|Kulvinder Kaur Dhew, Hall of Fame, Hotel Fauchere.|
In this work, I am using charcoal and paper to explore notions of witness and melancholia. Using the storm as a metaphor for any number of contemporary concerns, I am interested in exploring near-to-almost-epic events from an emotive point of view, rather than a simply descriptive one.
The eerie distance from which a storm can be witnessed making its way across a sparse landscape is the perfect theatre in which emotions can be set to roll. The images are selected for their Zen-like spaciousness that creates a field ripe for interpretation and a tribute to the medium.
Instead of seeing drawing as a preparatory form, as has been its traditional role, I invest time, skill and care in the production of finished pieces. Creating a sense of visual intrigue, I rework images that are found, made or imagined.
A ‘torrent’ of beauty: New exhibit opens at Hunterdon Art Museum - Dave Harding
Kulvinder Kaur Dhew’s charcoal-on-paper works may be the closest viewers can get to feeling the beauty, power and darkness of a storm without actually experiencing gusting winds and torrential rains.
Dhew’s atmospheric compositions, currently on exhibition in the Hunterdon Art Museum’s River Gallery in Clinton, explore the turbulent interplay of sky, earth and wind. By using various gradations of gray to black, she creates compelling environments that are both reflective and ominous. The show, titled “Torrent,” runs until March 10.
“I don’t want this to sound baroque, but I suppose it is, in the literal sense, that art can communicate spiritual themes in direct and emotional involvement,” she said. “I like how I can take things as elemental as charcoal and paper and squeeze out of them a metaphor... God forbid we want to live through the experiences those images portray but there’s something seductive about them that may have to do with distance. When I draw, I go into a reflective stance. It is here when I feel the most conscious of things. I hope the viewer also feels that and perhaps even acts on it in a positive way.”
There’s a beauty and the beast quality to storms, Dhew notes. “It’s like Caravaggio’s painting, ‘Judith Beheading Holofernes:’ crafted so beautifully, it is more digestible than it would be if you were presented with the reality of the actual event. The distance between reality and the image makes it possible for seduction of notions to take place.”
The storms portrayed in her drawings are metaphors for personal trials and tribulations, conveying an intensity of emotion like rage, the unknown, tumult and politics. Dhew said. “When I say ‘politics,’ I refer to that situation in which we talk about climate change and the attendant factors. But most of us are not the ones who make the decisions as to how to address the issue. What are the solutions? It seems out of my control and so I throw down charcoal on paper and respond.”
Dhew said immediacy of applying elemental materials to complex concepts like climate is what initially attracted her to using charcoal and paper. “It’s that odd juxtaposition that irony takes place where charcoal and paper are gathered from trees which are so representative of a nature that is being impacted. I like the challenge of creating light out of the dark. The tonal qualities of different kinds of charcoal are phenomenal.”
Dhew was born and raised in England. A graduate of The Royal College of Art in London with an MA in painting, she has taught at universities in New Zealand, Borneo and the United States. Her work is included in collections as diverse as that of the author Kazuo Ishiguru and MTV Europe.
“When I was invited to have an exhibition at the Hunterdon Art Museum I felt so excited,” Dhew said. “I have followed the museum’s program for many years now and have a great deal of respect for it. Its history of presenting a diverse group of artists is commendable, and I felt honored to be included in that lineage.”
Reaping the Whirlwind: Artist Brews Storms
Ralph J. Bellantoni
|Kulvinder Kaur Dhew|
Courtesy of JAMPICTURES. Photo: Lyndi Sales
"There's something seductive about them," she said.
Dhew's closely rendered charcoal storm portraits inundate the River Gallery of the Hunterdon Art Museum in the exhibit "Torrent," curated by executive director Marjorie Nathanson. The rigorous depictions summon the grandeur of nature's primordial power.
"I'm interested in the notion of a terrible beauty," said Dhew. "The drawings provide an inviting window through which a viewer can gaze upon chaos. "Dhew's monochrome storm studies occupy a pole opposite the joyous gestures and vibrant hues of her acrylic paintings. A deep tonal resonance, a psychophysical intensity, cleaves the two antipodes into a continuum.
"Ultimately," said Dhew, "I want to create a synthesis or distillation of the transformative power of the natural world on the human psyche."
Dhew began the storm series in 2000 in reaction to first-hand experience of the devastating Bornean rainforest fires of 1997 and 1998, which had been deliberately ignited for land-clearing purposes. At the time, she and her ceramist husband Bruce Dehnert were teaching on the Southeast Asia island, at the Universiti Malaysia Sarawak.
"It was a profound experience that remained with me," said Dhew. "I began to consider our impact on nature. As an artist I wanted to express something about that impact and its poignancy within the big picture."
Yet Dhew does not draw storms as a political protest. When she puts charcoal to paper, the endeavor takes command of itself, fed by multiple tributaries of metaphoric implication, affective resonances, visceral reactions and perceptual motifs.
"The body of work has evolved through hours of drawing activity, where vision and intrusion of the mind give way to tactility," Dhew explained. "Like the Sufi practice of spinning to achieve a natural trance-like state, I make art in order to create meaning for myself."
Dhew was born and raised in England and her husband hails from Lander, Wyoming, yet the two met on the South Pacific island of New Zealand. Visits to the American West of her husband's homeland amplified her sense of scope and magnitude.
"What struck me most was the sheer scale of the landscape," said Dhew. "At the same time that it was magical it made me consider the transience of the human enterprise."
Dehnert introduced his wife to Beth Kruvant in 2002, when the latter was attending a ceramics class at Peters Valley. Kruvant felt an instant rapport with both the artist and her art.
"I went to her studio and she showed me her drawings and paintings," recalled Kruvant. "I immediately connected to her energy." Kruvant became fast friends with Dhew, and a collector of her work. She appreciates the soaring, orchestral movements of Dhew's expressions. "In Kulvinder's work I hear strong symphonies," she said, "Beethoven, not Mozart."
The first piece Kruvant and her husband Roger acquired was a bright, dynamic painting titled "The Riot of Spring." Now four of Dhew's works adorn the Kruvant's Montclair home, two being storm portraits. "Her charcoal drawings hanging as a pair in my dining room are often mistaken for photos," noted Kruvant. "A closer look reveals the soft intimacy of blowing wind that quickly spins into a force of nature beyond our control."
Dhew grew up in a complex, multi-cultural environment. Her family emigrated to England from the Punjab region of northern India during the British decolonization of the late 1950s.
"I think that growing up and having to negotiate and translate basic cultural differences actually gave my siblings and I certain strengths and skills to maneuver society in interesting ways," said Dhew.
Being an artistically inclined child, Dhew's parents and siblings designated her the dreamer of the family--a distinction she parlayed to her advantage. "The motivation to become a professional artist probably evolved out of being one of six loud children," said Dhew. "Through art my voice could be heard above the rabble-rousing."
Dhew earned her Masters degree in painting from the Royal College of Art in London and has taught or done residencies in places like Lisbon, New Zealand, Borneo and throughout the U.S. She has taught on the art faculty at Sussex County Community College since 2003.
"In each country I’ve lived, I've used its particular light to express something of place--like a marker," said Dhew. "The roles and uses of color within the cultures that I've experienced impact my personal palette greatly."
Through art, Dhew undertakes the laborious alchemy of integrating her cultural and psychological oppositions--Eastern roots and Western education, fear and fascination, empiricism and intuition, calculation and improvisation, interior and exterior. The storm drawings open a passage through turmoil into stillness, with Dhew escorting the viewer into the eye of the hurricane.
"The ‘storm’ represents an event of union between intellectual heaven and sensuous earth," said Dhew. "I am concerned with interplays between the conscious and unconscious mind."
Dhew has researched storms from many angles, and even entertained the notion of engaging in storm chasing--an idea she ultimately rejected.
"The culture of it seems to reek of a testosterone-driven mania," said Dhew. "What I do in the studio is more reflective."
But eventually the storms came to Dhew--hurricanes Irene and Sandy breached the artists reflective distance and swamped her studio. With power severed, the artist found herself bereft of the accustomed comforts and amenities she knows contribute to the climactic events she depicts.
"It's an ironic life," said Dhew.