The Raga paintings by Celia Gullett explore the intricate confluence between painting and music in the Rajput tradition.
Raga is defined as the act of colouring or dyeing. However, its definition is beyond this , as it is also a reference to beauty and melody. Although the traditional raga uses a series of notes upon which a melody is constructed, it is the way in which the notes are approached and rendered and in turn the mood they convey, that is more important than the notes themselves .This is similar to the way an artist uses colour, texture and space to convey a particular mood.
“The structure of the work is a series of bands of colour that vary in width. These bands could represent my response to the music. Written to celebrate certain times of day the ragas are about melody and harmony.” The compositional discipline of a horizontal baseline forms the basis of meditative depth and an almost liquid sense of space.
A true raga master can evoke moods through the construction and interpretation of notes, Gullett’s works do the same through the use of colour and layering. They can be mystical and sombre in mood like a morning raga , or, vibrant and full of energy , like a monsoon raga.
The painter’s continual journeys to India , in particular Rajasthan are at the core of the subtle construction of her colour compositions.
“ My palette is inspired by a very particular state of colour : the spectrum in Modern Rajasthan is diffused by dust and strangely brightened by the smokey , broken light of pollution. The experience of observing colour, in faded walls , brightly adorned people and market produce is heightened by this haze. The perception of colour is constantly re writing itself.”
Like all painters, Gullett begins in the void but her starting point is not the chemical white of a primed canvas. Her choice instead, of unprimed , thirsty “loom state” linen demands the application of many layers , and several colour shifts in order to achieve the right vibration of hue. This slow process generates an accretion that gives her colour muted texture and sonic presence . The strokes are absorbed like notes . The result is a spectral, almost convex form within the flatness of the colour field. The pigment hovers, suspended within a realm of waxy patina and rough hewn weave.
“Paint is a physical substance but it is also light, it has spirit. The act of painting, is putting spirit into matter. This principle which draws me to the Rajput paintings is also there in the Frescoes of the Quattrocento . There is a meditative approach in both discipline, the contemplation of existence.”