MY INNER LANDSCAPE - ARTIST STATEMENT BY TITO STANLEY S.J.
I was born in Abu Dhabi of Indian heritage and later resided in India during my childhood. My childhood was mixed up with two different landscapes and two different societies, with a strict and pervading presence of religion. The climate and culture in Kerala was different to me at first, I felt displaced, but slowly changed and adapted with my new land, even though my inner landscape and imagination memorised both places and I drew landscapes and human figures in both perspectives.
I witnessed political violence that personally impacted me - one of my friends was assassinated. This broke my heart and I began to question my place in both cultures I had grown up in, I was trying to find my place in the world.
I developed creativity in drawing and painting during my early school years and continued to develop this work in higher secondary school. I had no idea about the use of colors and how to compose a painting before formally studying art at university. While being forced to study a trade in mechanical refrigeration, I spent my time and focus as a mural painter for political parties. During this period, I witnessed political violence that personally impacted me - one of my friends was assassinated. This broke my heart and I began to question my place in both cultures I had grown up in, I was trying to find my place in the world. Abu Dhabi is a quiet place where there is no political violence or assault, but in Kerala, like much of India, people kill each other for political and religious reasons. While attending my friend’s funeral I met a fine arts student and learnt about formal training, this was a turning point in my life, where I got the idea to join a fine arts college.
I began my formal training as an artist in 2015 at the College of Fine Arts, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala University, as a fine arts student. My first year as an undergraduate was based on observational studies, I used water colors and created opaque works by building up layers in water colour. In this first year of study my work evolved, I created still life paintings and explored the use of other mediums. I chose graphic print making as my elective, which gave me a new foundation and a new set of skills to create works with.
Selecting painting for my second year, the theme of my work during this time reflected my experience while working as a mural painter. I painted my grief and distress on canvas while representing my displacement in two cultures and my figure in two landscapes, with a common thread of religiosity. The death of my friend, in violent and political circumstances gave me trauma that impacted my sleep and became an unorganized and highlighted memory in me. I needed to express my pain through the practice of painting; this was my only consolation and represented a beginning path to personal freedom. I came to realize that the behavior of human beings is dictated by the society they live in, through religion and rituals and in good and bad experiences from their environment. I began a series of self-portraits and portraits of imagined figures who are influenced and tortured by the need to conform to religions, morals and ethics of the societies they live in. At this stage in my visual language I started to introduce biblical and surreal imagery to represent the inner conflict and turmoil of needing to conform to something you don’t believe in. For example, I used halos to depict ordinary people pretending to be gods and hybrid creatures to convey the influence of religion on people.
One of these works depicts a corpse with a flight a stairs to another world, with deserted churches and desolate vistas, in this work I included the memorial to my friend who was murdered, as a tribute and reminder of the violence that can be performed in the name of religion and politics.
By 2017 I had completed many works exploring the themes of politics and religion mixed with elements of still life, human figures, surrealism and nature. I extended these visual themes, augmenting works in clay, ceramics, bronze and mixed media. I developed a strong studio practice both at university and at home. I created a personal studio space to develop my mixed media works in. That year in my printmaking studies, the syllabus included lithography. I was influenced by the technique of lithography; the direct drawing on stone helped me to widen my visual language, creating works that resembled an x-ray, with very filmic qualities. The resultant lithographic works were exhibited exposing both sides, where the viewer could see the inks and the visual results of the chemical processes.
These works explored positive and negative space, with one side of the works (like an x-ray) dark and the other side bright. A4 sized bond papers were used for this series. However I did some large scale works on paper, where the image of my body is imbibed on the paper using oil with surrounding visual details and landscapes, these works are 10 feet long by 5 feet high. The landscapes created in this suite were derived from observational studies I made while travelling daily, focusing on the religious beliefs associated with the palm trees I was observing. Another large work on paper was created with oil pastels, inks etc. denoting the image of dreaming human form interspersed with dead starfish, this work contained the impression of a large found object, a natural honeycomb about 2.5 feet long, its impression was made on the paper in oils.
My most recent works are representations of landscapes that symbolize the way religion impacts the consciousness of a human being. Like the indomitable and vast landscapes in these recent works, the dogma of religions (especially the Christianity of my youth) control people through the dictate of morals and the way they expect people to live their everyday lives with the church. This impact can be economic too, with churches and temples expecting monetary donations regularly from patrons.
My recent works explore the ways those who teach morals use religion for remunerative purposes. These people cultivate atmospheres of fear and dread to get people to contribute financially to their whims. My new paintings are visual depictions of the landscapes these people use as rhetoric to enforce people and enslave them to the church. Within the polarizing rhetoric these people teach, my works explore whether heaven and hell really exist.
These paintings depict the confusion of my mind and the polarity between a heavenly and hellish landscape. These works are devoid of human figures and instead represent my inner-landscape, with other visual symbols. They are mythical landscapes, derived from my imagining of the dichotomy between heaven and hell and all that this represents for people in their everyday lives. One of these works depicts a corpse with a flight a stairs to another world, with deserted churches and desolate vistas, in this work I included the memorial to my friend who was murdered, as a tribute and reminder of the violence that can be performed in the name of religion and politics.
Artist, curator, writer and psychotherapist from Australia. She crossed the continents and lived few years in India, where she curated and also exhibited her own work during Kochi Muziris Biennale 2012.
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