THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: When artist Alexander Gorlizki wanted to bring a one-foot tall wooden tree, which consisted of 12 lingams, in the form of branches, from Jaipur to Kochi, for security reasons, airport authorities insisted that he had to leave the top uncovered.
So, one lingam was sticking out. When it passed through the scanner at the airport, security officials hid their smirks, by turning away from Alexander.
At his exhibition, at the ‘Beyond Malabar’ Gallery, in Fort Kochi, the tree does stand out. “It is like the tree of life,” he says. “Through the lingam, life moves forward. But the lingam has been designed in the shape of bolsters.”
When Alexander used to look at the paintings of the Kama Sutra, he would imagine the scene without the people. “What if the cushions and the bolsters came to life,” he says. “What will they talk about?”
He says that India has a confused attitude towards the body. “On the one hand, there is an absolute acceptance of sexuality, but, on the other, there is a prudishness.”
He gives an example. “There are people who pour milk on a phallus and worship it, but if you talk to them about naked women, homosexuality or transgender issues, they get embarrassed,” says Alexander.
Meanwhile, some of the eye-catching works are the miniature paintings which adorn the walls. One such work is called ‘Wish You Here’. From a distance it looks like a series of rolling green hills with a river bisecting it, all against a backdrop of poppies and tulips.
But a closer look reveals interesting elements: a man is sitting sideways, on an elephant, facing the back of the animal. There is a peaceful-looking penguin standing at one side, while the Virgin Mary sits on a donkey carrying a palm tree.
In the middle of the painting is a Franciscan monk holding a large fish, which is looking skywards. At the top right-hand corner Lord Krishna, along with Arjuna, are travelling in a boat on a cloud that looks like a river. “I wanted to develop a new language in miniature painting,” says Alexander.
Interestingly, this work is part of a collaboration with the Jaipur-based master miniature painter Sheikh Riyaz Uddin Bux.
“So I send him drawings, consisting of a multi-layered imagery, by e-mail, and Riyazuddin and his assistants implement it,” he says. Riyazuddin nods, and says, “The images of the work are sent back and forth several times, before a painting gets ready.”
And this Indo-American partnership has lasted 21 years. “Our creative friendship has lasted longer than many marriages,” says Alexander. “I think we have grown together, as adults, with a great respect and admiration for each other.”
Apart from Riyaz Uddin, Alexander has also worked with marble carvers, shoe-makers, sign painters and sculptors, among others.
Alexander has been coming to India often for the past 35 years. He has a studio in Jaipur, which he shares with Riyaz Uddin. That is why he has named his exhibition, which concludes on February 29, as ‘Pink City Studio’. “This is my homage to Jaipur,” he says.
Meanwhile, when asked about his impressions of the country, Alexander says, “In India, unlike most Western countries, life is lived on the streets. There is an astonishing vibrancy and creativity, as well as sickness, death and poverty. We have terrible poverty in America, but it is hidden. In India, you don’t hide things. For example, a dead body can be seen. I believe it is better to face the totality of life head-on.”