Salman: Drawing on Emotions in Abstract Art
Salman is a self taught artist living in Chennai (formerly called Madras), India. His work is rooted in abstraction and is driven by the constraints that push techniques into conceptual territory. He aims to explore intuitive flow, texture, and emotional landscapes with each brushstroke. Much of his work is inspired by the city he grew up in. His work has helped him during the long, hard months of the multiple lockdowns in India. Even during these times he has pushed himself to continue to create.
How would you describe your work to a first time viewer?
I have evolved as a painter purely by self-discovery, driven by constraints, techniques, and bursts of intuitive freedom. I live to create art, and I consider every canvas a fresh start.
My abstract work aims to communicate on an emotional and personal level through the composition of images and responses, in order to emulate the world we live in and the thoughts we share.
Coming from a background in engineering, a trade that is normally very structured and filled with rules, how did you come to create abstract art?
Engineering provided me with a framework to build on an idea. I’m a person of self-discovery, I like to learn things by myself, in my own way, at my own pace and that’s the only way it will stick with me.
It gives me a great sense of satisfaction to be able to manually build things from the ground up. Similarly, with art, starting with a blank canvas and building layer by layer, giving the time and patience it deserves, is extremely rewarding. No feeling can compare to that. So, whether engineered or improvised, the emphasis has always been on the act of creation itself. Hard-edge abstraction or intuitive abstraction, the approach might vary but the outcome is the same.
How much of your inspiration comes from Madras, the city you live in, and how does that translate to your work?
I love my city. I still refer to it as Madras even though they have changed the name to Chennai. I was born and raised here and it has had an influential impact on my life and work. Much like the city, with its multiculturalism, historic landmarks, South Indian filtered coffee, friendly people, perennial sunny weather, the second largest beach in the world—I’m an amalgamation of it all. I often explore the city and its proximities for inspiration and to study forms for abstraction.
I also extensively travel to other countries meeting art collectors and exploring, so you can see hints of international influence.
Could you walk us through your artistic process?
I’m very impressionable by nature, so when I’m painting, I like to be left alone with my thoughts and ideas to practice, as one would expect meditating. As I work on both intuitive and technical paintings, my approach varies in extremity.
With intuitive paintings, I start with a few colours and cover the entire canvas, then I take a step back to study the work. At this point of time, I’m completely closed off from external influences and in tune with my intuition. Soundscape music often helps with this. I let it guide me and see where it takes me. At times, when I’m in this/my zone, I switch between hands instinctively. I then let the painting ruminate for a few days before I start adding several layers until it brings self-satisfaction. If I’m not able to achieve a flow state, I’ll abandon the work to go do something different entirely.
I spend a lot of time on research for technical paintings. Inspiration hits me when I least expect it, so I often take notes to later develop an idea in the studio. As I progress with the painting, I’m constantly faced with several directions that I can take, but I give myself constraints to follow through on the original idea. It is a constant struggle to not be intuitive and freeform on a technical painting, be it hard-edge abstraction or pointillism, for example.
In any case, most of my artworks are acrylic-based using various techniques that are all the result of trial and error. Other than brushes, I use various tools, pretty much anything I can get my hands on, which I think adds detail and depth to my work.
How has the pandemic impacted your work?
Yes, it certainly has positively and negatively impacted my work. During the first wave in 2020, when we were all staying home, I got to research and work on a pointillism styled commission for almost 4 months. If it were not for pandemic lockdown, I wouldn’t have had the downtime to do something like that since I’m always wavering between art projects. That commission surpassed how I imagined it would turn out to be, so I’m thankful for that.
Afterwards, my work was put on hold as I had to be hospitalised due to severe Covid-19 complications in December. It took me over 2 months to recover and be able to paint again. In all honesty, I had doubts whether I was going to make it, which gave a new perspective on life and what’s imperative.
The second wave that we’re in right now has claimed several lives of my family and friends. Every morning you wake up dreading more bad news. So, I spend time trying to help extended family members and friends. I'm glad to say they’ve all recovered well.
In times like these, I have the urge to create more, immerse myself in more artwork. It provides an escape and comfort to maintain positivity and composure.
If people could only take away one thing from your art what would you like that to be?
My paintings are an inaudible dialogue. I hope my art helps people find themselves, through the evocation of various feelings: affirmation, wonderment, confrontation, to name a few. I want my paintings to act as a reflection of thoughts and emotions about where we are and where we need to be. Finally, I hope the paintings leave people with a sense of restored hope, faith, and positivity.