The Quintessential December Season experience: An artist’s perspective

The whole place was a mess. The small one bedroom apartment smack dab in the middle of Mylapore was engulfed in a Pandora’s Box of instruments, tuning boxes, notebooks, speakers and cups of water. The Artist returns from yet another busy day of hopping from one concert to the other, to his makeshift home. He falls asleep as soon as his head hits the floor, still clad in a kurta and dhothi. His lips curl into a smile- it was all worth it.

The life of The Artist is typical of many professionals I the Carnatic music field. December is crunch time. Coming to Chennai from Bangalore, he has to find an affordable place to say- hotels are out of the question. Concerts are arranged beforehand-two a day is common. With so many concerts, rehearsals are not possible. The beauty of this form of music and the skill of the artists combine in such a way that a concert, performed by three people who see each other for the first time on stage, appears completely and seamlessly in sync, as if rigorously rehearsed. Everything is impromptu. Perhaps that’s the beauty of it.

Everything is impromptu, so the rapport between the performers is important.

The Artist, when he is not playing a concert, spends his time listening to one or enjoying a meal at the sabha canteen or practicing and perfecting his already well-honed skills.

Monetary benefit is not sufficient to make a living, which is why, for eleven months a year, The Artist is a software engineer in a corporate based in Bangalore. But come December, ha and his 800 square foot apartment are completely drenched in his passion and profession- music.

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The Tennis Season 2014 Preview

The 2014 tennis season is just around the corner. After a month long, season break, the players will be looking to get back into the stride. One would expect the coming year to be a very exciting one. All eyes will be on 4 players, arguably the best 4 players in the current generation – Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Murray. All four of them will be kicking into action this week, in different tournaments though. The fact, though, is that each one of them has a different expectation and a different story to tell in the coming year.

Novak Djokovic has recently signed up Boris Becker as his head coach. The move makes sense in every respect. Djokovic, in his early days in professional tennis, was suppressed by the might of the two super powers of the sport at that time – Federer and Nadal. It took him 3 years to find his niche, and win tournaments consistently. Since then, Djokovic has become a fine player, winning consistently in plenty of tournaments, and even beating his close rivals quite frequently. But his success in Grandslam tournaments hasn’t been as good as the regular ones. It takes double the effort in a Grandslam, since players have to be mentally prepared for two weeks. Bringing Boris Becker into his game will aid Djokovic in that respect. He admitted that he wouldn’t change his game plan much, since it has brought him a lot of success in the past few years. Boris will only aid him in being a stronger player in the final stages of a Grandslam, and help him to win a few more trophies that way. If Becker successfully manages to give Djokovic that cutting edge mentality that he needs to win Grandslams, then Djokovic could well be on his way to take a few more titles home this season. If it does click, the Becker-Djokovic combination is seriously a lethal one.

Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic

Roger Federer had a terrible season in 2013, by his own standards. He admitted that he must work extremely hard in the 2014 season to maintain the intensity of his game. That age is catching him, is something that Federer has constantly denied. He knows that he cannot play like the Federer of 2005, but then he also knows that he still has the hunger, talent and strength in him to win more tournaments. Federer will definitely win tournaments in 2014, but the real question is whether he can win a Grandslam. He too, like Djokovic, has a newly signed up coach. Stephan Edberg has also won 6 Grandslam title, and like Becker, he too is a former world number 1. Being the most celebrated tennis player, all eyes will be on Federer to see if he can pull off another Grandslam title.

Andy Murray has arguably faced the same problem as Novak Djokovic – except that Djokovic has also been a hindrance to his path of ultimate glory. With players like Federer, Nadal and Djokovic owning the stage, Murray hardly has a chance to win. But after signing on Pat Cash as his coach a couple of years back, Murray had a lot of success – winning 2 Grandslams and an Olympic title. Murray will look to better that record in this season. After coming out as a better player in the last two years, Murray and Pat will look to win at least two Slams this year.

Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal is an interesting position as well. He is the only one among the four who doesn’t have the coaching of an experienced former tennis player. The other three have taken big decisions – to replace their coaches, who have been with them for the past 5-6 years, and opt for a former world champion to take up that position. Nadal has stick to Uncle Toni. Is he losing out on something? Another interesting thing is that Nadal has clawed his way to 13 Slam titles, just 4 behind Federer. A good 2014 season for him could well see him in closer contention to overtaking Federer’s tally -a feat that was completely unimaginable just a few years back.

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Surrealism Masterminds

Let me satiate your quest to know the various contributions of the artists. There were two types of artists during the phase of Surrealistic movement. The first comprise of surface thinkers while the root thinkers correspond the second. The root thinkers are the ones who keep the people thinking more. Their paintings are not facile to comprehend. One often can draw multiple interpretations corollary to the debate of zebra having black or white stripes. The surface thinkers are the ones who provide a much easier and decipherable concoction of hue. The patrons can easily understand the simple meaning the artist intends to convey and yet be baffled how convincing it can be.

One among such eminent artists is Salvador Dali whose domicile was Spain during the early 1900’s. Identified as a “retard” in school and by his painting institute, he was forced to spend time in the jail. He often drew strange and horrifying objects that could not exist within this world’s paradigm. Over his 85 years of life, he became one of the important contributors of surrealistic form of art. Some of his famous works include the evergreen “The persistence of Memory”, “Crucifixion” and “The Sacrament of Last Supper “.

The Sleeping Gypsy

Henri Rousseau was one such other person whose contributions were widely appreciated. A French man by birth in mid 1800s, he took to music and art which were his cup of tea. He not only played and taught the violin but also took art classes. Though he was a person of no training whatsoever in art, his work was passionately admired by famous men like Georges Seurat and Paul Gauguin. His contributions however were much earlier than Dali’s and some of them are “The sleepy Gypsy”, “The happy Quartet” and “Jungle with lions”.

Max Ernst and several others like Dali and Henri were solely responsible for the evolution of this beautiful form of art that targets the subconscious. It is as if their subconscious is speaking to ours in its own language and makes an irretrievable connect with the artist. This connect can be so intense that it can leave you questioning the credibility of existence of strange images in this world. The ideas are real, the mission was real, the artists are real, the painting are real but as long as we don’t find them around to perceive it will be Surreal !

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Jane Austen

Jane Austen is one of those people, whose standing as one of the literary giants will never be in doubt. She was one of those rare writers, whose books you never quite stopped thinking about. Her books have been dissected and analysed to the last sentence. But, that’s not what she would have wanted. What she would have wanted was for us to perceive the common-place workings of the world the way she did and laugh at its peculiarities along with her. With her tongue firmly in her cheek, she questioned the formalities and etiquettes that the others of her time took for granted. She portrayed the snobbishness of the upper class that the others had grown used to. Nothing escaped her sharp wit and sarcasm.

And then there were her protagonists. What people loved about them was they were never perfect. They had flaws, just like any of us. While Emma believed she was always right, Elinor was often too practical for her own good. And then Anne, who didn’t have much self-esteem and didn’t trust her decisions, as much as she should have. And we journeyed with all these characters, and we started to love them FOR their imperfections. We would sigh over their faults, yes, but we would rejoice in their happiness, we would cry for their sorrows, hold our breaths when they did something reckless and slowly they became a part of us. And then somehow, just somehow, as we kept reading, we realised just what a beautiful story this was. And by the time we finished the book, we were struck dumb by the sheer awesomeness of it all.  It was a seamless blending of sarcasm, love, snobbery, wit, humour and reality. That her books are relevant to this day is proof of the fact that she was miles ahead of her contemporaries. Her works have been read and treasured for more than two centuries now and still are and I think Jane Austen would have loved to know that.

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Queer and Queerer: Jabberwocky

This is the first part of a three part series that focusses on the oddities of art and literature. The first segment deals with an extravagant genre of literature. Read on to know more…  

Hey, diddle diddle,
The cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon.
The little dog laughed to see such sport.
And the dish ran away with the spoon.

You may have heard this 16th century nursery rhyme. For years literary experts and historians have attempted to fathom the meaning of this verse.  Numerous theories came up involving (and not restricted to) Queen Elizabeth I, the flight from Eygpt, Egyptian Hathor worship and even corruption in ancient Greece. But at the end of the day, most scholars conclude that the poem actually may have no particular meaning at all. Welcome to the world of literary nonsense.

Childish fantasies of a nonsense realm

Believe it or not, nonsense literature is in fact a legitimate genre of writing. This art stems from the human desire to make sense of everything, even in places where probably none exists. But don’t get me wrong, nonsense literature still possesses its own semantics, phonetics and contextual meaning (paradox?).  This can be clearly discerned upon reading classic nonsense stories such as Alice In Wonderland (1865). The author Charles Lutwidge a.k.a Lewis Carroll is regarded as the knight in shining armour of nonsense tales. Alice In Wonderland, is often wrongly regarded a children’s tale, due to maddening content. But over time, it had been re-categorised as a work of nonsense- that even adults can derive joy from. Matter of fact, Queen Elizabeth and Oscar Wilde were some of the first readers of the book.Indeed, the White Rabbit and Mad Hatter cross the boundaries of the rational realm but there is always an unnerving logic to the plot. Through a cycle of frustration and understanding, readers whizz through pages of Alice before it hits them that half of what they read is mere balderdash. At one point of the story the Hatter asks Alice the infamous riddle ‘Why is a raven like a writing desk?’. As you would expect a few lines later the Hatter admits that even he doesn’t have the slightest idea why. It’s anecdotes like these that entrance the reader.

Illustrators often have a hard time when it comes to nonsense lit.

But Lewis didn’t stop at that; he made nonsense literature a worldwide phenomenon with his follow up to AliceThrough The Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1871).  In this, he goes a step ahead with the quintessential nonsense poem Jabberwocky. You can test the waters with the first stanza-

Twas bryllyg, and ye slythy toves
Did gyre and gymble in ye wabe:
All mimsy were ye borogoves;
And ye mome raths outgrabe.

At first glance I wonder, what in the world that man was smoking when he wrote this. At second glance…never mind.

Carroll here presents a tale in the form of verse, and the distinctive characteristic is the words of his own he added. The genius of it is that the placement and phonetics of the words are such that the layman may believe that they are simply out of his vocabulary. He also took the pains of annotating some of his creative privileges. For example with regards to ourgrabe he says ” ‘outgribing‘ is something between bellowing and whistling, with a kind of sneeze in the middle”. And thus is the tale of how the word Jabberwocky made its way into the Oxford Dictionary to mean nonsense.

At the end of the day nonsense literature is simply what you infer of it. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but once you do- you’re hooked. And therein grolls all its werpitude.

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FANTASY LITERATURE PART 1- MAGICAL MIRRORS

“Mirror, mirror, on the wall!

Who’s the fairest of them all?”

Mirrors have been an eternal part of fantasy literature. Their spooky other-worldliness and eerie beauty have caused many fantasies and superstitions to arise about them.  From C.S. Lewis to J.K. Rowling, generations of authors have feasted upon the wide scope for imagination they provide.  It is no doubt justified, hence, to start this series on fantasy literature with some memorable magical mirrors in literature.

Mirrors, mirrors, magical all! Who’s the most famous of them all? Undoubtedly, the silver mirror of Snow White. Both the mirror that showed the queen the fairest face in the land and the epic lines by the Brothers Grimm will remain etched in our memories. In Through the Looking Glass by C.S. Lewis, Alice steps through a mirror into an alternate world. This is one of the best-loved uses of mirrors in literature. The text itself utilizes a narrative that mirrors that of its predecessor, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The “Mirror of Galadriel” in The Lord of the Rings can show the one who dares look upon it, his past, present or future! In Oscar Wilde’s novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray , a portrait serves as a magical mirror that reflects the true visage of the perpetually youthful protagonist, as well as the effect on his soul of each sinful act. There is an ancient story of Narcissus, who fell in love with and pined for his own reflection in a pool of water. Alfred Lord Tennyson, in his poem The Lady of Shalott, writes of a mirror that enables a character to look out on the people of Camelot, as she is under a curse that prevents her from seeing Camelot directly. J.K. Rowling has used magical mirrors in plentiful in her Harry Potter series. The “Mirror of Erised” is a classic example that’ll be remembered for a long time. It shows the person who looks upon it the innermost desires of his heart. Dumbledore, the ever-surprising man, remarks that he sees himself wearing a warm pair of socks! The series also has two way mirrors which consist of a pair of mirrors which allow their bearers to always see each other. Any place. Any time. Convenient!

Magic aside, mirrors also have an element of spookiness about them. In ancient Chinese mythology, there’s the story of the Mirror Kingdom, where creatures are bound by magic to sleep but will one day rise again to do battle with our world. Strange movements we see in mirrors out of the corners of our eyes are supposedly the first stirrings of this world as it wakes up. Mirrors are often connected to souls. Vampires, being soulless, show no reflection in a mirror (That’s how you identify them!). It is said that mirrors can trap dying souls. If you go to a mirror on New Year’s Eve with a candle in your hand and call out the name of a dead person in a loud voice, the power of the mirror will show you that person’s face. Spooky? Mirrors are more than mere reflectors of light!

 

To read about non-magical mirrors, click here!

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Monochrome

CONES. No, no! Not the delicious wafer or waffle ones in which we eat ice-creams. These are the light sensitive neurons present in the retina. Why did I invoke the essence of Biology? To emphasize how cones are specialized for color vision and sharpness of vision in bright light. Color. A seemingly simple yet profound English word, probably even considered the essence of life.

Everywhere we look around us, the world has been splashed with color. Right from color-coding Chemistry notes to painting a room in a house, colors play a major role. It may be safe to assume that the visual arts are almost incomplete without this factor. Artists use color to bring out different emotions in their work. A painting is generally a composition of several colors which bring out the artist’s imagination on canvas. Nature is a work of art, with her grandeur and beauty making an impeccable impression on every person who sets his eyes on his surroundings. Well, how exactly did colors rise to significance?

Some of the most famous paintings are those found on the walls of the Ajanta caves in Aurangabad, Maharashtra. Since the decline of Buddhism in the 7th century, these caves remained buried in the Western Ghats until they were accidentally discovered in 1819. The magic of art, however, only remained dormant over a century. Till today, the paintings on the walls of the caves remain vivacious, retaining their color and clarity. Till today, the hues haven’t died out, the tones haven’t faded. What form of paints did the artists of the seventh century even use? Research suggests that the pigments used were of the simplest kind of materials including yellow earth, red ocher, green rock, brick dust, lamp black and copper oxide.  These components on inter-mixing gave rise to a wide array of nearly permanent tones which haven’t lost their vivid beauty till today!

When one talks about art, the primary thought that strikes a person is that of Paris, and Musée du Louvre, in particular. The grand museum boasts of a collection of nearly 35000 objects and 8 million visitors a year. The paintings in the Louvre Museum are of global importance, having been immortalized in the pages of History textbooks and in the minds of art-passionate individuals alike.  The Louvre is home to a wide variety of paintings, right from “The Lacemaker” by Johanes Vermeer, the smallest of his paintings, to Paolo Veronese’s “The Wedding Feast at Cana”, the largest painting in the museum. Naturally, several of Leonardo da Vinci’s marvels adorn the walls of the Louvre, including Mona Lisa and Virgin on the Rocks. All these paintings bear a stark similarity, the wide array of colors used intelligently to produce eye-catchers, head-turners and brain-ticklers.

As though these examples weren’t enough to convince one about the need for colors in this world, the artist Milind Mulick’s works are gaining popularity today. His astounding ability to reproduce nature’s beauty onto paper with a few strokes of his brush make his works a class apart. His most preferred medium of painting is watercolor, a rare choice over oil paints and poster colors. However, he has the ability to create wonders with a single color, be it pencil or charcoal, by sketching the most intricate scenes in monochrome. This is truly art, a form which, despite lacking colors, is powerful enough to captivate its viewers and making them take in all the minute details.

As paradoxical as this may sound, I conclude by saying that colors certainly serve as an effective medium in paintings, however monochrome definitely lacks no majesty. It, too, like all other works of art, captures the interest of the viewers. As Einstein beautifully puts it, logic takes you from A to B, but imagination takes you everywhere!

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The art of pot making - part 1

Historically, pottery making is one of the most widespread and oldest of the art. The origin of pottery in the Indian sub-continent can be traced back to the Indus valley civilization. Wonderful artistic pieces of work were found during the excavation of the Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro cities. These include earth ware, stone ware and porcelain. These artistic pieces of works are shaped by a potter’s hands off his wheel. Throughout the ages cultures around the world have used pottery for many purposes. Some of the earliest pieces found were animal and female figurines probably used for rituals and ceremonies. Pottery was mainly for utilitarian purposes like storing grain or dried materials. The earliest pieces were shaped by hand from crude clay dug from the earth, and left to dry in the wind and sun to harden.

Modern day scholars suggest that the first potter’s wheel was found in Mesopotamia. This equipment is used to pull up the clay material as the potter shapes and structures the pot using his hand. Tournettes were the earliest forms of potter’s wheel. They were slowly turned by hand or foot. Later, the fast wheel which operated using the flywheel principle was developed.  The fast wheel enabled a new process of pottery-making to develop, called “throwing”, in which a lump of clay was placed centrally on the wheel and then squeezed, lifted and shaped as the wheel turned. The potter takes different hand positions during throwing depending on the stage of the clay ware. This picture shows the various hand positions..

Distinct styles of molding evolved over time. Some of the most popular forms of pottery include unglazed pottery, glazed pottery, terracotta and papier-mâché. Unglazed pottery comes in three types namely paper thin pottery, scrafito technique and polished pottery. In Paper thin pottery the pottery is biscuit colored and decorated with incised patterns. In scrafito technique the pot is polished and painted with red and white slips along with intricate patterns. In polished pottery the pottery is strong and deeply incised, and has stylized patterns of arabesques. Glazed pottery contains a white background and has blue and green patterns. Women prepared terracotta clay figures of gods and goddesses during festivals. These are then fired and painted in bright colors. When paper is coarsely mashed and mixed with copper sulphate and rice-flour paste it forms paper pulp. Papier-mâché pottery is made from paper pulp which is given shape using molds. Designs are sketched and polished with bright colors.

Indian pottery has always stood out among other artistic works. It had long been passed on for generations from father to son. But this is now a dying art. Prevalent in only a few part of rural India pottery is now unnoticeably vanishing.

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Lithography

“Art lies in concealing art”.

“Art is long and time is fleeting”.

These are the famous quotes on art. It is the indispensable piece of work or act that gives the pleasure to people. They should not alone contain imagination but also an idea that stitches the heart of the viewers. Simple, informative, and creative are the best characteristics that an art can have. It has different forms – painting, sculpture, music, dance, drama and the list starts.  One form which is quite interesting is “lithography”- printing technology.

In ancient days, the printing is done by the method of lithography with a stone or metal plate which has the smooth surface.  The principle behind this, is the relative density between oil and water. The simple concept that oil floats on water. Thus, lithography was used to print artwork or text onto the paper or suitable material by this principle.

The image was drawn on a smooth limestone plate and was treated with a mixture of acid and gum Arabic, etching the portions of stone. These were moistened and an oil based ink was applied. Since, they repel each other, the ink would be transferred to paper or suitable material. Thus, the printing is done on the paper.

It is interesting that a small concept has it’s application on printing. Now, the way printing  is done, is different . But still ancient printing method is marvellous. As stated earlier the art is long and the time is fleeting , and especially the lithographic paintings has its own influence on the people. It can only be felt and it is hard to explain.” Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life ” ,it is the famous quote by the legendary artist “Pablo Picaso”.  Thus the speciality of the art “begins”.

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Frozen

The Walt Disney Animation Company placed huge expectations on their Christmas 2013 flick, “Frozen”. The objectives for the Disney family was clear. They needed to produce a film which showed the class that the company possessed in the 20th century with films like Alice in Wonderland, Robin Hood and Lion King. That class, unfortunately has degraded over the years, handing Disney the tag of being ‘just another competitor in the market’.

Frozen has not managed to remove that tag. However, it has exhibited some fine aspects of animated movie making that manages to gives us a glimpse of what Disney can potentially be.

The visuals are mind-blowing. It has been quite some time since Disney produced these kinds of visuals in their films. For the past few years, Dreamworks Entertainment has put itself in the limelight by producing some stunning visuals in the Shrek series and the Kung Fu Panda series. The quality of Frozen’s visuals matched that level. But Disney will know what the challenge will be to sustain that quality for long periods of time, something quite difficult for a dying animation company. The song ‘Let it Go’ is particularly impressive.

The storyline is decent. It entertains all kinds of audiences without leaving them bored at any point in the 108-minut ride. However, the concept of having two princesses with parents who pass away in their childhood is too cliché. Disney has adopted such characters for a very long time indeed.

Frozen - Disney Animation's Christmas release

Frozen - Disney Animation’s Christmas release

The film runs through as a musical with plenty of typical Disney style songs from the beginning to the end. With that kind of music to go with a story that revolves around two princesses, one would imagine that Frozen is a movie meant only for young girls. But that cannot be farther from the truth. Frozen captivates audiences of all age groups. More importantly, it is a treat for animation film lovers.

Frozen may not have had the bite to pull Disney out of the hole. But it certainly has kept Disney where it was – hanging on a thread. Frozen strengthens Disney’s position in the market. With the next film releasing a year later, we will have to wait to see how long that thread can hold on.

 

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