The Edge, 13 January 2010
Whimsical Wednesday – Visions of Genius
by Ahmad Azrai
IF you have been a faithful follower of this column, you would know that I am fairly obsessed with art in its many forms (if you are new to this column, where have you been? And if you do not regularly follow this column, you really don’t know what you are missing, you sad person…).
Although I can talk a fair amount about music (my friends would say that I can hardly stop talking about anything at all), the visual arts hold a special place in my heart — especially because I am bad at drawing and painting. I do get envious of people who can do art better than me (ie, almost everyone else, and several talented Thai elephants featured on the Discovery channel), but I am mature enough to enjoy the work of others without wishing them harm (although I do wish that the really successful ones would at least buy me several dinners to assuage my bruised ego).
Little did I suspect that my official dive into the world of journalism would end up with me meeting and befriending an artist whose works continue to enchant my soul. His name is Jeganathan Ramachandram, and this is his story.
I first met Jega, as he is know, when I started working at The Malay Mail in 2002. We were pleasantly aware of each other’s existence, but because we worked on different shifts, we never got to meet each other other than a brief “Hi, how do you do?” in passing. That changed when I decided to come into work very early one morning (no, I do not know what came over me), and saw Jega finishing up something on his Macintosh workstation. Being curious, I went over and found him using Adobe Illustrator to create an image of a peacock for a booklet.
I was stunned by how beautiful it was — simple shapes, elegant lines and complementary colours added up to one work that I could only describe as a masterpiece. It had never occurred to me that you could use a computer software programme to make something looking that good. What was even more interesting was that he created the illustration for his own series of booklets on Hindu philosophy, which he proceeded to talk about in such a fascinating manner that we were discussing both it and the art work for a good two-and-a-half hours. From that moment on, we became fast friends.
“Art should say something, not just be decorative,” he said many times. “I firmly believe that there is a cosmic intelligence out there that we can all feel, and I express the energies that I absorb from it through my works.” For Jega, dramatisation in art is way of taking people back to show fundamental truths, and his works strive towards one goal: to tell simple stories that all can understand.
His works are unique in style, his stamp instantly recognisable no matter the subject matter. Although many of his works have been classified as surrealist (the style set by Salvador “I-Have-A-Mustache-No-One-Else-Has!” Dali), Jega says that it does not accurately describe his art. “Surrealism is grounded in fantasy, whereas mine is based more in realism. I prefer to call my style symbolic realism, and I think it speaks for itself,” he said. It certainly does; the symbolism that is firmly entrenched in his artwork has very clear meanings to those sensitive enough to read between the lines.
The Human Watching series, for example, is about understanding the nature of people. Across a span of about 14 years, Jega noted that the day in which a person is born greatly influences their outlook — in fact, he can tell you things about yourself that you barely knew (he told me quite a bit about myself that I had never told him before purely by finding out my day of birth: Sunday). If you ever have the opportunity, look him up and find out about yourself — although I should warn you, it will take some time because there will be a lot to learn.
Another example I can point to is the graphic in this week’s illustration. Entitled Dasavatharam, it is a triptych of three canvases that forms one whole work, the amount of detail that awaits revelation while your eyes wander is breathtaking. Trust me, no matter how many times I look at it, I am always uncovering a new detail that I somehow missed before — and I’ve seen it more times than any random Malaysian minister in the past 20 years has made a silly statement.
My friendship with Jega has been both wonderful and productive — not only have I learned so much from him, but it seems that he has learned a few things from me, especially due to my love of music. I was the one who introduced Jega to the Matrix: Reloaded and Matrix: Revolutions soundtracks, which he loved. The particular piece from the latter entitled Neodämmerung, with its Gothic choir singing a hymn from the Upanishad, still awes him — and trust me, if Jega can be impressed by something, it really is impressive.
I will admit that I am biased, in that the artist is a friend and that I have seen so many of his works, all of which I absolutely love. However, if you go to Google and start typing “jegana-” in the search box, his name appears as the second result — a sure sign of his prowess. And as if that were not enough, the first entry in the list of results is a glowing write-up from the legendary Saatchi Gallery in London. Andy Warhol never had it so good.
I don’t know if there will come a day when I can afford to buy one of Jega’s works — but I already have something that is beyond price: the opportunity to see him work on a masterpiece. Price of his paintings: a lot. The friendship of a genius of the canvas: priceless. Beat that, MasterCard…
Ahmad Azrai would like those readers who are able to catch Jega’s exhibition at the Wei-Ling Gallery from Jan 16 till Feb 1 to do so post-haste — and enjoy the sights for yourselves. Trust me, it will change your life.