about the artist
There is something complete about each of the paintings in Henraj’s new series Musings each painting beautifully straddles the fine-line between an image that is challenging yet concurrently restful. Hemraj’s paintings are often referred to as abstract. This is not strictly true but it is in the context of abstraction that we can begin to engage with the images.
Art-critics in the mid-20th century suggested that pure abstraction refers to nothing other than itself, in other words there is no narrative or figuration suggested in the work. The plane remains flat and we are given just paint and canvas. It is in this thinking that Hemraj’s paintings become particularly absorbing because in his works we are offered a narrative and we are offered ‘things’ but these objects and narratives, music and meditations are themselves intangible, are abstract like the making of the works, a performance and ritual that becomes as much a part of the work and makes each painting unique and whole.
Each of Hemraj’s painting’s are made in one sitting. This may take more than one day but like the main protagonist in a feature film, the artist prepares himself for his performance with quiet contemplation, he puts on music, often Sufi music, candles are lit and the canvas is prepared, a white expanse waiting for the maestro to begin. Hemraj lets the music take him, his palette knife, paint and canvas. He remembers thoughts, particularly concepts inspired by the great Ramkrishna paramhans, infused with the music and that particular moment that he is painting.
Wet on wet, the artist adds layer and layer of paint as he builds up the essence of the work. His is an interesting technique. The light and effervescent images that confront us are just like a piece of music. They have a beginning a middle and an end and this process may be repeated over and over again as Hemraj takes off almost more paint then he applies. His is a technique of minimalism. The artist keeps reducing the colours, the lines and the forms until we are left with the bare essence, just enough to consume the work with the meditations and genius of the artist.
Looking at Voice of God 10, the image is a strong example of the artist’s technique and musing. Often referring to Zen Master Chinese paintings where the proportions are to Hemraj’s mind truest, where the land is very small and the sky is vast. In this image the artist takes this one step further. We feel the weightlessness and enjoy not being grounded, both the painting and in ourselves we are free to move, unburdened by the baggage of everyday life and free to explore and enjoy the beats of the music, indeed the rhythm of the Universe, cleverly and subtly deployed in the artist-device of the marks of red dots.
In Voice of God 1 we see Hemraj’s technique of taking off, of reducing come into its own. Influenced by Paul Klee, the artist shows sky, land and trees, applied in some cases straight from the tube he then starts to remove all traces of things known and seen, the definition of sky and land is removed as are all traces to Klee until we are left with pure thought, marks that imitate sound, circles and lines.
The reduced colour palette is the paintings is significant. It both sharpens and softens the mind. In Voice of God 18 we are pointed to the colour purple, the colour of om, where the three primaries (be it colours, sounds or gods) are drawn together to produce one perfect being. Colour, the delicate and transparent green is the star of the painting Voice of God 21, an ode tothe artist’s teacher Rajesh Mehra and his guru Manjit Bawa.
In Japan there is a meditation technique Tekken referencing minimal interaction of body and mind,a pure meditative state. Voice of God 5 approaches this condition with just the hint of what could be a thought or a figure suggested by the beautifully spare line.
Hemraj's abstracted paintings are to be enjoyed and engaged with. They offer the viewer the chance to participate in the same practice as the artist. In our gaze, in the process of looking we are invited to enjoy the moment and take the journey with the artist as we listen to the music, unshackle the burdens of the mundane and the everyday and rejoice in just being and letting ourselves go with the rhythms, the sounds and the colours of the universe.
A graduate of Delhi College of Art, Hemraj lives and works in Delhi. As with the other artists he has shown in many group and solo shows both at home and abroad. At the India Art Fair 2014 Hemraj’s work was exhibited on a solo booth by Uday Jain from Dhoomimal Gallery. This was one of the first occasions that a contemporary Indian artist working with abstraction had exhibited as a solo project at the International event.