Thursday, 8 January 2015

Rawson on Indian Sculpture

So, this was written in 1966 and may or may not be full of mildly sketchy Orientalism. If anyone who actually knows anything about Indian history or Indian Art wants to offer a dissenting view about the facts then please do so in the comments.

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First some D&Dable description:

"As a consequence, his countryside is filled with places where divinity dwells. these places become his shrines, the terminals, as it were, of the transcendent power supply from which, by appropriate rituals, he can draw the strength he needs to carry on his life. Every village has its holy spot, or shrine. Among the fields or along the roadside there are others, all marked with dabs or stripes of red paint. A small village hallows may be : the stump of an ancient tree, with two contorted branching arms, cased in earth and painted with bands of red and white; an anthill from which a mysterious sound was once heard emanating, daubed with red dots; a raised plinth under a tree upon which are piled fragmentary stone statues of an earlier age, ploughed up from their fields by the peasants: a huge boulder cased closely in a wall on three sides, its fourth face wholly painted vermillion: five small stones on the bare earth at a hedge corner, crudely splashed with the same colour."

Alright, fuck it I'll Last Gasp it for the nerds that got this far.

"Chalukya pillars have fantastic sequences of turned transverse mouldings. Temples of the north may have a profusion of pinnacles punctuated by ribs, slots and flanges. The foliage undulates in endless profusion. All these multiplied motives have one thing in common - rhythm. They are like crystallized rhythm.

Indian music emphasises its rhythms, which are extraordinarily complex and subtle, by the use of inventive drum-beats. The rhythmic patterns embody sequences whose numerical relationships carefully avoid he simplified time-sequences of western music. From this subtlety of time comes much of the expressive power of Indian music. The crystallized rhythms of architecture are exactly the same. Their proportions are subtle: and one has to follow out their rhythmic sequences for them to have their full effect. They are not a matter of mere texture."

1. Now this *sounds* very correct indeed. Looking at Indian temple sculpture does feel a bit like listening to Indian music and looking at western religious spaces does feel like listening to choral music. But is it true? Or is is a convenience of thought?

"One icon particularly reveals the omnipresent power of Vishnu, Narasimha, the man-lion. one of Vishnu's young saints had a controversy with an odious king, his father. The king denied the omnipresence of Vishnu, striking a stone pillar, which he declared inert and non-divine. From the being of the pillar the form of Vishnu materialized and, with the hideous mask of a lion, tore out the entrails of the king, and vanished."

Oh Vishnu.

(The flaw of our history being learnt through stone is the opposite flaw of the modern filmed biography.)

"The purely physical aspects of the technique of Indian sculpture can be dealt with fairly briefly, since most of them are rooted in methods common to the arts of the world. the first consideration is that Indian sculptures nearly always carve images that are related to a ground, i.e.. their works are strictly speaking reliefs. even though the figures in them may stand quite free from that ground.

The second is that the Indian carver only used points and flat chisels. Claws, bull-noses and gouges seem never to have been used. This is particularly important in connexion with the emphasis on convexity I discuss later. Because of course these three last chisel-types are generally speaking intended for articulating hollows into a sculptural surface.

The third consideration is that the Indians favoured the method of strip-cutting to reach their final surfaces. This involves cutting off the stone in a series of facets, each of which runs like a continuous band from top to bottom of the figure and corresponds to one outline of the silhouette.

Finally we must always remember that Indian stone sculptures were nearly always intended to be finished off with a finely modelled layer of lime-plaster, which was itself painted. This plaster skin was particularly important in the cave sculptures, hewn from a relatively coarse stone."

2. If there is one point on which I already disagree strongly with Rawson, it’s his disposal of the very methods and tools used to sculpt within a few paragraphs.

Does anyone reading have any direct experience with claws, bull-noses and gouges and the different way you would use them to interact with stone? I mean, the physical differences, the way you stand, the pressures applied, how it makes you transmit force into the stone. And also how it makes you think about and regard the stone.

My own suspicion is that it would be unwise to separate tools and aesthetics in such a way. Especially since one of Rawsons themes is the 'fullness' of Indian sculpture. If using a particular tool makes it feel like you are 'revealing' a figure inside the stone then could using another one, to gouge and scrape away 'inside' the figure, make it feel less like a whole being and more like a complex space to be worked?

"Long tradition and the synthesizing habit of the Indian mind have combined to set up a system of conventions which allied visual art and poetry very closely. in fact, Indian sculptors never developed units of form - basic indivisible forms - covering less ground than the terms of poetic speech.

The classing Amarakosha Sanskrit dictionary, for example, gives separate terms for the upper arm the forearm, the hand and the elbow: but the wrist is merely 'karabandha' the hand 'attachment'. Triceps, biceps, vastus exturnus, ridge of the ulna and so on were not named in the poetic consciousness, so they were never developed as units of form in visual art."

3. Again, this is interesting and *seems* correct, but is it true?

"I have mentioned the most striking characteristic of the forms employed by Indian sculptors - the fact that *all* the units of form into which the surfaces of Indian sculptures are divided are *convex* and the only true concavities in the whole of Indian art are special cases   ...... skeletal or demonic figures ..... the free-hanging parts of draperies."

"From all this it will be clear that a unit-surface in sculpture is determined by the continuity of a single linear development. In Indian art the appears as a continuous, unbroken contour as the form is revolved about the vertical axis: or as a continuous unbroken light-line in the highlight. Indeed, it is for their property of bringing out a clear form by means of such a light-line, combined with the darkening effect of a transparent weave where the form turns away from the eye, that ladies wear sheer nylon stockings. A classic example of emotional emphasis my plastic means!"

4. Throwing this one in partially for the lively metaphor but also because of light. Rawson talks later about the effect of strong sunlight on sculpture. The stronger and more direct the light, the more fully you 'lose' anything thrown into shadow. So, in India you need to compose a form with a strong light line and any details places where shadow falls will probably be lost.

When I compare this to northern European sacred architecture it seems correct. Cathedrals, and the whole Gothic style are pretty much about painting with layered gloom. We have a lot of gloom up here and we learnt to use it. The closer you get to the equator, the less gloom you have to work with and the sharper the line between light and dark so your sculpture has to work with that.

Is that stupid?

I could go on but it would mean quoting the whole book. There is stuff on time, more on the intersection of theory and sculpture, stuff about theatre and dancing. Really there is something interesting on every page. I would strongly recommend it.

5. Biggest differences sticking out so far

Depth of shadows means sculpture maybe doesn’t need to be as deep as you can have the shadow infer that.
Intersecting smooth harmonies and tones.
TAKE THE SKIN OFF, then draw the muscle, then put the skin back on.
No smiles.
No dancing unless a deamon is poking you.
THAT particular named person with thier personal history becasue YOU WILL BE SEEING THEM AGAIN WHEN GOD ENDS THE WORLD.
Clothes to the max, more drapery = better.
Control sexual desire for religious ends.

Bright as fuck
Sharp shadows
Deep deep sculptures
Smooth unbroken lines.
Dense interlocking rhythms.
Fullness, unbroken bodies.
Women - loads.
SMILING - people seem to be having a great time.
Dance it up baby.
Perfect and therefore, rather general people
Clothes, why bother, fuck drapes, put some jewellery on.
Use sexual desire for religious ends.

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