Paramjit Singh continues his dialogue with land, sky and water in the dozen or more medium-sized canvases that are being shown in London. Once again, one sees the dark, mysterious groves of trees, hints of beckoning pathways, soft, grassy slopes, flowering shrubs resplendent in luminous pinks, the stealthy, creeping waters of creeks and inlets. But the tone of the exchanges is deeper, more nuanced. The joyous abandon of the blazing reds and yellows of his earlier landscapes has been transmuted into meditative images.
Perhaps, the most noticeable of the subtle changes that have taken Singh's landscapes to another level of experience is the treatment of skies. In earlier works by Singh the sky more often would be underplayed in relation to trees, shrubs, bushes, grass, stubbles of crops. The vegetation would dominate the visual field. The sky could be glimpsed through breaks in the arboreal spread in order to lighten the density.
In these paintings, the sky is both a source of light, as well as an expressionist device communicating an emotional intensity. One painting gives a glimpse of a flaming sky seen through a gap between two clumps of trees while the foreground is strewn with brown leaves. In another painting showing a flowering woodland abloom with shades of pink, the sky appears as a textured patch. In many of these paintings the sky is a dappled blue emanating a sense of calm pleasure.
But the most striking treatment of the sky is in those paintings where the artist paints blue-grey dark clouds swollen with impending rain. There is the painting with a grassy slope dotted with low, dark bushes, misty with a hint of rain in the air and the lowering, cloudy sky torn apart with a flash of blinding, white light.
Another painting is a haunting nocturne, where tall trees in the foreground assert their mysterious presence against a dark, moonlit, night sky casting their reflections in the water. Many of these paintings are reminiscent of the dramatic treatment of skies that Singh painted several decades ago.
More significant than the emotional charge conveyed by Singh in his landscapes of memory and imagination is his rich language. Singh is a magician with his brush and paint. He uses different brushes, some of which he tweaks to suit his own requirement, and a palette knife to achieve a surface quality that is quite incomparable. Singh's canvases have a unique, tactile appeal.
Singh says that he is inspired by nature while working on the surface of his paintings. "Memories of nature urge me to play with the surface. Nature is not flat, it is highly textured," says Singh.
The secret of the outstanding surface quality of Singh's paintings lies in his understanding of the body and character of oil paint. It helps him to achieve the texture and form that he visualises. There is a gestural bravura in the way he applies the thick layers of paint, somewhat reminiscent of the abstract expressionists. Singh discards naturalism in his representation of vegetal forms - trees, grass, flowers. Instead, he uses a brilliant and unimaginable array of brushstrokes to suggest various forms, textures, luminosity and shadows. In the process, he creates abstract fields of colour.
Colour is a very significant element in Singh's visual language. He has an intimate knowledge of the character of pigments he handles. Each pigment has its own personality. And since he superimposes pigments of different chromatic registers to achieve a particular colour tone, this knowledge is essential so as to allow the colours to be precise and not become muddy, jarring or muddled.
Over and above Singh's mastery over his visual language which imparts a recognisable character to his landscapes, there is also his personal response to nature. Although not a believer in ritualistic religion, Singh nurtures within himself some of the mystical yearnings for nature that is central to the hymns of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism. It is not surprising therefore that Singh's landscapes are always an invitation to lose one's self.