The Communicative Songs of Persi Darukhanawala
“My art communicates – mostly in ways I can’t forecast or fathom. It is psychological – and it is no longer ‘mine’ once it begins to dry.”
Persi Darukhanawala once wrote of his perception of his authority (or lack thereof) on what his paintings mean. So I already had an idea on how he feels about letting his art out into the world. This idea was reinforced when I read an interview between himself and Philosophy professor Raphael Woolf. Here, he explained that “you can take them or leave them. And if you decide to leave them then that’s a valid response too.”
When we did meet in his Lambeth studio, to the music of The Jam, Madness, ABBA and other canonical pop artists wafted faintly in the background. He later admitted that he has in the past tried to paint without music but it simply didn’t work. "At the end of the day, it’s very much a communication and not a didactic form,” he explained his laissez-faire approach to how his work is received.
For Persi, to legitimise and create space for subjective reactions is to enable genuine communication. He doesn’t view his work as a privilege of the intellectu al elite, a closed off and self-contained object of appreciation only for those who truly understand it. Instead, it is a way of starting a conversation; a channel for communication between himself and the viewer. Instead of the object (the artwork itself), his practice is focused on this personal line of communication with individuals that it is capable of opening. Art is, as he puts it is, “a way of saying hello” – the work comes second to the exchange he hopes it will spark in the reaction of the individual viewer.
He classes his artworks as songs, something that he is the first to admit could be seen as the language of the exact opaque artistic paradigm that he is rejecting. However, he understands it as a product of his indifference to the object, making the artwork accessible by focusing instead on the exchange with the viewer it facilitates. “The object is, in certain ways, less crucial than the communication, because that’s what we take away with us.”
In this respect, his focus on the reaction over the object is a way of questioning the prevalent narrative about the importance of boundaries between artworks, songs and indeed anything else that could become a medium for communication between its creator and viewer. This questioning and disruption of the dominant narratives stands at the heart of Persi's artistic practice.
“I’m very aware of the fact that accepted norms and narratives are just that: they’re not necessarily anything to do with the truth, whatever that is."
This questioning of narratives is another key theme that Persi grapples with. In his own words, his work “affords a potential for communication in a world where we’re absolutely battered by repetitive messages from the media, from everyday life”.
The artist expands on this with a reference to a scene in François Truffaut’s 1981 film “La Femme d’à côté”. Fanny Ardant’s character, resting in bed after a nervous breakdown, asks for her radio’s batteries to be replaced so she can turn it on and find out what’s going on in the world. When her lover expresses relief that she is finally getting better because she wants to know what’s going on in the news, she responds by saying that when she wants to know what’s really going on in the world she listens to songs, not the news and media.
The flames of Andy Warhol by Persi Darukhanawala, 2018
The communication in the space between Persi and the viewer/experiencer is his means of escaping and helping us to escape, everyday dominant narratives and myths initiated and perpetuated by ruling power structures. Persi encourages his viewer to find their own individual lines of communication with his art, valuing their own inner self and being, away from these oppressive narratives: “If we get through for two minutes only,” he explains, quoting Paul Weller, “it will be a start.”
“It’s about protecting something in a world where - and in a lot of my works - there’s a square or a circle where the lines come in and the centre is under siege.”
The centre being under siege is a recurrent theme in Persi's “songs”. For example the central point of The Flames of Andy Warhol is threatened from all angles by gestural strokes of black acrylic, growing from the acid-yellow ring which surrounds it. It is hardly coincidental that conservation, preservation and “some sense of existential continuance” are central to the ethos of his artistic processes.
He works almost exclusively in acrylic on paper, an unforgiving combination, that he himself recognises in his Artist Statement: “no erasing, no concealment, no second chances.” With these options ruled out, he has no choice but to be completely candid, completely himself in his paintings. As such, they are moments in his life, moments of complete honesty and reflections of himself. This in itself seems like a strong enough argument for their conservation and protection in a world where, he quotes Grandmaster Flash, “it’s like a jungle sometimes.”
He is keen to make one fine distinction on this front: the need for conservation doesn’t stem from the importance of his, the artist’s, life. We know this isn’t his style; after all, he rejects the “Romantic figurehead” of the impenetrable artist whose work is to be marveled at or worshipped. It should be no surprise that the reason why these moments must be protected are not because they are his, they belong to everyone who chooses to look, listen and explore their own selves through his work. His paintings, the objects that facilitate the lines of communication between the moment in his life and the viewer, are fragile and if we take one thing away from enquiring into the ideas behind Persi’s art, it should be that it communicates.