Everyone likes to feel like they can touch the sky, but fewer probably envision what the qualities of such a touch might be like. In his piece “The Sky Remains,” such explorations of sensory interplay are brought to the fore by artist and Pomona College associate art professor Sandeep Mukherjee.
The work was created over a period of several months and currently part of the Dhaka Art Summit 2016 and is a large-scale, mixed-media installation built to emulate the texture of the sky.
Speaking to Pomona College Magazine, Mukherjee explained his work’s inherent inconsistency: “People will walk on these barefoot and experience a sensation based on the texture, which is the same as the wall panels. The piece changes as a result of people walking on it. It’s constantly altering, becoming new things. It’s not a fixed object.”
According to Tricia Avant, the academic/gallery coordinator of Art at Pomona, professor Mukherjee’s creative process is largely driven by layering techniques. “As soon as [a previous layer] dried, the next layer went on,” she said. Avant characterized these layers as “semi-translucent” in their aesthetic.
Mukherjee's work is not constrained by the typical boundaries of acrylic mediums. He blends paints with obscure cleaning agents to create a fluid appearance, according to Sarit Snyder PO ’17, who has worked with professor Mukherjee on several projects, including “The Sky Remains.” Synder pointed out the effects of layering on the piece's visual experience, stating that the painted components “resemble textiles and estuaries where the water ebbs and flows.”
Katie Birmingham Corbett PO ’17, who assisted Mukherjee on an earlier piece titled “Mutual Entanglements,” explained how such textural depth is achieved. “Generally, we would only do one or two colors in a day, since the panels had to be placed on the floor three or four at a time, painted, hung back up, and fully dried before they could be worked again—there are real technical limitations to what can be done in a day with this technique,” she wrote in an email to TSL.
Three-dimensionality is integral to the installation. “There are 1,000 tiles on the floor that he has been carving and painting and then carving again,” Snyder said, describing Mukherjee's process. She explained the fusion of layering and sculpting techniques, and their relative simultaneity in the making of the piece.
When asked what the highlight was of working with an artist like Mukherjee, Syder explained that it was his use of color that impressed her.
The piece’s exhibition venue—Dhaka, Bangladesh—is one of Mukherjee’s inspirations. “I think the space completely inspired the piece,” Snyder said of the influnece of the exhibition hall on the piece. She described the use of photographs of the display area as color swatches throughout the creative process. “Those colors inspired his colors completely. The whole piece was about experimentation,” Snyder said.
A recent article about “The Sky Remains” written by Pomona Associate Director of News and Strategic Content Carla Guerrero revealed that Dhaka's Arts Summit will exhibit the piece. The publication also indicated that professor Mukherjee and Clark Hollinger PO '17, another student involved, will go to Dhaka when the installation premieres.
Artistic ventures like “The Sky Remains” grant insight into the visual arts community at Pomona's art department. “It provides context for what the professors are doing, how they’re teaching, and what the students might be able to do in the future as artists,” Avant said.
The Summit’s official webpage states that one of the event’s primary aim is to highlight and interconnect regional art. “A lot of people will see [Mukherjee’s piece], and the fact that it is across the globe is pretty exciting,” Avant said. “It’s not like a painting that’s on stretched canvas; this is an installation piece where you’re immersed.”
Maybe, then, it is not all about touching the sky, but rather about how it feels for the sky to reach out to you.