Cosmic abstraction: Mukherjee spins the wheel

Untitled image by Sandeep Mukherjee.
Untitled image by Sandeep Mukherjee.

According to Hindu lore, when Krishna was a child, his adoptive human mother suspected him of eating dirt. She demanded he open his mouth to show her, and when she peered within she glimpsed the cosmos in its entirety. Seeing her overwhelmed with amazement, Krishna cleared her memory of the incident.

This story came to mind while looking at Sandeep Mukherjee's large abstract paintings, currently on view at Second Street Gallery. Born in India and trained as an industrial engineer prior to studying art in California, Mukherjee brings the whole of his multivalent and layered background to bear in his work. His acrylic and ink compositions on Duralene combine regulated geometric structures with watery randomness, matte surfaces with glossy reflective areas, the sensation of looking into deep space with the impression of looking at cells under a microscope. The longer the viewer studies Mukherjee's paintings, the more dizzyingly complex they become.

In the two paintings on the west wall, the artist draws on landscape as an entry point for the works. In one, a coal-black mountain looms in the foreground, its matte surface raised and faceted to subtly reflect light. Behind it multiple intersecting concentric circles swirl, spinning with diffuse pastel colors-green, blue, yellow, pink, lavender-intermixed with glossy black. The mountain's anchoring presence contextualizes the background so it initially appears like a sky bursting with sun flares, but the spiraling circles also recall trees' rings and ripples in water.

The two long horizontal paintings hanging on the gallery's north and south walls work so elegantly in SSG's space, they seem as if created for the site. Mukherjee grounds each with a watery band of horizontal stripes running along the lower third of the composition, which suggests both a horizon and the border of a sari. Behind and above this swath, Mukherjee again layers concentric circles creating movement and tonal variations where they intersect and overlap. The divisions within these radiating spirals here resemble tiles, there puddles, and elsewhere the delicate cells of living tissue.

The colors of these two larger paintings are distinctly Indian. Mukherjee's palette of yellows, greens, and blues in the composition on the north wall calls to mind mango trees and peacock feathers, while the earthy ochres, reds, and oranges on the east wall evoke potters' wheels and soot-dark temple interiors.

It's easy for viewers to get lost contemplating Mukherjee's paintings, but it's an experience worth remembering.

Sandeep Mukherjee's paintings are on display through December 31 at Second Street Gallery. 115 Second St. SE in the City Center for Contemporary Arts. 977-7284.