities, capabilities and talents. Of course, on bright sunny days, one might complain occasionally about living in the worlds greatest debtor nation or the fact that the country is controlled by capitalist mavens who oil the wheels of profits by hiring lobbyists in Washington, or the fact that we are fighting an unjust war trampling on the world, but the fact remains that the rights and liberties offered to individuals stand far above the madding crowd that are characteristic in many countries around the world.

The incident above has the same parallels that define arbitrariness that sometimes accompany police actions, the fact that people tend to act first and talk later (if they talk at all). In a painful flash of memory, I was also reminded about what happened to a friend and neighbor who lived two streets away from our home during a simpler time in my childhood - of the police barging into his house sans warrant for entry, him not being seen for a couple of days after the incident and me chancing upon him about a month after - the same neighbor now seemed to have a missing leg and was barely recognizable - features a bloody pulp.

It is these same flashes of memory that return to haunt when I had chanced on the story of Amadou Diallo a while back or when I read the story of Khiel Coppin today.

It is fairly easy to descend into mindless anarchy and violence in the name of upholding law. Sometimes, little explanation is offered for some of these actions other than the single mind-numbing word ‘security’ (as is the fashion these days). It is however, far more difficult to count from one to ten as the rage sets in while simultaneously balancing the situation in front of one’s eyes with the clarity offered by concepts of justice and well being and then deliver a measured response. A little respite and thought before people act out senseless fantasies like the one that took place in Brooklyn yesterday evening might be small steps in keeping the ideals that fashion and help sustain this great country.


Political Debates Between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

The papers of George Washington

Hidden Costs of the Iraq War

Declining Civil Rights Enforcement Under the Bush Administration

The international debt cycle and the United States as an external debtor

Lari Pittman, ‘Thankfully, you will have taught me freedom within constraints’, 1999, acrylic, alkyd and spray enamel on panel, 64” X 95”

Monday, November 12, 2007


Sunil, 'Untitled', Acrylic paint, wood stain and latex based paint on gessoed masonite, 24" X 24"


Sunil, 'Hun', Ink and charcoal on Strathmore paper, 9" X 12"

Weekend picture

Sunil, 'Wave', Digital photograph

Friday, November 09, 2007


the skin crackles,
moulting onion,
blisters clotted
from raw understudies.

prickly sparks,
senescent spikes,
shards and carmine
scarred and slough.

tautness disturbed,
flecks stand grey,
twisted sheddings
and fungible clusters.

anxiety flutters
on slender winds,
dulcet rhymes
of better climes.

- Anon


Sunil, 'Sagittal', Charcoal and ink on Strathmore paper, 12" X 9"


I was lucky enough to catch Lady Liberty with a canopy of 'Turner-esque' contrails while entering the Staten Island ferry on my home from work yesterday...

Sunil, 'Contrails', Digital photograph

Thursday, November 08, 2007

A dialogue with artist Jeffrey Isaac

Sometimes, looking at within from the outside helps clarify perceptions and solidify our understanding of realities which may not be readily apparent for one immersed in it all the time. Taking the pulse of artists who live outside the United States and getting their take on global issues is an important aspect of such understanding. Jeffrey Isaac is an artist who was born here in the States, but lives and works in Italy. Some of his oil paintings are relevant and some not so. All together they portray an interesting take on some of the more important global issues (warming, war etc…) in today’s flat world. I have been following his art and have had an on-and-off dialogue with him for over last year. A mini project of mine last month was to understand his art a little better. Over the course of multiple emails conversations, I managed to produce a composite of his art and some of his motivations. The full dialogue has been posted over at Art and Perception.

Jeffrey Isaac, 'George W. Bush leading the war of terror', 2007, oil on canvas, 250 x 360 cm.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A story and some reality

Consider this story:
It is a sunny day and the streets are strangely empty. A man walks along a road and suddenly chances upon a pot of gold shimmering in the distance. He breaks into a run and manages to grab onto the pot and is slowly beginning to explore the contents inside when the ground opens up beneath him and he finds himself free falling down a deep dark hole. He seems to pass out in between and is shaken back into consciousness when a strange unbearable stench in the hole assails his nostrils. He looks around and finds himself neck deep in a cesspool of shit. The pot of gold seems to have disappeared in the muck around him and he presently begins to scream for help. A while later he sees some men in suits come by, peer cautiously into the hole and mutter excitedly to one another. The man in the hole seems to catch the words 'Hey, here is another one' and is overjoyed that someone actually stopped to help. Very soon they extend what looks like two separate lifelines to him and now it obviously looks like they are going to haul him out of there. His joy soon runs aground when he realizes that one of the lines held by the suits is being used for fishing in the cesspool to retrieve the pot of gold while the other is not a lifeline - it seems to be some kind of a battering ram that appears to be pushing against his head forcing his head into dirty brown waters swirling around him. The stench mixed with helplessness is pretty much unbearable and is what he ultimately remembers. Half an hour later the men in suits seem to have drowned the man, collected the pot of gold, declared victory and with a whoop of joy head down to the nearest bar for a celebratory round of drinks...

Consider this reality:
We all know about homeowners being disadvantaged and fooled into a false sense of security in owning their homes and paying their mortgages due to the dubious marketing that the mortgage companies had conjured. I talked about this multiple times before. We also know that as soon as the individual is not able to pay, the home automatically goes into foreclosure. A very trying process that sometimes snares the individual during the foreclosure process is the declaration of bankruptcy.

I read a report in the New York Times yesterday that talked about the companies who instigate foreclosure proceedings while simultaneously taking advantage of the distressed individual (who has not only lost their homes but also declared bankruptcy). In other words, a new business model seems to be emerging – “profiting from foreclosures”. A study conducted by Dr. Katherine Porter of the University of Iowa records the following:

"In one example, Ms. Porter found that a lender had filed a claim stating that the borrower owed more than $1 million. But after the loan history was scrutinized, the balance turned out to be $60,000. And a judge in Louisiana is considering an award for sanctions against Wells Fargo in a case in which the bank assessed improper fees and charges that added more than $24,000 to a borrower’s loan".

"Late fees accounted for 11.5 percent of servicing revenues in 2006 at Ocwen Financial, a big servicing company. At Countrywide, $285 million came from late fees last year, up 20 percent from 2005. Late fees accounted for 7.5 percent of Countrywide’s servicing revenue last year".

Predatory financing is one, but capitalistic cannibalism seems to rule the roost.

"The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed—for lack of a better word—is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms—greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge—has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed—you mark my words—will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA". – Gordon Gekko in the movie Wall Street

Misbehavior and Mistake in Bankruptcy Mortgage Claims - Dr. Kathleen Porter. (you could download the paper here)

The growing threat to middle class families - Elizabeth Warren

Dr. Katherine Porter’s blog:

David Smith, ‘False Peace Spectre’, bronze and steel painted blue, 1945, 12” X 27” X 10”

Monday, November 05, 2007


Sunil, 'Untitled', Charcoal, graphite and ink on Strathmore paper, 12" X 9"

Sunday, November 04, 2007


The fall winds were strong,
at the local park yesterday.
Remnants of a hurricane -
forlorn and firm...

It seemed to have denuded
the tree tops. Like
a spider's steel after tempest,
frayed, bare and exposed.

The leaves under my son's feet
were still green.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Judy Fox at PPOW

Queen: "Looking-glass, looking-glass, on the wall,
Who in this land is the fairest of all?"

Mirror: "Thou art fairer than all who are here, lady queen.
But more beautiful still is Snow White, as I ween."

An interesting twist on an all too familiar fairy tale from Grimm is presented at the PPOW gallery by artist Judy Fox titled 'Snow White and the Seven Sins’. I was over there yesterday and was frankly taken in by feelings of a visceral kind that seemed to evoke sexuality, lust and admiration. The artist seems to envelope the onlooker with fertile sexual imagination developed out of casting sculptures in terra cotta and cassein.

The take on the original tale is clear, Snow White lies in state after being poisoned by her queen-mother and is waiting to be revived by the archetypal princely kiss. She is surrounded by the seven dwarfs each one of whom seem to embody one of the original sins. On the snow white sculpture, the detail and the forms evoked were of flesh and the curves did not leave much to ones imagination.

I liked the dwarfs better, developed out of a cunning juxtaposition of the male and female sexual anatomy. Apart from the wide eyed curious stares of people looking to discern where in the sculpture the male appendage ends and the female’s begin, the dwarfs embodied the ease and grace with which Judy Fox has managed to integrate the sexual forms into a seamless whole that leaves one intrigued. On the whole, I liked the show a lot, not just for the vibrant colors on the pottery, but also for the imagery real and imagined that it conveyed.

Judy Fox, 'Snow White', 2007, terra cotta and casein, 8.5" x 58" x 25"

Judy Fox, 'Lust', 2007, terra cotta and casein, 8" x 26" x 15"

Judy Fox, 'Gluttony', 2007, terra cotta and casein, 12" x 25" x 12"

Judy Fox, 'Anger', 2007, terra cotta and casein, 25" x 15" x 11"

Sweet Lord - a gallery visit

Cosimo Cavallaro, ‘My Sweet Lord’, Chocolate, 72" X 72" X 24"

I was over at Chelsea for a quick jaunt and my itinerary included the Proposition. The gallery had a sequel to the originally controversial exhibit that consisted of a life size statue of the nude Jesus made entirely of chocolate. This time the artist has added eight fully clothed saints that flank the naked Jesus. I posted my gallery visit on Art and Perception (seemed logical as it adds on to an original post on this sometime back). It will be interesting to read the renewed take this time around.