CLOSER home in Chandigarh, where Ranbir Kaleka began his creative journey at the Government College of Art, there are many memories that enveloped the artist as he received the Punjab Gaurav Sanman by the Punjab Lalit Kala Akademi. “Non-events” and a childhood with “little to do” in a large haveli in Patiala, where he was born, prompted him to create his own stories.
“Living there affected my sensibility and gave me intense focus. Time slowed down, and it meant an extension of a feeling which slowly transforms. The slow time and movement created intensity,” says Kaleka, who received his Master’s degree in painting from the Royal College of Art, London.
Kaleka’s paintings, on paper and canvas, in oils and mixed media, are close to life. The scenes receive a surreal treatment, with the narratives being kept open-ended and the works infused with ambiguity, as the artist contemplates an act in subdued and muted colours.
“I don’t find any simple meaning in a thought. For me, it has potential if it is abstracted, for it is abstraction that allows us to infer many meanings,” says Kaleka. He refers to the recent Asia Contemporary Art Week in Dubai, the theme of which was Collections, where his talk, “Miraculous Non-Events” focused on how accumulated stories in the mind emerge as invented events and how time is important to look at.
Life and its many truths form the basis of Kaleka’s works. His deep interest in cinema leads to him creating video art and exploring how a painting, when combined with sound and movement — projecting video on painted canvases — creates an intensity and encourages the viewer to be a part of the narrative. One such work is the video projections, Man With Cockerel, Powder Room, Man Threading a Needle, “where the painting begins to breathe, the only movement is breath and blinking of the eye,” says Kaleka. For the artist, till the time the truth keeps eluding him, he is immersed, or else, he drops the thought, narrative or work. “It has to be ambiguous, out of grasp, if it doesn’t make you gasp, it won’t do the same for the viewer. I don’t use technology for the sake of it. With video, light, sound I wanted to create immersive experiences, achieve stillness with movement. Earlier, technology was low in the hierarchy of art, painting first, then sculpture. Those categories are gone, one is an artist, and as one you are surrounded with many possibilities,” he says.
Kaleka also talked about “Consider”, a Holocaust memorial, commissioned by the Spertus Museum, in which he attempted to create open-ended narratives, through video-painting and projections. He observes what loss of human life means and chooses not to tell the story from the side of the Jews or the Europeans.
Kaleka works at his own pace, letting time guide his story. It is Not Anonymous, Waking to the Fear of a New Dawn, which are multiple surface projections and sculptural videos, which he will showcase soon. “A man, bound to the earth, unable to get up, is fraught by his own fears,” says Kaleka.