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A play on light and darkness in Desmond Lazaro's new show

In his solo in Mumbai, the artist presents a new body of work that continues his exploration of the celestial 

Detail from ‘Precession’, (2021), pigment paint and raised gild on cotton cloth on birch board. Courtesy: the artist
Detail from ‘Precession’, (2021), pigment paint and raised gild on cotton cloth on birch board. Courtesy: the artist

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There is an intriguing play of light and darkness in artist Desmond Lazaro’s new body of work, titled ‘Cosmos’. In some of the canvases such as the Venus Transit, The Endeavour, gleaming gold circles are surrounded by black, which seems to be extending into the infinite. In another work, Purusha IIII —a raised gold gild and egg tempera on gesso board—the black colour at the centre seems to be pulsating with energy as it gives way to gradations of pink.

Currently on display at Chemould Prescott Road, Mumbai, this recent body of work continues Lazaro’s engagement with the celestial. “This one focuses more on the relationship between art and science, and on how images of the cosmos have changed throughout history, often being informed by history,” says the artist. Over the years, he has been embedding his canvases with ideas of identity, migration, map-making, mythology and home, while maintaining his engagement with the celestial bodies.

“In the year 2018 he lost his mother, and as she slipped into the stars—beyond anything he could imagine—a place of awe, beauty, and wonder, Lazaro dove deep into the fabric of the cosmos,” mentions the curatorial note. “Several years ago, Lazaro visited the Chartres Cathedral in France, where he examined the Labyrinth at its central nave: a cosmological diagram that depicts a series of eleven concentric circles each representing a different aspect of the heavenly realms. To walk the Labyrinth is to remember how we came into this world and how we will leave.”

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In this series too, Lazaro draws on his roots as a miniature painter and creates his own natural pigments. For him, the nature of the pigments offers a gateway towards engaging with the universe. “For instance, according to the Hermetic alchemical traditions, different metals are associated with the seven visible planets And each of these has its own colour. So, if Venus is depicted in blue and green, mercury is shown as red,” he says. “The latter is represented by mercuric sulphide, which is actually red in colour. So, I am not just looking at the symbolic representation of the planet but also as its tangible manifestations. I find it a powerful experience.”

‘Purusha IIII’ (2020-21). Courtesy: the artist
‘Purusha IIII’ (2020-21). Courtesy: the artist

He has also been investigating Isaac Newton’s colour prism, and Father Angelo Secchi’s illustrations of a star’s light spectrum from his 1870 Spectroscopy catalogue. Along with that he has also been the Vastu Purusha Mandala, a geometrical diagram of a building that incorporates the course of heavenly bodies. Each of these offer a unique perspective on light, with their ideas seeming in dialogue with one another. 

Lazaro reminds his viewers that we live and understand mostly the visible spectrum. However, this is only a thin band of light, with most of the things happening outside of that in the universe—either in the infrared or the ultraviolet spectrums. “We can only detect these through radar. The whole idea of the visible spectrum becomes questionable in how we see it and what it represents. In other words, it is the same idea that the indigenous communities work with when they look at the skies. Obviously there is an interest in the stars, but they are more interested in the space between the stars, which is darkness. That fascinates me too,” he says.

‘Cosmos’ can be viewed at Chemould Prescott Road, Mumbai, till 18 March

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