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Title:        "a - Drift" Solo show of Martin O C

Dates:      11April to May 3, 2008

a-DRIFT in the works of Martin O.C

My painting is visible images which conceal nothing; they evoke mystery and, indeed, when one sees one of my pictures, one asks oneself this simple question 'What does that mean'? It does not mean anything, because mystery means nothing either, it is unknowable. – René Magritte

The title of Martin O.C.’s last exhibition, held in Kochi in 2006, suggested the voyage of discovery that Martin had set himself out on. It was ‘Waiting for a New Vision.’ True, he was waiting for a new vision at that juncture, trying to break out of the stiff mold that was encasing his work at that time.

In his present works, Martin explores the meticulously painted surface. Water provides a backdrop for the appearance of different objects of odd shapes and colours. The presence of concrete, iron, rust and plastic, and the forms floating in a carefully treated surface of water is somewhat overwhelming. Unknown (and uncanny) organic and inorganic debris float beside the concrete and rusted iron. The play of light on the calm water surface creates an unsettling ambience. A certain mystery lingers over Martin’s imaginary dreamscapes.

The act of floating seemingly strikes a chord with Martin. During a recent conversation he had said, “Floating objects have always held my fancy; as if it is me that is floating along the stream of water. I like to think of myself as something that gets carried away by a current, an obstacle-less flow of water; let any chunk appear blocking the flow, and I feel clogged up.”

That is true. The sense of being adrift is very much there. And, Martin was in a mode of drifting for many years, having never completed his formal academic education. After completing SSLC, Martin joined for Pre-Degree (equivalent to Pre-University) at a private college in Thrissur, discontinuing which he got enrolled at a local art institute. In 1993, he joined the Govt. Institute of Fine Arts, Thrissur for the NDFA course, but was expelled the next year following a students’ strike.

Afterwards, Martin shifted between various jobs, which included sign board painting and the making of the statues of Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ for churches. During this period, he got associated with Theatre Eye, a theatre group which had occupied a significant space in Kerala’s recent cultural history. His involvement with theatre, mainly as a musician, had been a major formative element in Martin’s later evolution. After the Theatre Eye days, Martin became a performer-musician for almost two years, associating with ‘Me-and-you,’ a story-telling performance company for children conceived by Manu Jose, a leading theatre and TV personality in Kerala.

However, throughout his ‘drifting’ years, Martin had held onto painting with a stern obstinacy. He painted continuously. In 1997, Martin held his first solo exhibition at the Kerala Lalithakala Akademi Gallery in Thrissur. Since 1997, he had been participating in many group exhibitions held in Kerala.

In the meantime, Martin’s works have undergone a radical transition from the time he used to create thickly woven patterns of verdant greenery, something that was almost a stamp of the students of his short-term alma mater at a certain period of time. The works in his solo show held in the early months of 2006 contained many visual quotes from cinema, especially the Japanese master Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Dreams.’ In those works, he was attempting to create a space akin to that of fairy tales.

Later, the dreamscapes became more refined, clear. In the works included in the group show, Four Young Artists, held in Kashi in 2007, Martin started his exploration of the painted surface in a new direction. “I was taking a boat to Fort Kochi from Ernakulam. Suddenly, a rotten object came floating in the water beside the boat. It had an unbearable stink and all the people in the boat covered their nostrils.”

The floating, rotten mass appeared in a few more of Martin’s paintings. Soon, many other organic and inorganic forms too started making their presence. The dreamscapes still continue, being constructed of elements that seem to be too orderly, refined and elegant, yet turn out to be totally abnormal on closer inspection. They are there, yet they aren’t there!

Another interesting aspect of Martin’s present series of works is the total lack of human beings. The human beings are conspicous by absence. Yet, the human inhabitance is heavily evident in the form of the debris, the leftovers of destruction and construction; the remnants of human intervention.

In the later works among the paintings in this show, like in ‘White Bridge,’ the skyline of a city starts to make its appearance. The city is distant, and mysterious, like the surrounding waterscape. In ‘Evening Shadows,’ another skyline of a far-away industrial landscape looms against a dusky sky. The light falling on the steps in the foreground of this work augments the mood of the twilight.

Like the lone traveller, setting out into the unchartered territories, armed with the nameless urge to open up new realms of experience, Martin has taken the plunge into the unknown.

Therefore, a certain oddness lingers over all of Martin’s recent works. The oddness that we sometimes encounter while traversing through an early morning dream; a feeling that we have come across these scenes, or similar situations sometime before. A sense that has no verbal meaning; no explanation. Something, like Magritte says, that means nothing. Something that stays adrift.

Renu Ramanath is an independent writer and columnist based in Kochi who has been actively involved in the Kerala art scene for the past two decades. She has covered art and culture extensively for The Hindu as a Staff Reporter in the Kochi bureau from 1996, writing reviews and features in The Hindu Friday Review and Sunday Magazine.


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