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  T M Azis's Interviews

August, 2007

TM Azis- Artifacts Amplified

By Phil Psilos

For Bangalore-based TM Azis, the drawing continues to reign supreme, at whatever magnifcation it emerges.

Failing his first diploma in art at the age of 18 in his home town of Trichur (Kerala) could have put TM Azis off of drawing for good. Ironically, this Bangalore-based painter and printmaker, a leading figure in the emerging generation of India’s booming contemporary art scene, continues to build from this very training. Retaining the drawing as the core of his works, Azis builds engrossing painted works through amplification of form through the addition of color and texture. “Drawing is dominant in my work over time, whether graphic or realistic work, I see it as a drawing.” His “painted drawings” have drawn Azis critical and commercial attention in his homeland, and his first solo show in Thailand will grace the Soulflower Gallery, Silom Galleria, Bangkok, in December.

Asiz has traversed both North and South India’s fine art territory and the world mediascape, incorporating both into his current work. Moving from his home village of Thrisur to study his BFA in printmaking at the College of Fine Arts, Trivandrum was the first of sequential major shifts in Azis’ frame of reference. Arriving in Trivandrum offered an ‘opening to the world.’ “In [Trichur] we didn’t see colorful things. In the city, life is different. Fast.” As a connoisseur of international cinema during art college, Azis developing an appreciation of the aesthetics of media-generated images. Through the direct experience of a change-ridden Indian landscape, his palate expanded.

After two solo shows in Trivandrum and Bangalore in the late 1980s, Azis set out for Delhi, initially intending only to travel. With the encouragement of noted Painter/Sculptor A. Ramachandram his interest gravitated towards the painted canvas, and his education to the Jamia Milia Islamia, where Ramachandra was on faculty. Azis moved away from printmaking to develop as a painter during his MFA taken in Delhi. Delhi as a mega-city also pushed his ability to synthesize urban stimulus, which remains a feature of his working style today in Bangalore. “In Bangalore, there is a lot of action around information technology (IT). New things arise all the time. Even the ads outside my studio are foreign. Culture, lifestyle, attitudes, and color schemes have all changed, like in all big cities. Even I am influenced. I’m not all against the changes. Sometimes I take, sometimes I reject, but I receive all of this.”

Azis’ current work centers on presentation of outlines and “beautiful emergent forms” resulting from amplification of antique photographs, stamps and engravings, principally depicting people. By amplifying the underlying ‘analog’ images to highlight the forms that emerge—both the ‘intentional’ and the artifacts—Azis begins a play of form and color that invokes the grainy filmstrips of pop art and visual ambiguity of op art.

Many painters and printmakers have experimented with presenting a pixilated visual landscape as a feature of the digital age, and it would be no surprise if Azis, working in India’s information technology capital, were also drawn to this approach. Yet, Azis’ work stands out from much of the ‘noise’ of digital-traditional art crossovers, remaining novel in part due to its innocence—it’s refusal to manipulate the underlying image—and its complete rejection of the “photoshopper’s” compulsion to edit or remove. If manipulation implies misrepresentation, Azis’ interpretation tends towards amplified revelation—possibly distorted but certainly at least complete, and possibly ‘supra-whole.”

His work has reached this trajectory through the natural and unpretentious route of the photocopy machine. Says Asiz, “I started this work with xerox (photocopy) machines. Like everyone, I would photocopy my drawings to transfer them to canvas using graph paper and transparent sheets. On enlarging my drawings, interesting forms emerged, and these drawings are the basis of my current work. Using the computer, this has become an easy shift, now I can do it at home.” Yet if one had to place Azis’ current work either on either side of the digital divide, it would fall squarely in an analog, rather than a digital or computer generated space. But his work is not naturalistic, rather suggesting the analog reproduction of previous generations of media, invoking the outlines of a (grainy) well-worn film-strip, or a xerox machine.

The current phase of the artist’s work began in earnest in 2004-2005, after more than a decade of figurative surrealism and, previously, a kinship with German impressionism.

In this period, the fascination with negative space within images began to reveal itself, but the current work represents a major shift. In part, this seems to be related to Azis’ re-thinking of perspective in 2002-2003.

In these years, Azis took a break from painting to participate as a photographer with artist CF John and dancer/performance artists Tripura Kashyal in two installation/art projects. “Walls of Memories” comprises a series of experiments in perspective conducted in a 40 foot deep by 35 foot wide circular well. Shooting with natural light, Azis and his partners engaged in an in-depth exploration of the space from above, specifically during performances and events. The experience re-introduced an awareness of compositional constraints of space that are evident in recent works. Describing the scenario, Azis notes, “On canvas you can do anything. In this place, you can only add. You can’t change the space. You can’t eliminate. You only have choice over the composition.” The well’s immovability provided Azis another form of the printmaker’s original drawing or the antique engraving or stamp which could be enhanced, reconsidered, and reinterpreted, but which (yet again) defied manipulation or subtraction.

“Good training in basic drawing—shape, color, depth—has really helped me,” remarked Azis, in a gracious nod to the very teachers who, at 18, would have ended his art career with one failing mark. Fortunately for Indian art and, soon, for the Bangkok audience, Azis persevered.

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