Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A ghost of Christmas past

A Sanjay Patel self-portrait
Let us now praise Sanjay Patel. It's long overdue.

All you need to stop me cold is bobble a bauble of fine illustration in front of me. My Achilles' heel.

So surprising, then, I have gotten any work done at all since a couple of Christmases ago, when Santa left a copy of Patel's book, Ramayana: Divine Loophole.

It's taken this long to spout off about him because I've been busy spouting off about, well, me. And I've finally come across nice images from the book that would have been disserved by my dodgy scanning acumen.

In Ramayana, Patel latently taps into his Hindu heritage and retells a centuries-old epic good-vs.-evil tale in his vivid, magnetic illustration style.*

Patel is a supervising animator and storyboard artist for Pixar, and finds time to write and illustrate books ["The Little Book of Hindu Deities" and "The Big Poster Book of Hindu Deities" (which is really a collection of posters but I'm not quibbling)] and do such and sundry as designing exhibits for the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.

The word you're reaching for to describe Sanjay Patel's career is cherry.

And the word for his work — for me anyway — is truly magnetic. As much as I hate online ads with my morning news and trivia gathering, I was surprised to be drawn immediately to one for the Asian Art Museum. It featured Patel's work promoting "Deities, Demons and Dudes with 'Staches: Indian Avatars." It's part of that museum's efforts to reach out in a fresh way, and wow, did it!

The color! In such combinations! So stark, so complicated! (staring, drooling)

Patel masters Adobe Illustrator™®, my medium of reluctant choice (really more of a forced marriage, but I've been at it long enough to see how someday I can learn to love it …).

Illustrator©™ allows its masters precise shape and placement to create patterns — tools which Patel puts to optimum use in the visual opulence of Hindu culture.

Precision also enables Illustrator®™ masters to pare visual communication to the smallest unit, the simplest shape, the extravagant economy of line and shape.

Patel marries the vast and the simple in his work. I'm so, so jealous.

I told him so once, and he emailed me back (little ol' me!) to aw-shucks my admiration:
"If there is anything good about my work it's from staring at other artists' creations for a really long time," he said. "Nothing original here, just rearrangement of ingredients."
Elsewhere on the Interwebs — Patel's in a lot of places, thankfully — he has said he and all his classmates at the California Institute for the Arts were obsessed with mid-20th Century illustration style, which I call "cookbook art." Should you be at or near my age, you remember the spare iconography of cookbook illustration, foods and people reduced to the flattest, sparest shape and line, artwork held together with clever use of negative space (the white paper as color), and depth and sophistication suggested with overlapping tones of a single color.

Charley Harper was a chief inspiration, said Patel. You see echoes of the mid-Century style today in the work of Bob Staake and Edwin Fotheringham, for example.

The Interwebs also show Patel's attention to detail before his illustrations reach their digital apex. Tissues and vellums (vella?) filled with fine lines and circles, weaving to shapes colored in combinations so strange to me, but combinations that work to stunning effect.

(drooling again)

See for yourself, these selections from the epic Ramayana. And find the book. Immerse yourself. I learned more than I ever have of Hindu mythology, which was inseparable for Patel culturally as a child growing up in the Southland, but has grown with him spiritually.

I learned enough to know, for instance, that the worn-out little sculptures I discovered a couple of months on the beach of the lake where I swim are of Ganesh, and that it's sometimes custom for Hindus to cast Ganesh into the water with a prayer for destroying life's obstacles.

*All these samples are by Sanjay Patel, which I obtained from multiple sources. It's all copyrighted by Patel, I'm sure, and probably by Pixar®™, and since Disney®© owns Pixar™®, and Disney™© can rain holy hell on preschools which have the unmitigated gall to paint Pluto™ (not the erstwhile planet) on their playroom walls without paying licensing fees and prostrate homage, what chance do I, a lowly blogger, have? I throw myself on the mercy of the court of public opinion.

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