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Art on the Rocks - Mixed-media Art

HAMILTON, CANADA.- The Faculty Club at McMaster University, Hamilton, presents "Art on the Rocks - Mixed-media Art by Arthur Secunda & P. Mansaram," on view through Thursday 29th of January 04.   Mansaram and Arthur Secunda are two artists fascinated with the possibilities of rocks. And in their quest to tease out the larger beauties and meanings of the mineral world for the benefit of the human world, they have left scarcely a stone unturned, or untouched. For many years now Mansaram has made annual trips to his homeland of India, to Mount Abu in the northwest, and there he has adopted several outcroppings of rock and boulder as a kind of canvas for his work. Onto these large rocks Mansaram has painted his signature shapes, in his signature colours. There are his ghost-like outlines in white of the human figure. There are squiggles and arcs, broken lines, coloured dots, ellipses and distorted ovals in his phosphorous reds, greens, blues and yellows. But Mansaram could not bring the mountain to McMaster. So he took photographs of the painted rocks and
incorporated them in his elaborate multi-media (he calls it "Mansa-media") collages. Xerography, lasergraph printing , drawing, painting, photographic massaging, computer manipulation and other art technologies have long played an important role in Mansaram’s work, giving to them an almost electric feel, as though they were not so much material pictures as live currents of colour and shape. In one of his pieces in this show, Mansaram has found the suggestion of a cow hiding in the shape and mass of a large rock. He painted a rough outline of a cow onto the rock, following its contours. His photograph of that painted "cow" rock is the central element of the piece, but onto it he has super-imposed the colourful photographic image of a woman in Indian dress, seen walking away from the viewer and towards the "cow" rock. And in the rock itself is a red door, also super-imposed.

The effect seems partly surreal, partly allegorical. It is an enigmatic, elliptical glimpse into both Indian culture and the archetypal, specific in the woman’s garment and the icon of the cow, but universal, almost tarot-like, in the juxtaposition of woman door, rock and cow. In another of his pieces, Mansaram again puts a rock in the foreground, but this time overlays it with his characteristic white outline figures and animates it with small flames that have somehow been ignited in a patch of dull brush. And there are red flowers growing in the arid scene. It is a subtle, but powerful image. And again its very mysteriousness draws us in, seeking a key to its meaning. Not all of Mansaram’s pieces in this show are based on his art-on-the-rocks project, though most are. Some works are more urban in flavour, with street traffic and market scenes collaged together, and punctuated with abstract, computer-like colour squares that somehow seem necessary to complete the visual grammar the artist has set in motion. One piece from his "Ye Hai Mumbai" (This is Mumbai) series features an evening scene with empty chairs on the patio
of Gate-way of India, Mumbai’s famous Taj Hotel in the background, and photographic images of female figures floating almost wraith-like through the scene.

No matter what is going on content-wise in Mansaram’s works in this show, and it is always compelling, there is an added story - the drama of form in which Mansaram expresses the content. His sometimes Cezanneesque
collisions of planes, the intentionally inconsistent scale of different objects, the intrusion of abstract elements and "test pattern"-like accents and ornaments. The rocks in these works are Mansaram’s thematic anchors but they also set off a wonderful, vital interplay of form, content and colour. Arthur Secunda’s work in this show takes rocks pretty well exclusively as its subject, and as such his art has a commonality with Mansaram’s. But they could hardly look more different, though they complement each other well. Secunda is a graphics master and includes in this show a range of traditional techniques, such as etching, lithography, and silkscreen. He is at present
completing a 50-year retrospective catalog raissone of more than 300 graphic editions, executed all over the world, most of them represented in museum collections, including several in Canada, such as the Art Gallery of Windsor. Secunda is an internationally recognized artist whose career has spanned five decades, during which he has lived in France (for 20 years), Los Angeles, New York (another 20 years) and, currently, Arizona. He has exhibited in Mexico and all over Europe and Asia, including Tokyo. In the best of the work in this show he intricately stacks blocks of spectral, striated colours, achieving a kind of stained glass effect. These pieces are depictions, or perhaps topographical examinations, of southwest rock formations - canyons and caves and the like. But many of them function virtually as abstracts. Secunda has sure instincts around colour
relationships and setting, and the result is work of often-crystalline beauty. Secunda considers himself a landscape artist and has developed his own iconography, representing nature, the land and its forms, as well as inner landscapes. His colour gradations are very distinctive, his very own coinage, and like Mansaram he enjoys mixing different media. In the work of both these artists, the rocks transcend their "rock"-ness, or at least the human construction of what is a rock. They are solid, and they are powerfully expressive of mass and weight, but they are hardly inanimate. They are living and ring with the rich corresponding harmonics of events and associations within our own consciousness. In this show a rock is not just a rock. It is a song, a feeling, a foundation, perhaps sacred, perhaps profane, probably both. This show invites us to see, to listen with our
eyes ... to the rocks. Jeff Mahoney.

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