An Indian raised as a Muslim in Dubai, Aranka Israni brings a strong sense of her cultural heritage to bear in her paintings on view at Agora Gallery, 530 West 25th Street, from September 9 through 30 (Reception: Thursday, September 11, 6 to 8pm).
Yet, in order to gain enough distance and freedom to explore the spiritual aspects of her upbringing in her work, while avoiding the stereotypes associated with traditional Indian art, Israni had to break away from the culturally conservative capitol of the United Arab Emirates, and come to United States, where she developed a flowing abstract style that, at first glance, could appear beholden to the "poured" paintings of artists such as Paul Jenkins and Morris Louis. On closer perusal, however, it becomes clear that Israni's translucent veils of color are achieved more deliberately with a brush, enabling her to inflect them with a more subtly-shaded lyricism that can only be achieved with the wrist.
Employing thinly diluted washes of color on pale, uninflected grounds, Israni creates sinuous shapes that float like wisps of smoke or gossamer, windblown scarves wiggling through thin air. But while her paintings appear to be as free as the wind itself, give their lyrical sense of flotation, they are actually about the struggle to achieve balance and homeostasis in the chaotic yet often restrictive modern world. These inherent conflicts become especially clear in a painting such as "Entwine," where the upwardly furling purple form centered on the vertical canvas takes on the force of a twister or tornado, in contrast to the more gentle pale blue swirls in another oil on canvas called "Ascendance." In the latter work, there is the suggestion that the struggle can only be ended through spiritual transcendence.
However, the title "Like Water for Ice" suggests how that which flows fluidly can also become stagnant, as applied to one of Israni's most graceful compositions, featuring intermingled ribbons of translucent blue and pale crimson swelling as rhythmically as ocean waves. Here, as in many of her recent compositions, Israni addresses the notion of opposites, and perhaps the high price that the quest for harmony may exact.
The forms in Israni's paintings constitute a kind of fleshed-out calligraphy; they appear at once spontaneous and studied, ethereal and substantial, suggesting an ideal synthesis of Eastern and Western aesthetics. While her multicultural interests would suggest that she remains open to a host of influences, she has pared her painterly vocabulary down to an exquisite spareness of means.
The absolute clarity and grace of these compositions reveals a maturity of vision that belies the artist's relative youth: the wisdom of an old soul inhabiting a new incarnation. Which is to say, while the sophistication of her work indicates a lively awareness of the prevailing aesthetic climate, Aranka Israni seems to possess an instinctive sense of the eternal verities that imbues her paintings with a rather remarkable self-containment, recalling the cosmic irony of Wallace Stevens's great lines: "Where was it that one first heard of the truth? The the."
Aranka Israni's paintings ask all the right questions without expecting answers, trusting in the truism that the point is the journey rather than the destination
Image Credits: Morphology Oil on Canvas, 40" x 40"
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