Blue House Project

For a long time I have wanted to make a shed – a small-scale sculpture, a generic garden shed – that would satisfy my fascination with “house and home,” a theme that over the last few years I have considered in paintings over the last few years, each time trying to unravel a meaning that would function both as a symbol and a personal reference. The point was noted by David Galloway in his essay for my catalogue for an exhibition at Düsseldorf’s Gallery Beck & Eggeling in 2010:

“House and home are recurring themes in my work. But sometimes I don’t know how to get home, so I constantly define and redefine it within myself. It’s the typical East-West dichotomy that has informed and continues to inform my work – often summed up with a simple object like a garden shed, a shack.”

The shed and the shack return in recent work, which I have titled the “Blue House Project” – a series of works that are evolving more as experiments rather than individual works. I continue to make paintings and drawings on paper and cloth, but I want to establish them as part of a sculptural installation/3D dialogue. Eventually I would like to make a life-size shack or village house that would be completely coated in French ultramarine blue. I envisage the shack placed within a gallery space surrounded by these paintings and drawings, so that it would be seen/read as one complete work.

Why blue? Well, some time ago at a local building site in Pondicherry I had noticed corrugated metal sheets, coated in ultramarine blue, being used as fencing. The idea of a pigment-colored object/shape turning up on a building site seemed a typically “Indian contradiction” – a beautiful object (order) amidst dereliction (chaos). These upright bright blue objects seemed to hold their own, evoking a certain silence, even isolation, as if the pigment refused to settle and become a fence. It didn’t want to hold anything inside, as a fence should, by marking boundaries, keeping an edge, deciding an end; instead, the color had already escaped, given up and gone. I passed by the building site every day for a few months, during which I began to consider my own relationship to color – how I normally use pigment – as a medium that leads to a painting. The question became, how could I reproduce that purity of color in its unadulterated raw state. In a metaphorical sense, what would happen if my pigment escaped and I didn’t follow the prescribed methods of preparation that a traditional training brings? How could I make the journey from idea to image/object more direct and less literal?

More recently my family and I have been house hunting, and the time when we will either find a home and settle in India for the next ten years – or leave. Eventually we took a house in a fishermen’s village outside Pondicherry, with a view to buying the place if it suited our needs. As things turned out, it didn’t, but I spent a great deal of time wandering around the village. Its myriad passageways describe paths that run between “houses” – shacks, buildings new and old, and those half-finished constructions that lay for years in some intermediate stage. On one walk I came across a shack that had used the familiar blue corrugated sheets as a roof . The contrast between walls made of coconut palm leaf, carefully woven into a lattice sheet, and a metal roof – the man-made and the natural – again summed up this “Indian contraction.”

There was an inherent irony in the fact that this particular fisherman’s village was hit by the tsunami of 2004, after which aid was granted to many who had lost their homes. A generic house – a concrete block (see left “Square Generic House,” I & II) – was established as the answer to the urgent housing needs. The idea spawned and reproduced itself , brick for brick, throughout much of the region and the coastline of Tamil Nadu. The same house, in the same color, the same size, seemed to signal social mobility. Concrete blocks equate with stability but also suggest a future possibility and the means to leave behind the temporary existence off the shanty shack. What had not been taken into consideration was the fact that most people couldn’t adapt to life “indoors;” with little or no electricity, natural ventilation or light, the concrete houses stifled an already strained existence. People continued to sleep, eat and cook outside, so the inside became a place to keep their belongings: a giant locker, a dark hole.

Confronted by such realities, the “blue house” – a shack made of palm leaf and metal, a somewhere-in-between house – spoke of contradictions on many levels: of ingenuity and improvisation, of have and have not, of want, desire and necessity – all the things we grapple with as individuals and as societies, in our constant defining and redefining of “home”.

I could hear many stories…..