Cosmic Microcosm

Alexander Gorlizki’s paintings bridge continents, traditions, and the gulf between us

Alexander Gorlizki’s fifteen-year fascination with Indian miniature paintings has blossomed into a body of work notable for its intricate beauty, and fluid, almost free associative imagery, not to mention the collaborative nature of how it is made. By commissioning Riyaz Uddin, a master miniaturist painter in Jaipur, these imaginative and compelling works bring together some radically different approaches to art.
 
Gorlizki blends a personal visual language of Victorian plumbing, boxwood topiaries, 19th-century naturalists’ engravings, images of Western notables (and more) into the 600-year-old tradition of Moghul painting with subtlety and subversion.  Riyaz Uddin brings almost 25 years of experience as a traditional miniaturist to the partnership.  He understands the breathless precision required of a master miniaturist, where every detail, much of it gloriously decorative, must be perfectly rendered.
 
Gorlizki develops the iconography, patterns, compositions and color schemes, often on antique papers and photographs. Uddin then applies techniques and tools that have been used since the 15th Century. Jewel-colored pigments and crushed gold leaf are applied with single hair-tipped brushes with phenomenal precision and delicacy, and the colors are fused into the paper with an agate burnishing stone. Working side by side in the studio or shipping images back and forth between New York and Jaipur, the paintings evolve layer by layer, often over a period of years. Since 1996, the project has grown and the atelier now includes a number of other artists with different talents working on the paintings, often passing the work from hand to hand. 
 
“Looking at an early Indian miniature painting feels like snorkeling over a coral reef. There’s a sense of intimacy, tenderness and awe,” comments Gorlizki in words that explain some of the work’s psychological fluidity.  “They were originally intended to be hand-held, to be viewed in the same way as they were painted. Looking at arm’s length I get a sense of the whole, of stories being told. There’s no single vanishing point to get sucked into but rather a plane to linger over with different perspectives and focal points. Moving closer I get lost in the breathtaking detail, going in and out of focus, feeling the eye as a muscle. Some forms dissolve and new shapes, colors and patterns take on a mesmerizing life of their own.”
 
It’s not just the paintings that attract Gorlizki, though. When he describes his work, you hear the chatter of Uddin’s workshop, the interruptions of children and passing peddlers, the cups of sugary tea and the smell of cooking food outside.  He is at home in the Jaipur atelier, and the painters there are at home with him. 
 
Gorlizki describes himself and Uddin as “paper fetishists, stroking loose sheets from old manuscripts, inspecting worm-eaten pages from ledgers. Some of the sheets are patched or have court seals, partially covered in texts in Urdu, Sanskrit or Hindi. Riyaz picks up a sheet and says ‘Alex, look at this; it’s from Shah Jahan’s time. Feel it, it’s like butter.’”
 
Working on such intimate terms requires a general lowering of barriers between people. And, appropriately enough, the work makes you want to blur a few boundaries as well.  It invites you to release any pre-conceived notions about what is logical and what is mystical, about what is real and what is impossible. It invites an intimate gaze, and promises something delicious if you stop to look.  The experience recalls that old piece of paper exchanged between Uddin and Gorlizki: it’s like butter. 
 
See more of Alexander Gorlizki’s work at www.gorlizki.com
 

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