Abir Karmakar’s oil paintings use photorealism as a kind of abstraction. Drawing on photographs of now familiar pandemic scenes, the artist slows the viewer’s recognition of the subject matter, so that municipal officials, hazmat suits, and yellow bags of medical waste appear first and foremost as luminous scrapes, licks, and dissolutions of paint.
Karmakar’s current solo, “Everyday,” comprises twenty-seven works. The series “Surface” details sections of exterior walls from the city of Vadodara, where the artist lives. From afar, the extreme close-ups resemble Color Field paintings. Other works survey city streets emptied by lockdowns. These are titled merely with dates (for example, 25th of March or 8th of May, both 2021.) Another series “Gathering” presents expansive lateral tableaux (the largest twenty-four and a half feet long) of crowds receiving instructions from health workers. The works in “History Painting” offer intimate portrayals of Covid precautions (distance circles, house inspections) alongside specters of death in the form of furnaces, cremation grates, and body bags. “Surface” and the date paintings, both flush with their edges, reflect on the artist’s own experience of isolation. The latter two series, cropped by wavy strips of empty canvas, are drawn from public images as documents of contemporary history.
Karmakar excels at mimesis, but the true content of “Everyday” is not painting’s illusionism but rather its staking and receipt of time. Surface 7, 2021, a gridded rectangle of deteriorating indigo wall, exemplifies such temporal attentiveness. It painstakingly describes a subtractive process of peels, cracks, and stains, and yet its interest fixes firmly to what remains, what coheres, through such passage.