A GOOD mystery novel draws us in, makes us think, and surprises us with its convolutions. In writing, an unexplained problem usually leads to a solution. In painting, a visual mystery may beckon, offering the viewer a strange unexplainable feeling or suggestion of circumstance meant to arouse the imagination.
East Indian artist Arun Bose's paintings emanate elegance and high craft. But each suggests some private mystery, some drama of the moment. Shadows on walls indicate but do not describe life.
``In Calcutta we have a lot of white walls,'' says Mr. Bose. ``Small narrow lanes, white walls, and monsoon rains make beautiful textures. Bright sun and a shadow of birds from the other side of the lane makes a beautiful shadow drama. It fascinates me so much that I did so many paintings out of that [combination of visual elements].
``Shadow is much more mysterious than life. If I see life, I see everything. But if I see shadow, only the silhouette - the rest you imagine. I like mystery. I like things not completely told. Somebody has to think what I did. I paint very realistically, but there is mystery, there is eloquent silence. It keeps the viewer busy in front of the paintings. What is going on? But you know something is going on,'' he says.
Part of the beauty of Bose's paintings comes from layering the paint. Acrylic paints dry right away. To achieve the texture of worn stone and old paint, he puts alcohol on a rag and rubs away some of the acrylic, leaving a raw texture, which approximates the roughness of an Indian wall.
In some of his paintings, he paints his sky gold. It may seem like an odd choice, considering the pains he has taken to achieve realism in his architectural subject matter. Yet the gold is somehow right.
``In India we use a lot of gold in religious motifs,'' says Bose. ``And I like gold. It is not real. It gives a surreal feeling to the painting.''
Bose draws his subject matter exclusively from his memories of India.
He prefers, he says, the freedom to arrange his forms as imagination dictates. ``Everything I do, I do from memory; I can visualize in my mind.
``I may start with one image and end up with another - I end up with what is good to me..... If I paint from what is before me, it bothers me to distort it. If I don't have it in front of me but just in my mind, I can do what I like.''
Bose has lived and worked in the United States for 23 years as a professor and head of the printmaking department of Lehman College of City University of New York. He says that no special understanding of Indian culture is needed to appreciate his work.
``Painting is completely a visual experience. The education to appreciate painting is enough: You don't need to understand Indian culture; you don't need to know Indian symbols and signs or Indian art. It is simple, plain visual pleasure. The emotional content is universal - bright sunlight, a dark barred window, a door, a shadow. That is international. Maybe your window is a different shape - but I have to get inside to see what is in the dark,'' Bose says.
There is a great serenity in the painting, despite the mystery.
He says his paintings do not tell stories. They are about the moment - a fraction of a moment.
But standing before them, the viewer understands what is in the painter's imagination - a quiet, serene joy in the visible mysteries of daily life, a sun-washed and ancient wall, a shadow from across the lane, a doorway leading into an unknown person's life.