Jeram Patel was many things, a quiet reticent man, a woman’s dream (as many of his friends often claimed) and an artist who, in the risks he took, often achieved the inimical in art to the art in the ordinary. Patel, who died earlier this year, in the midst of planning for the retrospective that now gives him his due, was a risk-taking, existential experimentalist to whom the definition of art began not at creation, but at the destruction of things. This being Patel’s first retrospective, in the wake of his death, all the more establishes him as a man much more layered and complicated than previously considered. At least 180 works by Patel, spanning at least five decades showcase a talent underlined by a complexity that he cared not to reason for, but start a conversation with.
To understand Patel’s oeuvre it is perhaps also necessary to partake in the possibilities. Patel’s hand was masterly as figurative drawings from an early stage. He still chose to go the way of experimenting, not only with the form, but also with mediums. The majority of his work which has been done with Chinese ink and fairly resembles a large blot of ink on paper from a distance, which is merely the outlook of a much deeper, empathetic unravelling. At first glance, these are just abstract shapes, with the colour black haranguing the margins for space and significance. It is, as is mentioned in passing in one of the referencing texts at the exhibit, like watching the world through the eye of an unborn child in the womb. A composite reality of that which cannot be seen or felt, but is definitely there. These globules of ink, as they seem, when put together, as they are in one instance, on a wall at the museum represent a chrysalis of matter, or that of thought in itself. What if darkness was purely our imagination, would the imagination then resolve to a shape?
Being the abstractionist as Patel was, interpretation was an open-ended, almost endless channel. While there is no end to the channel, there is, for sure, a beginning and it leads from Patel’s works. The problem, in often interpreting art is that it conforms to experience. Our experience only allows us to relate to shapes and geometry, therefore reducing the abstract to absurd. Trying to make sense of things that only be coerced by a pre-informed vision is rather difficult. Creating that interference is perhaps, what an abstractionist like Patel can do; and that he manages it, is in itself some accomplishment. A large number of Patel’s works are merely that, the interference. The blurring of the lines between what is uniform and what isn’t; which can only beg you to question your own inability to perceive something for what it isn’t. In that sense, Patel’s ink paintings, his blowtorch experiments are merely a conversation with you, one that he probably wanted the audience to have.