Project Space: Vijai Patchineelam

by Claire Ruud

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      Artist Vijai Patchineelam cites Henry Miller when he talks about his work: “To sing you must first open your mouth. You must have a pair of lungs, and a little knowledge of music. It is not necessary to have an accordion, or a guitar. The essential thing is to want to sing. This then is a song. I am singing.” Patchineelam is painting. Right now, he is painting in a portable storage unit in the parking lot outside of The Creative Research Laboratory. His large paintings, black, white and grey oils on paper, lie on the ground and hang on nails around the small space. Patchineelam paints on the floor, straddling one corner of the work and sweeping a large brush back and forth over it. The resulting works display a heavy diagonal of grey or black paint, and are often torn, smudged and footprinted around the edges.

      Patchineelam, this year’s Iberê Camargo artist-in-residence in Austin, is a young artist from Rio de Janeiro. The backbone of Patchineelam’s practice is daily routine and time in the studio. “Most important,” he explains, “is to keep working, to hit hard, to keep this constant going.” The meaningfulness of Patchineelam’s work develops out of routine and consistency. In fact, Patchineelam received his residency in Austin on the basis of a proposal that resists the accepted order of production: idea, production, result. He claimed no plan beyond “to paint,” (paper and paints, he points out, are much cheaper here than in Rio), and promised no results beyond painting. In effect, Patchineelam’s proposal collapses the first and last phases of production—idea and result—into process; production itself becomes both the impetus behind and the product of the work.

      Moonwalk (2007) embodies Patchineelam’s process-oriented practice. The artist placed a bucket of white paint on one end of the studio and a temporary wall of lockers at the other end. As he walked back and forth between them, his oversized brush dripped paint in his path, creating a wide swath of puddles and footprints in the intervening space. Patchineelam explains, “the paint and the wall are point A and point B, but what interests me is what happens in between.”

      Much of Patchineelam’s earlier work is in photography because, he explains, “Early on I realized, if I want to work as much as I need to work, I need to work cheap. I got into photography because I could work almost constantly without spending too much money.” But an early group of photographs, Frame Series, from 2005, illustrates Patchineelam’s ongoing interest in the idea of painting. In these works, Patchineelam hung a black frame in front of a white backdrop and threw objects from the studio—an old canvas, a chair, a brush—in front of the frame. Capturing these moving objects in a still photograph, Patchineelam discovered, created the effect of swaths of paint on a canvas.

      The boundary between the space of the canvas or picture frame and the artist’s studio is an ongoing theme in Patchineelam’s work. In Frame Series, the studio setting is apparent, from the stage-like backdrop behind the frame to the warehouse lighting overhead to the canvases stacked against the wall in the background. The studio is not only visible within Patchineelam’s photographs, it also invades the frame within the frame. Objects gathered haphazardly from those lying around the studio catapult into the frame, illustrating the studio’s encroachment upon the work. In fact, many of Patchineelam’s photographs picture installations or actions occurring within the studio, but in a gallery, Patchineelam only exhibits photographs. The installations and events, he insists, are intimately wrapped up in the space of the studio and cannot be seen without it.

      In his most recent paintings, Patchineelam maintains this attention to the presence of the studio within the work. He appears more interested in what happens to the paper as he moves around within the studio than he is with the stroke of his brush. He loves the effect of dog-eared corners punctured by nail after nail as he moves a painting around the walls of his studio, of a fold or a tear created by accident or of the smudges of his own fingers and feet around the edges of a page. This may be why Patchineelam leaves his paintings lying helter-skelter over the floor and hanging two or three to a nail on the wall: he’s waiting for the studio to rub off on them.

      Claire Ruud is Editor of ...might be good.

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