Beyond the Walls – Gopika Nath
“Animated by their own sense of spirit cycling through states of creation and destruction, these buildings and spaces initiate a narrative of anticipation through absence.” – Kathryn Myers
They look as if they are inhabited spaces. They look as if they are real places, fragments of larger urbanscapes that the painter has captured in her miniature gouaches. And that is the visual impression that Kathryn Myers creates. But, these miniature paintings of architectural styles and views that capture the colour and crowded spaces of an over-populated land are often an amalgam of imagination and photographed images, morphed to create the illusion of a possible reality.
Junk thrown in the back-yard becomes the foreground of a long but narrow view which has been sliced from a broader townscape. Thus she carves an imagined alleyway where Mughal arches, sarees and lungis hanging out to dry, co-exist more comfortably on paper than in the country’s psyche. An avid photographer and Indophile who discovered the sights and sounds of India on a Fulbright Fellowship almost two decades ago, Kathryn has a keen eye for the unusual. Her gaze, quite naturally has a ‘foreign’ perspective, but it is exactly this view which enables us to see fragments of India that we may otherwise miss, either because we take them for granted or we choose to ignore the uncomfortable mess.
In the present era of rapidly changing cityscapes where many old buildings are being hastily knocked down to be replaced by the shimmer of steel and glass, the antiquated, derelict buildings of a decaying past is an “aesthetic priority” for Kathryn, who sees them as a rarity. But, she doesn’t romanticise this for us or for herself, neither does she document it in an attempt to preserve a cultural memory. The pinks and greens, the blues and pinks, shards of glass on the tarmac and walls, are slices of life abstracted in imagination and archived as memories of selection. They are fragments that narrate the curiosity of a gaze so intense that, the angles and arches of living spaces take the viewing eye into a dimension beyond the physical location, while still grounded in the specificity of time and space.
30th June 2015
Imagi(ni)ng India: Paintings and Videos by Kathryn Myers – Sunanda Sanyal
The tourist is often described as a contemporary ethnographer, albeit an informal and unwitting one. If decoded, the hasty, superficial images made by tourists can expose one culture’s views of another. And if a tourist is from the occident, looking at a formerly colonized society, then the images are likely to have the lingering shadows of a yearning for the idyllic that underpinned the colonial fascination for otherness.
At a glance, Kathryn Myers’s paintings of Indian scenes appear to be images of nostalgic spaces documented by an ‘outsider’. Yet Myers is no regular tourist, and her paintings are neither recordings of an itinerant, nor are they hastily made. Professor of Art at University of Connecticut, Myers has visited India more than a dozen times since 2001 to explore traditional and contemporary art. Her video interviews of practicing Indian artists (an ongoing compilation project; see www.regardingindia.com) her creation of a new course on Indian art for the University of Connecticut’s India Studies program, and the exhibitions of thee work of Indian artists she has curated in the United States have produced a wealth of information on the subject for future scholars, critics, and artists.
Myers’s enterprise of painting, on the other hand, has pursued a separate avenue. Previously a painter of large figurative scenes of appropriated narratives from Biblical sources, she has moved, over the last decade, to small, intimate gouaches and oils of Indian architectural spaces. “There’s something about the density of images”, the artist remarks about the urban Indian setting. “And how the different architectural periods and styles are…merged and layered together.” None of the scenes, however, depicts ‘real’ spaces, so to speak. Instead, they are composites through and through; and as such, they are more about painting itself than about Indian habitats. Myers has a wide range of her own photographs taken over the years of architectural elements, such as doors, windows, columns, and facades; and often starting with an initial image, she incorporates and modifies these appropriated motifs to construct the painted scenes.
While stylistically the paintings may appear photorealistic, their method and pictorial approach are quite different, at least as Photorealism was practiced in the United States in the late 1960s and 1970s. For example, unlike the Photorealists, Myers does not aim to provide a deadpan glimpse of the quotidian in Indian life. Rather, mediated by decontextualized motifs that are interlocked in a meticulously crafted perspective, the images offer a complex dialog between richly painted planes and surfaces, straddling the permeable border between realism and abstraction. “I might have an [initial] image there”, Myers explains. “But once I start working on the painting, I’m looking at the painting, so I’m…responding to, and in dialogue with the painting itself.
The allusion to Indian miniatures is unmistakable in Myers’s work. Aside from her choice of the intimate scale, which recalls miniatures, she works on a table instead of an easel, and uses a magnifying glass to paint miniscule details. Yet the paintings are just that: allusions --not emulations-- of miniatures. “Years ago, I fell in love with Indian miniatures…with the flattened surfaces”, she admits, but also points out that despite her play with flatness and depth, and her special attention to surfaces, pictorial space in her own work is never completely flattened. “There are many perspective points”, she comments about the illusion of corporeality, caused by the sharp perspectives that tend to disguise the planes as architectural dimensions. “But it mostly looks like it’s from one point of view. Even though I combine many images, I like the piece to be ‘seamless’, to look like it could have been an actual space.” What is more, Myers decisively rejects the option of breaking apart the planes and surfaces to enhance abstraction: “I don't play with the sense of the fracturing of space, which might ironically happen more if I used actual photos or videos”. Such a strategy anchors the ‘real’ into the scenes, while also offering the textures of antiquated building exteriors as components of an abstract pictorial game, where references to reality seem incidental. Combined with the appropriation of disparate motifs and the ‘look’ of miniatures, it contributes to the self-deconstruction of the painted scenes. While differing from Photorealism in process, the paintings nonetheless emerge as products of a self-aware, creative artifice, functioning as hyprreal signs of a fictive India—as simulacra.
And yet, the question of the politics of gaze across cultures does not simply go away, as simulacrum, too, can have discursive roles. For instance, in a country where urban spaces have overwhelming overlaps of old and new, of slick shopping malls and apartment buildings juxtaposed with archaic palaces, Myers makes no secret of her aesthetic priority in her exclusive choice of antiquated, derelict buildings as her subject. “It seems to be a rarity, at least to my eyes, that the new things built or renovated, have the same sense of aesthetic beauty or "soul" as what was knocked down”, she admits, and then asserts, “…My response to a lot of the new malls in India is that I've seen this kind of destruction already [in the “urban renewal” projects in the Unites States] and find nothing in it that would want me to devote hundreds of hours painting it.” This is unequivocally an attribute of the occidental tourist’s view of alterity. Thus, as imagined spaces mediated by touristic photographs, whether or not Myers’s paintings effectively subvert any tendency to offer an essentialized image of the Other remains an open question. This exhibition brings together the researcher and the painter, leaving it to the audience whether the two enterprises are symbiotic, complementary or contradictory.
Sunanda K Sanyal
Associate Professor of Art History and Critical Studies
From the exhibition brochure “Imagi(ni)ng India” Lesley University, Boston 2013
Penumbra - Om Prakash
During Kathryn Myers’s sojourn to India as a Fulbright Scholar, places, people and events profoundly affected her perceptions with an illuminated awareness of serendipity. With single minded and persuasive zeal, she has made herself intimately familiar with the arts, culture, scriptural writings and philosophical wisdom of India, becoming unassumingly a voyager adventuring and exploring new horizons.
Kathryn breathes the atmosphere that she lives in. With deep knowledge and perceptual alacrity she captures the essence of observed reality through her works. Nothing seems to evade her sharp eyes making even an insignificant small dent or mark come alive to tell its own story or history. The human figures that inhabit her pictorial spaces, within an architectural construct or in the open, have a pronounced singularity of stance and gesture reflecting cultural ethos and ritualistic intent. The most striking feature of Kathryn’s work is the miniature format, which seems to have been inspired by Indian miniature painting and manuscripts. In her work the Anant (endless, infinite,) macrocosmic Vishva (universe) is realized through microcosmic form.
Kathryn minimizes three dimensional reality into a well orchestrated geometry of forms, colours and textures expressing her intent and language of picture-making. By geometrizing of pictorial elements she effectively imparts a sense of calmness, loneliness and tranquility to her subject matter. Be it an architectural face, a single human figure or an empty lonely boat, in her paintings she transports and transposes the viewer to a moment of eternal stillness and peaceful expanse.
Lecturer in Art History and Aesthetics, The Goa College of Art, India
(Excerpt from the exhibition brochure “Penumbra” International Center, Goa, 2011)
Tributaries - Michael Peter Cain
Within her small canvases and works on paper, Kathryn Myers continues an investigation of the world around her supplanted by her photographs that she recomposes in her mind’s eye, as well as digitally, to construct images that reflect her engagement with the architectural landscape of India and its inhabitants. Myers spent many years as a figurative painter, producing larger-than-life tonally nuanced figurative paintings re-enacting themes of Baroque Christian art in contemporary dress and illusory pictorial space, before focusing on more “obscure and common” subject matter – the everyday forms, colors and people she encounters in their “unconsidered” moments in the densely packed, multi-layered world of urban life in India.
In this work Myers represents the incidental, unheroic immediacy of urban life where chance meetings of incommensurate realities evoke a response that is alienating in its inherent incompatibility and fascinating in its uncanny loveliness. Myers’s techniques are not necessarily those of an Indo-Islamic miniaturist – for she brings to this work a mastery of both flat and tonal brushwork informed by western painters such as Edward Hopper.
Her subject matter is ideally suited to the formal organization in which flat planes of color are orchestrated to produce an antic, yet musical wholeness in shallow space. With a keen eye for conflated architectural styles, unpredictable color contrast and incredible juxtapositions, Myers composes gem-like miniatures that perfectly re-enact the lively integration of shallow and flat space of Indo-Islamic painting. These works evoke virtual three-dimensional scenes as arrangements of abstract forms with no loss of sharpness as virtual distance increases, however the space is deeper than most Pahari miniatures, especially due to the seeming perspectival convergences of strong diagonal lines.
Myers’s application of gouache to echo the multi-layered impact of India’s world is often more than could be consciously intended without nature’s collaboration. Her depiction of mottled walls and walkways, the surface of water, and rumpled polycolored fabrics goes far beyond skill to become a seemingly autonomous phenomenon, a marvelous fractal display of visual complexity, where letting go is the only way the artist could have captured visual phenomena that lie beyond what can be imagined.
Michael Peter Cain
excerpt from the exhibition brochure “Tributaries” Three Rivers Community College, Norwich, CT 2012