C. Douglas: Might Butterflies Fly, Light Denied?

When I consider how my light is spent

Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,

And that one talent which is death to hide

Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent

To serve therewith my Maker, and present

My true account, lest he returning chide,

“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”

John Milton

The butterfly counts not months but moments

and has time enough.

Rabindranath Tagore

These reflections on C. Douglas’ Blind Poets and Butterflies stem from his long-standing engagement with poetry and philosophy and his visceral commitment to painting. It is between poesis (making in the poetic sense) and philosophy (love of knowledge) that this body of work may reach consummation with the materiality of painting.

Painting for Douglas has been about a series of actions: whether he is working with oil, watercolour or collage, the painted surface has embodied the result of a series of activities that involve engagements with representational and philosophical concepts. What means Dada? Wherein lies Cubist collage? What is the legacy of Constructivist assemblage? Where might these intersect with a subjectivity that is at once deeply connected with the EuroAmerican international and located in the ethos of a provincial location? And in the midst of these, wherefore the poet reaching for wholeness in a thoroughly unwholesome world?

Douglas has perhaps had to settle on the last: the poet reaching for wholeness (to use that word for an embrace of the world) from within his enclosure within the restricted intellectual and visual environment. Douglas has lived and worked within the confines of the Cholamandal Artists Village since 1977. Within this utopian community of artists, much has happened since the days when K.C.S. Panicker played the visionary founder. Today, Cholamandal is not the self-contained yet internationally informed commune that Panicker might have imagined. In one sense, Douglas’ singular achievement might be to have survived as an internationalist among provincialists.

The internationalism of Douglas’ work sees him return again and again to Cubist-inspired spaces with collaged elements adding a density to the composition. He also makes repeated references to Dadaist poetry through seemingly random fragments of text that appear over and over like incantations populating the surface. Working with a palimpsest of crumpled paper stuck onto linen or canvas, Douglas then proceeds with counter-assemblage. Figures cut across the torn paper as though staking their precarious existence on the dangerous gambit of knitting together the fractured surface. The poet’s accoutrement surrounds his unseeing being: closed books that butterflies swarm over, as though the books were flowers, or indeed, lamps that inexorably draw the insects to combustion.

Blindness for the poet is not a literal closure of vision, but a way of being, voluntarily chosen. The butterflies carry eyes on their wings to deter predators. The poet pretends blindness to ensure reverie, and perhaps to rebel against the tyranny of the eye that makes the gaze rather than the word the supreme arbiter of reality. The refusal of vision affords the poet an unspoken camaraderie with the cartographer piecing together the world in the aftermath of apocalypse, where the familiar markers are gone, leaving behind fragments. For Douglas, it is through a careful and insistent encounter with these deserts of consciousness that the wholeness of the world needs to be conjured anew.

Yes, butterflies might fly, light denied. It is dream that drives them on though the sun prove fickle and the candlelight sure to burn. The poet gropes on his way to truth, knowing full well that truth may not be easily given to mere mortals. In the pact between the poet with his eyes deliberately shut and the butterfly with an extra set of false eyes upon its wing may lie a new relationship between poetic experience and the experience of truth.

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 14

Event “Blind Poet And The Butterfly”, Solo Exhibition by
C. Douglas
Time 6:00 PM
Venue Focus Art Gallery
Show Closes March 30

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