Roobina Karode
Art Critic and Independent Curator.

Only humans invent utopias and their desire for a perfect world propels them to seek ' beauty and harmony' in life, even if it means conveniently diverting their vision from the callousness and coarseness of the surroundings. Unlike many artists who develop a natural obsession for the beautiful, nurturing a utopian vision in art, Rajeev Lochan's work argues that the contemporary reality has nothing to do with the available range of cliché images, and it is necessary for him to gear his art to new situations by locating within them, the unhackeneyed images that carry a topical meaning.

After several years his recent set of works have incorporated the human form in their imagery. Here the figure, who is shown unaware is actually set up to 'perform' by Lochan. This presented reality, in a sort of 'cinematographic sequence' in stills, has images that are implicit with a social criticism, and staged with a subtle theatricality.

The common day to day experience has been Lochan's pre-occupation from the very beginnings of his formal art education. In his earlier work on canvas, the interiors of man-made environment were in sharp focus, capturing presences of social behaviour, neglect, pseudo taste and apathy in the absence of humans.The paintings injected into ordinary awareness what tends to be 'overlooked' but needs to be 'looked at' and perhaps even 'looked into'. Later, his painted photographs of treated ruins and historic cityscapes ravaged by nature and time, nurtured Lochan's passive and lonely disposition with their evocative presences. Lochan continues to make an ordinary vision extraordinary with his perceptions.

Rajeev Lochan's interest in the 'aesthetics of the melancholy' is consistent with this recent group of his works. The day to day locales, the dark lingering interiors, the relatively newer human forms juxtaposed alongwith the clutter of symbolically used debris, speak again, initiating a visual form made by controlled intervention into the perfected photographic image. As a painter who uses photography as his medium, he frees his artistic process from the limited role of copying and documenting a situation, to express a sort of anti-convention stance while seeking a personalised expression.

Born into a family of painters and poets, his creative inclination was nurtured early at home. He feels privileged at having had the guidance of remarkable teachers while studying at the M.S.University, Baroda- K.G. Subramanyan, Jeram Patel, Gulam Sheikh, Raghav Kaneria, Jyoti Bhatt, and Nasreen Mohammedi among them. It was Jyoti Bhatt, Kaneria and Nasreen's passion for the lens that introduced him to photography as a creative medium. While Jyoti Bhatt went ahead to use photography in the preparation of mass dissemination endeavours like print-making, Lochan pursued it only for its exclusivity. The contemporary movement in the West in the 60's and 70's called Photo-Realism did enamour Lochan, for it challenged the artists painterly skills in exacting a hard edged realism, in replicating the photograph. But for Lochan, such replication became a boring exercise, and instead of capturing what he wished to paint, he moved on to painting on what he photographed. In the continuity of his purpose to appropriate the innumerable stimuli around, in their most natural and casual occurrence, he needed a tool that could freeze the moment for him to enter and intervene into the frame. His working method necessitated the use of the camera and Lochan started using the photograph for its flawless registering of the moment and then gradually made it the base of his work. The 'temporal deferral' is important for him, for once the phenomenon is frozen in space, Lochan's vision of reality starts getting transposed on to the still image. An equal passion for both manual (painting) and mechanical (photography) skills, Lochan could move to an inter-media endeavor where the visualisation of the work results from such a dual consciousness. Notably, though the camera is an objectifying lens it obeys the subjective vision of the seeker, who selects the phenomenon, positions and shifts the frame around, to capture the banal, which is the subject for his aesthetic contemplation and expression. Lochan has had a solitary pursuit where the painter and photographer merge to author the work.

In the recent years, the inclusion of the human figure has added another interesting dimension to his work, that of 'performance'. No utopian locations, no cosy settings, the frame is precisely composed with a discomforting incongruence between the self and surrounding as they invade each other. The human figure as 'placed' within the 'setting' is made to perform by the artist. Though often he seems to be caught unawares, he is intentionally framed in moods of self concern and self absorption. Far from any heroism or glorification, the common man as the artist's personified self, caught in either empty futility, unspecified emotion, detachment from the immediate, or a mindless gaze, all symbolise an existential angst, isolated in the midst of all visibility. One feels immediately, how remote his art is from the merely photographic. At first glance , the imagery appears as a stark statement of visual facts, but it actually haunts the borderline between reality and imagination. Painting on the photograph, is never an act of cosmetic surgery for him, but more like a need to 'rework in a mood of reflection'. The artistic process begins as conceived in 'painting with light' and then using mixed media on the large silver gelatine prints. The reinforcement of suggestive and sensitive details are sharpened for the viewers attention. Working with a sense of omission, Lochan blurs or lets 'out of focus' through chemical treatment, portions irrelevant for the final thematic impact. The image and non image are articulated alike. In these works he even uses pigments, commonly used for staining glass for effects of transparency, porosity, and luminous washes. One notices pronounced mark making, textures brushed by sandpaper, and a self invented technique for the granular use of crayon for some expressive effects. The red, earthy, yellow, blues and greys predominate amidst the nuances of dark and light areas. Lochan has now moved on to a minimal, precise intellectual intervention to communicate through his art.

Lochan's is a self styled radicality. Facing away from the camera, the protagonist of Lochan's frame is never confrontational, addressing the issue in a manner of self absorption. By never looking into the camera, the figure with its inverted gaze, makes the viewer enter and participate in the circumstances of his being. Several of Lochan's images bring forth the dichotomy of the self and the shadow, the man trying to touch his own shadow, reach it and gauge its silent presence. This dematerialised self, stands out in sharp contrast to the corporeal, sensual body. Amidst the familiar urban debris, the man seems to search for a lost world.

Some of the images are hard hitting in their composition- for instance, the man truncated and suggestively positioned in the claustrophobic space between the gruesome geometry of solid angular bars, suggesting the troubling dialectics of the self and the world. The tight corners in which the human is caught and has to wriggle out of, makes this pictorial the story of the survivor. The precarious placement and lurking presence of the human, heighten the theatricality of the way in which the figure has been treated in the frame. He somehow, becomes a symbolic component in the overall composition, truncated for the desired effect that is suggestive rather than overt. In Lochan, whether it is the sharp edged blade of grass touching the bare body creating a piercing vibration, or the entrapment of the figure between the menacing barbed wires, or then the broken corrugated iron sheet or the mutilated pieces of the woven chair, everyday observations are transformed into metaphors of pain and aesthetically turned into signs of a 'brutal beauty'. Aesthetic vision for Lochan is about seeing within the familiar the clairvoyance of things. There is no camouflaging of the irregular and the uneven, as the mute and sensorial world around - is almost hostile evidence of corroding time and even space. The sensed futility of the protagonist's predicament, brings out the temperament of an indifferent desensitised society.

Perception for Rajeev is 'ego-centric'. He views everything from his own vantage point. As an artist, this passive receptivity of the self is important, in his vision. His work oscillates between the fluid frontiers of 'seeing' and 'perceiving'. Instead of conceiving art as total transformation, it is seen here as a mediation between the artist and the phenomenon. He is now gradually shifting his lens from engaging in 'frozen immobility' to 'frozen mobility'. It seems he has still not felt the need to break out of the frame. In his collaborative venture though , where the model is staged 'in- situ', he almost finds an indirect answer to installation and reveals smilingly, "I discover what is already installed out there in my environment, and I posture the human to complete the communication. I transfer on to the existing reality, my own vision of reality."

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