Tapping The Marvellous!
An artist with a powerful sense of vision
- Dnyaneshwar Nadkarni, Mumbai Art Critic
Born in 1960, Derek Philip Monteiro was studying for an MSc Physics degree at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay when the call of art beckoned early in life and he bid farewell to a career in physics, to pursue his first love -- Art!!!. With no formal training in the arts, he has long been active scribbling, drawing, painting and writing away. A self taught artist, he spent a lot of time at the wood, metal, lathe, welding workshops and at the IDC Industrial Design Centre on the IIT Campus, Powai. So, here is an artist with a powerful sense of vision. Derek is completely at ease with a variety of colour media, including oils, acrylics, oil pastels, glass paints, ink, and multi-media collages. Intuitively, he accepts that reality can only be grasped & experienced by a non-thinking, non-intellectual process. He describes his art as "Tapping the Marvellous!".
The Mumbai based artist has a fine track record built over the last two and a half decades. He has exhibited his art in Mumbai, Goa and U.K. and his paintings are all over the globe. A unique intelligence and originality shines through his paintings. He's held 17 exhibitions in all and they have all been characteristic of these qualities. Derek is one artist who has blended innovation with hard work and come up with stellar displays of acute sensitivity to his inner vision. A highly talented artist, Derek Monteiro, has a unique sense of satirical humour. Matching this is his exotic style of painting, design and colour.
Derek is also a musician and poet. He has two albums to his credit: The Mystical Journey -- The Little Giggle Ashram, and Santa Comes To Clown -- The Little Giggle Mafia, a satirical rendition of Christmas Carols. Any attempt to interpret Derek's art/music would be irreparable, so we would like to share the artist's own musings.
"It is natural for man to love beauty, since beauty, deep within is his essence. Beauty is that which delights the human self; for in contemplating it, the self returns as it were, from the far country, back home to where it truly belongs. The purpose of art may be described as the pursuit, interpretation and expression in the external human world, of that inner beauty which is essentially the intangible, invisible, ideal and which all artists desire or should desire."
Tapping The Marvellous
(Personal views on ART)
I’m constantly being asked to explain my paintings, etc.
Quite honestly I don’t know what to say or where to begin? Let me try...
What is my Philosophy?
I KAN’T Say – I DON’T THINK, therefore I AM! ( due apologies to Descartes) & everything turns out just fine. No intellectual hangovers for me anymore!
What do I believe?
I believe that a picture should speak a thousand words and that elephants should fly, gold fish should tap dance and that the moon is a rolled up bear! Please, don’t disturb him by landing on his tummy at noon, ok?
What is ART?
Art is Experience! A painting has to be experienced.
My concerns are primarily and ultimately pictorial!
That means that I’m least concerned about subject matter, slickness, trompe l'oeil, intellectual, ideographical, ideological or conceptual approaches.
ART is a Visual language to express the Intangible.
Line, form, colour, space, etc are the elements as we all know.
All these elements come together, to create an Illusion of 3-D Space on a 2-D surface, keeping in mind composition, balance, design, etc, with a specific goal in mind.
What is the GOAL in ART?
A work of Art has to provoke an AESTHETIC Response in the viewer!!!
More like a Mystical Experience!
As the Chinese would say – a Painting has to possess Rhythmic Vitality!!
Quality of Life-Enhancement, Emotional Resonance, Aesthetic Rapture are also some other terms used.
A truly good painting has the ability to move and resonate within, at the very core of one’s being.
This is what is meant by to Experience a Painting or a work of art.
BUT you cannot define this 'Aesthetic Experience' in words nor intellectually try to understand nor explain it!
If this was possible then there would be NO Need for the Plastic Arts, except perhaps, for decorative or ornamental purposes.
That, in my humble opinion, is The Absolute ESSENCE of ART!
One has to note here, that to many, Art is a very subjective experience based on individual likes and dislikes. Aesthetic Relativism is the term used.
It is not at all unusual to come across people who have looked at works of art, either the originals or even reproductions and are then ready to pronounce judgment on them as if they had become experts overnight.
John Fisher, a friend of the English Romantic painter John Constable, had this comment to make about a group of people sitting in judgment of one of Constable’s paintings - “While in every other profession, only the initiated and trained are judges, in painting, all men, except the blind, think themselves qualified to give an opinion!”
Repelled by all this, the great post–impressionist artists, aware that representation and ossified visual habits are not of the essence of art, carried out a Revolution in Perception in the Visual Arts.
They went even further and removed all traces of photographic representation. That this coincided with the invention of the Camera Obscura, was not at all surprising. Not only Realism, but even Perspective was dispensed with altogether.
To criticize and condemn these painters and say they cannot draw is, as a great aesthetician once put it – To say that people fly in airplanes is to say that they cannot walk!
Is BEAUTY only in the eyes of the beholder? And NOT an indisputable OBJECTIVE experience too, accessible to all and NOT just a few?
Having said that, the question arises: Can Quality in Art be judged Objectively?
Ultimately A Painting is an Autonomous, Independent Creation that has to stand alone and be judged and appreciated accordingly.
No amount of hype, hoopla nor publicity can revive a dead Dinosaur or revive an extinct Dodo! It's futile flogging a Dead Horse, isn't it? But it would be truly MARVELLOUS if the dead horse would suddenly spring back to life!
Well, Andre Breton, that surrealistic dude, loved the word MARVELLOUS! I liked the sound of it too, so I use it to explain the SOURCE from where I ABSTRACT (draw all my inspiration & perspiration) from.
Now, in modern art, vanishing-point Perspectives have become Redundant! The eye roams over the entire surface of the canvas. There are many points of view!
So from my humble, Multi-Perspective point of view, it's my firm belief that Artists are NOT Creators, but only transmitters, reflectors or transparencies for whatever comes through, from within.
What is all this NONSENSE I’m spouting? Am I talking Sense or Zen???
Nonsensical, irrational, illogical sometimes lengthy, descriptive names are how I, WHIMSICALLY title my paintings.
So in a way, I do introduce Absurd SUBJECT matter and WHIMSICAL Story-Telling, back again, by giving my own, hopefully humorous & zany twist to those traditional approaches to Art!
Well, one has to Feed the Intellect (the Monkey Mind, as it is referred to in Zen Buddhism) some bananas to divert it, keep it busy, distract it and hopefully SILENCE or QUIETEN it and thus "The Inner Child" within all of us, can be set free to frolic around and truly experience, appreciate & enjoy a painting!
I must admit that the reason, I title my paintings so absurdly, is because I’m annoyed! I didn’t get the 2 litres of sunshine, i was promised last monsoon!
The Rationing Officer just smiled, ”Help yourself, to all the rice, sugar and toilet paper, you need - It’s FREE!
But SUNLIGHT? That’s gonna cost you! We’ve already sold the RAINBOW to a rich beggar down the street!”
What MARVELLOUS NONSENSE !!!!
I want MY ART to, not only Please THE EYE but also, to Tickle ONE’S FUNNY BONE, Trigger-Off the IMAGINATION and to Intrigue & Engage THE MIND!
And thus, TO INCITE & IGNITE a Sense of MAGIC, WONDER & DELIGHT! in the viewer! And also, quite honestly to Bring A SMILE to every face!
Now wouldn’t that be MARVELLOUS?
That indeed, in a nutshell, is My ARTISTIC STATEMENT!
And is how I describe my Art as - Tapping The MARVELLOUS!
And finally, a good painting is a gift, which keeps on giving & giving & giving...
Great Art performs a vital function, for it delves into the essence of man.
Herbert Reed, the famous and well respected art critic, once declared: “Our homage to the artist is an homage to someone who by his/her special gifts has solved our emotional problems for us. A great painting, like all great art, uses the language of emotions, and imaginatively can plunge into the very depths of our emotional and sentient selves, so that we emerge richer for the experience, because it is beyond the merely optical”
THAT’S ALL! Did I forget anything? See? I tried my best to explain myself...
Here I must confess that all the ALPHABET soup, I happily ingested as a child (I wanted an education, you see?) helped me pick up a few letters & words, here and there... Many slipped away. So many ZZzzz's too, floated and drifted-off... as I blissfully dozed-off to sleep!
"I choose that my art be engaged in that which exalts the spirit in man! - Clyfford STILL
"The heart that beat for this world has been almost extinguished in me. It is as though my bond with these things were memory... One relinquishes this world and builds into a region beyond, a region which can be all AFFIRMATION!!!!" - Paul KLEE
My Artistic Approach
Many years ago, I stumbled upon the book Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, a 1957 publication by Paul Reps on “non-dual” practice and got quite intrigued and fascinated by Zen Buddhism. Zen Buddhism uses Koans (Paradoxical riddles) or Nonsensical Zen stories as "mental devices" to exhaust, confuse, confound, short-circuit and SILENCE "the analytical INTELLECT" & "the EGOISTIC Will", and usurp and force the MIND to use it's innate faculty of "INTUITION!" KOANS or ZEN stories can be defined as - Paradoxes, Contradictions, Oxymorons, Conundrums, Puzzles, Surreal Oddities, Epigrams, Enigmatic tales, etc.... For centuries, Zen masters have used Zen, nonsensical stories and koans or paradoxical riddles, to help students realize their true inner natures. These stories are often puzzling and may seem nonsensical, but one cannot try to explain the stories because that would be missing the point - The stories themselves trigger "the experience" apparently.
The koans and Enigmatic Zen stories are only the flesh and bones of Zen! Which provokes one to get to the MARROW of Zen! So the GOAL is to ultimately abandon ALL dependence on REASON or LOGICAL THINKING and guide the student or neophyte into gaining "sudden INTUITIVE ENLIGHTENMENT!” known as SATORI or the experience of Blissful Tranquillity!
I begin a painting without any preconceived notions or ideas. I freely play around with line, forms and colours. And as I pictorially start tightening the design, themes or topics begin suggesting themselves and I start weaving a zen story around the emerging painting.
In my paintings, i employ whimsical, nonsensical, surreal "Subject matter", maybe in a POP-art style, and so my paintings can be classified as VISUAL Koans or Absurd VISUAL Zen stories....so, in a way, I do introduce, "SUBJECT matter" back in a rather whimsical and absurd manner! PURE INVENTIONS! is how I would classify the subject matter of my paintings! And the Nonsensical Titles I assign to my paintings are very much like Zen Koans and Zen Stories which appear rather absurd.... So I use the ELEMENTS of Art i.e. Line , Form, Colour, Space, etc very much like The Flesh and Bones of ZEN practice! My PRIMARY PURPOSE, of course, is TO try and TRICK the incessant thinking Intellectual Mind into SILENCE and help one achieve that Inner Stillness so that one can calmly look at and "EXPERIENCE the Marrow or Essence” of a painting without any preconceptions or any intellectual barriers getting in the way. In my artistic experience, mostly everyone usually wants to know the "meaning" of my paintings! And I, politely, respond with a smile and say - A painting cannot be explained or understood BUT only be EXPERIENCED!
What then, is The GOAL or ESSENCE of ART? IMHO (in my humble opinion) , A work of art has to be EXPERIENCED and has to provoke an AESTHETIC experience in the viewer!!! More like a Mystical Experience ! As the Chinese would say – a painting has to possess Rhythmic Vitality! Quality of Life-Enhancement, Emotional Resonance, Aesthetic Rapture are also some other terms used. A truly good painting should have the ability to move and resonate within at the very core of one’s being. This is what I mean when I say - A work of art has to be EXPERIENCED!
Here's what i got from the masters... Georgia O’Keeffe, ”I found ,I could say with colour and shapes what I couldn’t say any other way….things I had no words for.” Picasso had often said that the painter’s objective was not to imitate nature but to create a work of art that exists in its own right and in its own reality. A painting is autonomous! Matisse is even more to the point and stated: A work of art must be harmonious in its entirety. Even more enlightening is his statement that he attempted to make his paintings reach that state of condensation of sensations which constitutes a picture. He wrote: Expression, for me, is not to be found in the passion which blazes from a face, or which is made evident by some violent gesture. It is in the whole disposition of my picture. It is NOT the well-known emotions of love, hate, terror etc. that the painter explores. It has been reported that Cezanne, hailed as The Father of Modern Art, would lock together the fingers of his two hands to describe what he regarded as a successful painting – symbolizing all the parts that were coordinated and held together. Noting that his aim was to realize his sensations in relation to nature can help one, at least to some extent, to penetrate the mystery that is art. Artists like Cy Twombly, Agnes Martin, Mark Rothko, etc have attempted to portray states of consciousness or feelings on canvas.
My ARTISTIC STATEMENT
I want MY ART to be not necessarily merely VISUALLY appealing, BUT also to Tickle one's FUNNY BONE & TO INCITE one's IMAGINATION and to Intrigue & Engage THE MIND too! And thus TO IGNITE a Sense of WONDER & DELIGHT in the viewer. Now wouldn’t that be Marvellous? I simply describe my Art as "TAPPING The MARVELLOUS!"
The Arts’ Search for What is Real!
- Melville Maddocks
[Paraphrased excerpts (sic) from his essay in The Christian Science Monitor Supplement - 1975]
The early 20th century (1900s) ushered in The REVOLUTION in PERCEPTION! Not only in the Visual Arts but also in Poetry, Literature, Theatre, Music, Dance and in Science too!
As H.G. Wells in First and Last Things, reflected, “At first I took the World of Fact to be exactly as I perceived it to be! I believed my eyes! Seeing was believing, I thought! Still more did I believe my thinking!” Then he concluded, “The senses seem surer than they are. The World of Fact is NOT what it seems to be!” Thus he identified what was to become the destiny of the next 75 years – A Revolution in Perspective! A Deauthorization of The Fact!
The Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset would call the end result of the Revolution in Perspective - The DISREALIZATION of The World!
Around this same time, Einstein too, “began dis-realizing” the old certainties of Time & Space, on the way to formulating his Theory of Relativity!
The Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky explicitly acknowledged all this and described his revised perception of reality in Concerning the Spiritual in Art! He wrote, “The crumbling of The Atom was to my Soul like the crumbling of The Whole World... Everything became uncertain, tottering and weak... The world of Fact is NOT an external, rigid one but An Inner Flexible one!” The only question for him now was – What should replace the Object? The Solid Apples and the Shepherd with his Sheep, that had always provided the Subject Matter for artists to represent would, sadly, all have to go!
The young Picasso, a chap never lacking in self-confidence, thought he had the answer! He boldly took the mandate of the modern artist to be – “Our own conception of what nature is not!” Around the same time , 1908, Matisse half-jokingly dubbed this new metaphysics of the palette - CUBISM! A Cubist takes it as his calling to “Fashion The REAL in the Image of His OWN Mind!’ The DISENFRANCHISEMENT of The Order of Brute Things, especially in the Visual Arts had truly begun... As what would sound as the perfect, double-entendre, T.S. Eliot wrote - Son of Man, you know only a Heap of Broken Images!”
Finally, Wrapping it all Up! My final CONCLUSIONs...
Personally speaking, I had started gravitating towards ABSTRACTION myself while still having one foot planted firmly in FIGURATION.
Then it occurred to me, Why not introduce Subject matter in a purely whimsical, even absurd Zen manner?
Maybe creating a Fantastical Marvellous VIRTUAL Reality without drifting-off into Fantasy per se, but retaining a connection with commonly PERCEIVED external Reality, in a whimsical manner... a kind of Magical Realism!
Well then, the possibilities and choices for SUBJECT Matter would be limitless... I could then freely invent, twist, distort forms, etc, with impunity!
I am convinced that one cannot actually capture, portray or represent REALITY in the physical world...
SO like a Play or Drama on stage, I was using the elements of Art - line, form, colours, etc. , like actors or props in a Zen Story or a Zen Drama!
Thus I was Setting The Stage, so to speak, to organize & orchestrate a Visual Zen EVENT (on canvas perhaps) to facilitate & provide the SPACE for the viewer to EXPERIENCE a Painting or get a Taste of what a ZEN Happening is all about!... A SEPARATE REALITY!
(A SEPARATE REALITY is a book written by anthropologist/author Carlos Castaneda, published in 1971, concerning the events that took place during his apprenticeship with a Yaqui Indian Sorcerer, Don Juan Matus, between 1960 and 1965. The main focus of the book centered on Don Juan's attempts at getting Carlos To SEE, a practice best described in Castaneda's own words, "perceiving energy directly as it flows through the universe".)
That, in a nutshell, is how I describe my Art - TAPPING the MARVELLOUS!