Harvest Time, Paintings 24 x 36

George Oommen’s Homeward Journey to the Center of Self

It was once verboten for abstract painters to admit that their work was “about” anything in particular. However, the permissiveness of the postmodern era has done away with the sterile notion that nonobjective painting must be discrete unto itself; about nothing but form and color. It is doubtful that George Oommen, a painter and architect born in Kerala, a region in the Southwest of India, now a resident of Boston, would deny the place of his inspiration in any era. Indeed, for a few weeks of each year Oommen returns to Kerala, known to many as “an earthly paradise” for a fresh infusion of the light and color that emanates from his canvases. And although he cites the well-known British painter Sir Howard Hodgkin, along with the American Abstract Expressionists Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman as important influences, his overwhelming love of a specific locale as an impetus for creation recalls John Schueler, a splendid painter who forsook the New York School at the height of its fame to migrate to a small village on the seacoast of Scotland for its unique light and roiling cloud formations. Vestiges of landscape are still visible in Oommen’s acrylic on canvas “Visions of Kerala 22,” in which one can discern languid palm leaves and mountains on the distant shore, mirrored in a clear body of water, the entire composition awash in a radiant golden orange hue. Most of Oommen’s recent compositions, however, (executed in a particular brand of house paints whose unusual spectrum of colors he particularly fancies) are sumptuous abstractions that project the tropical sensuality and atmospheric essence of Kerala rather than approximating the lay of its land. A canvas called “Monsoon Magic,” for one chromatically rich example, exploits vertical streaks of a liquified vibrant blue hue (sprayed with water to create drips) over a ground of a deeper, more nocturnal blue to evoke the downpours that saturate Kerala during its rainy seasons. To go from this painting, or “Rhapsody in Blue,” an even more intensely saturated overall composition of layered drips, to the luminous composition of sunny yellow and orange hues that Oommen calls “Sacred Places Within You 32” is perhaps like emerging into blazing sunlight after traversing one of the Southern Indian Hindu temples where worshippers are enveloped by absolute darkness. Another vibrantly bright painting by Oommen, “Visions of Kerala 21” projects a sense of tropical heat and verdant growth with a vivid golden orange stratospheric area hovering pregnantly above a low horizon enlivened by variegated green and yellow hues. Here, again, allusions to landscape appear, albeit interrupted by a mysterious blue-green rectangle at the lower center of the composition that subverts any completely naturalistic reading of the work. Even more adamantly abstract is a tall vertical composition called “Harvest Time,” the composition of which consists of a simple stately golden orange rectangle, irregularly streaked with strokes of yellow, poised between areas consisting of subtle variations of both hues. It is a composition as entirely abstract for its formal austerity as any by Rothko or Newman, yet permeated by the light and heat of the artist’s beloved birthplace. Perhaps what the paintings of George Oommen finally tell us is that no photograph in a magazine such as National Geographic or realistic representation of landscape can come close to the art of pure painting when it comes to capturing the intangible components of memory that cause our hearts to leap with joy. Written by: Maurice Taplinger

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