The best way to make a dramatic leap as an artist is to stop working. After Hilary Harkness' show at Mary Boone Gallery in 2011, she laid down her brushes for a full month and went to southern India. Personal transformation aside, she will never evaluate art the same way again. Here are some ideas for ways to push your practice forward from the subcontinent.
Not at the Taj Hotel in Kovalam, India. Kovalam is a tropical vacation town at the Southern tip of India. I normally think resorts are jail, but I was feeling good since we had been upgraded to a suite with a private pool. There were paintings throughout the hotel, but the owner or management must not have looked at them.
In contrast to the beautiful décor, there was a watercolor painting of an airplane going down in flames hung on the living room wall. Later, in the restaurant, I noticed a painting with floating, disembodied eyes. What mood was the designer going for? Was he feeling vengeful? Why was no one interested?
Kovalam is also on the Kerala side of the Tamil Nadu border, a state with human inhabitation dating from 500,000 BCE and former stomping grounds of the separatist militant organization Tamil Tigers. This was the first insurgent organization to use concealed explosive belts and vests, and a member assassinated the former Prime Minister of India Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. The FBI has described the Tamil Tigers as amongst the most dangerous and deadly extremist outfits in the world. They were guilty of human trafficking, sea piracy, ethnic cleansing, and credit card fraud.
Later in the trip, vigilante civil war broke out between the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu over an old dam that had never been safety tested, and was now feared to be unsafe. The Keralans wanted it taken down, while 100,000 Tamil Nadu farmers were dependent on the dam for water. Civilians were ripping each other out of cars and the violence was becoming widespread. We flew out shortly before the airport was shut down. The Federal government of India declined to get involved, because what good could they do?Maybe I was wrong about the paintings at the hotel, maybe they weren’t aggressive but merely apt reflections of reality hidden in a fantasy land.