Darkness into light: Universal harmonies Arts on Sunday
by Alim A. Hosein
Stabroek News
August 4, 2002

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Carl Anderson's From Darkness to Light: The Harmony of the Universe (on display at Castellani House until August 31) is an optimistic exhibition, and in this respect at least, it is a fitting show with which to celebrate Guyana's 36th independence anniversary. The exhibition also honours International Museums Day (May 18) which is focused this year on the theme 'Museums and Globalisation.' The exhibition is also relevant to this theme, as its message of universal harmony suggests.

The exhibition features mainly paintings and drawings, but also includes a few pieces of sculpture. It is mainly retrospective, spanning as it does of work from the 1980s to this year. This allows us to see Anderson's early explorations, from the emotional, art-school type of work: Survival (1980) and Mother and Child (1981) then the change to a more deliberate, abstract, and more contemporary approach beginning with the Spaceship series (1989-1990). His work following 1990 continues in this modernist vein and is his dominant form of expression.

The kind of art that Anderson pursues is called 'Kinetic Art,' or more specifically in relation to his work, 'Op Art.' The concept of kinetic art was born out of the long struggle by artists to more directly represent the real world. Long after perspective and other techniques had made the representation of three-dimensional space in art an accomplished fact, artists still struggled to represent movement in their work. The birth of the machine age - automobiles and other automated machines, moving pictures, etc - heightened artists' desire (with the Italian Futurist Umberto Boccioni leading the charge) to create real movement in their art. This was accomplished in sculpture, and by 1920, the term 'Kinetic Art' had become accepted in art criticism.

While kinetics was easier to express in sculpture, creating movement in painting was a more difficult proposition. Artists eventually achieved this by manipulating line, tone and colour to create visual effects of movement - to trick the eye and mind to believe that movement was occurring. Hence the term 'Op Art' (optical art) which is used to describe kinetic painting.

Anderson works in this vein, but it is noticeable, especially in his work from 1990 onwards, that his interests are not only technical. There is a statement about time, harmony, change and evolution in his work. The optimism in Anderson's work is quietly expressed, and one is not immediately struck by any dazzling statements of universal brotherhood or messages of peace. Instead, in the main pieces on show, Anderson slowly sifts through patterns of light and form, shifting colours, arrangements and tones to create images of identity and change. His tools are light, space and movement, and through these, he seeks to articulate a message of universal human connection, and connection of humanity with the universe. In his note to the exhibition, Anderson tries to explain his philosophy and this gives a glimpse into how the artwork expresses his ideas. The title of the exhibition, he says, "symbolizes the beginning of life in a movement of space and time which breaks darkness and blends light into exquisite colours that influence our passion for life - as we know, all things come out of darkness into light, and if there is no light, there is no colour. When a child is in its mother's womb it sees only darkness and when it comes out of her womb it sees light and its harmonies of life."

This suggests that arrangements of light/colour represent an arrival, a point at which a thing has come into being, has been realized, is perfect. Light is therefore a metaphor (for life) and yet a reality (colour).

As a technical device, Anderson uses coloured ribbons blowing in the wind as the means of capturing both colour/light and movement. Consistent with his philosophy, such harmony of light/colour and movement is related to life and the universe: "the ribbons not only... contrast light versus the darkness but also... allow movement which connects the human to the universe as the helix of life does."

Anderson carries the same preoccupation with time, space and movement over into his sculpture and drawings. In sculpture, his technique is to carve out spaces, leaving contour lines to indicate the actual shape of the form. In his drawings, he creates intricate backgrounds which also include the female figure and the ribbons which figure prominently in the paintings such as Combined Universal Thoughts. Through these sculptural and graphic means, both time and change, and actuality, are suggested.

But it is in his later paintings that Anderson's strength really shows. While the early Spaceship paintings constitute a different direction in the normally conservative realm of Guyanese art in their abstract approach and unusually-shaped canvases, they appear static, and do not really create the true psychotropic effects that are the raison d'etre of Op Art. The later paintings, however - Black Nude Descending, Space XXth Century, and the centerpiece of the exhibition, the 77-piece assemblage Combined Universal Thoughts of Time and Movement, do suggest movement. This is achieved mainly through the incorporation of time, and in turn this advance is related to Anderson's technique.

Deliberate technical control is an integral part of Anderson's work. This is suggested by the careful colour gradations of the early pieces, and seems to have become more important in the creation of the later work. In these later pieces, time becomes an essential element and considerably energises and uplifts the works. This is achieved by capturing the same thing as its condition changes in response to light, wind, time and so suggesting multiple phases, different times and angles. The result is to make the single object endlessly different, and endlessly new.

In Combined Universal Thoughts, essentially the same image is repeated 77 times. But each time, the image is slightly different. These different views are assembled into one large rectangular area resembling a large painting. The images are not arranged in a sequential manner, but are seemingly randomly dispersed within the rectangle.

The effect is that the piece constitutes a whole thing, complete and consistent in itself. Yet, it is internally inconsistent, moving and dynamic.

The work, then, displays a potential universe of movement and change.

The controlled, deliberate nature of Anderson's works repeatedly draws attention to the question of technique, or to the artistic process. In some cases, process seems to become at least as important as the work itself. Indeed, in the exhibition catalogue, Anderson's technical methods are dealt with at some length.

Another dimension of Anderson's work is the use of photography. Since it is the art of capturing light and time, photography is a relevant tool in his work. But Anderson uses photography as part of the composing process, to help create the visual effects which he paints. Secondly, he also paints in photorealist manner, blurring the distinction between photography and painting. His Self Portrait is a remarkable piece of photorealism.

Anderson's works are subtle. Their deliberateness perhaps robs them of some power initially, but their power to move the viewer quietly is the strength of his work. He is also an artist of high technical skill, but he obviously puts a lot of time and care into his work. His dedication to craftsmanship is also a lesson, as is his exploration of technical resources.