Akar Prakar in collaboration with the Embassy of India in France, ICCR and Musee des Arts Asiatiques de Nice at Musee des Arts Asiatiques de Nice, 405, Promenade des Anglais, 06200 Nice, FranceH.E. Ambassador of India to France inaugurated the show, followed by a music performance by Paban Das Baul.
The Eight Artists
Paritosh Sen (1918 – 2008)
The senior most artist from this group Paritosh Sen, one of the founder members of the Calcutta group went to Paris in 1950 and his wide exposure to modern European art instilled in him a life-long penchant for stylistic experimentations and formal alchemy. Right from the beginning of his career he was an unapologetic modernist who addressed style as a tool to reshape and re-present forms circumventing descriptive trapping. Employing innovative spatial devices often cubist in nature he compels his forms to claim an autonomy which is a distinctive early modernist trend. His uncanny ability to fragment forms into seemingly incoherent facets and realign them in idiosyncratic fashion opens up newer possibilities resulting in expressionist streaks or satirical overtones. Sen’s satirical takes on people from various walks of life including himself are well-known for the dexterity with which he keeps the image on hold between an untold narrative and upfront portraiture. Exuberant color palate and bold non-conformist linearity is evidently an antithesis to the lyricism of the preceding generation yet the palpability of Sen’s figures and their tacky sensuousness are discernible despite him being an artist with strong formalist affiliation. In other words, Sen is not an easy formalist. Rather he would play with the mechanics of the visual language in question and give it a second lease of life with a grain of humor.
Somnath Hore (1921 – 2006)
Somnath Hore began his career as a political artist, documenting through innumerable sketches and drawings the sufferings and hardships of the protesting peasants of North Bengal around 1946. Known as Tebhaga Movement this is probably the greatest peasant movement in the history of India and it marked a turning point in the history of agrarian movements in India. While Hore’s engagement with the Communist party and subsequent first-hand experience of the rural mass movement led him to see and draw the life of the struggling people in affirmative tone in the manner of social-realism, his response to the famine was deeper in the manner of a long-drawn crisis of human life. Though he distanced himself from the Communist party since 1948, the scars of human sufferings were everlasting for him. These scars gradually transformed into the metaphor of Wounds in his many later works done in prints and paper-pulp. What began as a narrative documentation of social circumstances, slowly turned into images of anguished human and animal bodies and eventually to abstract metaphors – timeless yet continually evoking the sense of violence and inflicted wounds on mankind. As a print-maker Somnath Hore experimented with the nonconventional techniques in order to upgrade the possibilities of inscribing the visual ideas partly into its technical process even in the way he furrowed the metal plate with sharp tools – metaphorically a reenactment of inflicting the wounds. Agonized and tormented human figures became icons of endurance in Hore’s works where human life has lost its narratives and find itself in pathetic isolation immersed in the very body which is the site of suffering.
Meera Mukherjee (1923 – 1998)
Meera Mukherjee began her career has a painter but switched to sculpture when she went to Germany in 1953. As a sculptor too she took an exceptional turn when leaving the western modernist idioms behind she took a serious interest in the indigenous sculptural traditions of India, particularly that of the cire-perdu sculptural tradition of the tribal communities at Bastar, Chattishgarh, India. She should be considered as one of those very few artists who probed and researched traditional art not only for a linguistic search but with a deep anthropological interest too. She actually lived and worked with the tribal artisans of Bastar and went to learn techniques from the bell metal craftsmen in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. Deploying the lost-wax process, Mukherjee went on to create some of the most distinguished sculptures of her times. Bereft of any obvious modernist markers, her works nevertheless are incredible blending of the traditional/classical and contemporary. Inspired by the spiritual resonance of ordinary life and the timeless quality of the traditional forms, Meera Mukherjee engages her works with both the sustenance and vulnerability of life. She believed in an expression of true unity of the mind, medium and method – a phenomenon Mukherjee later termed as Identification. For Mukherjee it is also a celebration of humanism and freedom from the social bondages. The pleasant meditative mood of her sculptures often laced with a lyricism lends itself to ecstasy and exuberance but always grounded to a contemporary vision of life, as a woman, as an artist and as a lonely wanderer into the world of primordial forms.
Sarbari Roy Choudhury (1933 – 2012)
The foundation of modern Indian sculpture can be seen as the impact of the advent of academic realism during the colonial period. Resulting in hybrid form, the early modern Indian sculptors sought a perfect amalgamation of Western realism and Indian content. More contemporary in form and content was the influence of Rodin on the subsequent artists for whom surface treatment and the material quality were more important than realistic faithfulness. During the pre-Independent period it was Ramkinkar Baij who paved the way for Indian contemporary sculpture by not only adopting the modernist dictions but more importantly by locating the subject-matters of his works in the immediate locale. The subjective response to both the material and the content thus became two touch-stones for the later generation of artists in the post-Tagore era. Sarbari Roy Choudhury is one of the most significant among them. A finest portrait sculptor of his time Roy Choudhury’s elegant sculptures are embodiments of sensuality of both the material and the experience with a strong reference to the ephemeral. Along with his fascination for Henry Moore and Giacometti, his works exude the earthy sensitivity one experiences in traditional terracotta sculptures of India. This captivating organicity first successfully achieved by Ramkinkar can be once again seen in the works of Sarbari Roy Choudhury. His works, including real life portraitures of famous musicians, belong to the domain outside the rationale of naturalism, yet they are deeply imbued with the ineffable expressions of human psyche. Intimate modeling, lyrical transformation of forms and often expressionist verve bestow his sculptures with an identity that is at once personal and universal. Even his small intimate sculptures do not get entrapped into simplification but they evoke tenderness and empathy compressed into a complex web of sensitive touches by the sculptor.
Sanat Kar (b. 1935)
Sanat Kar is one of the most innovative printmakers of his time, besides being a prolific painter and sculptor too. A founding member of the Society of Contemporary Artists (founded in 1960 one of the major artists’ collectives in Calcutta), early in his life he was enchanted by the immense prospect printmaking held as a creative medium and over the years made exemplary contributions to this field. His technical expertise, coupled with his unique formal and thematic concerns, is the hallmark of his work. Though he got some lessons in wood-engravings from his mentor Ramendranath Chakraborty (1902 – 1955) – a pioneer in creative printmaking in India, Kar was gradually drawn towards intaglio and devoted himself to the invention of cost-effective and aesthetically rewarding intaglio processes. Entirely self-taught, at the early phase of his career he discovered the possibility of using printing-ink as an etching ground. It opened up the possibilities of having fine and supple lines akin to water-color brush-lines. He went on to invent newer methods of intaglio on wood, ply-board, cardboard and even sun-mica. On all these surfaces he could etch most delicate unrestricted lines which lent themselves to create the lyrical mood of his works. Although in the first glance it is the numinous relationship between forms and shapes delicately poised in an unidentified space that draws our attention, at a deeper level a strong commitment to human predicament is unmistakable. Gentle romanticism combined with subtle underpinning of social message keep Sanat Kar’s works are intricate at one level and playful at another, palpable at one level and removed at another. Using several dictions at the same time Kar delves deep into the dark recesses of human life.
Ganesh Haloi (b. 1936)
Bengal artists of post-Tagore era, who moved beyond the traditionalist/modernist binary and negotiated the cross-currents with subjectivity rather than an ideological choice, were by and large figurative artists with various degrees of representational indexes. Ganesh Haloi is one exception who, despite his initial figurative works slowly moved towards non-representational images and eventually became one of the most sought-after abstract painters from his generation. Though his paintings follow a reductionist, non-mimetic idiom they take off from nature as a frame of reference. His paintings are about the power of nature as much as they are about the autonomy of image making. From broad colorfields to minute dots and lines – the entire range of visual vocabulary is positioned in Haloi’s works in a way that one the one hand they function as pictorial signs and on the other as evocative marks. It is on this ambivalence that Haloi works out his nuances on the experiential level. Interestingly, Haloi owes his tonal understanding to his painstaking study of traditional Indian mural, namely Ajanta. The subtlety and the subdued appeal of his paintings can also be connected to the reticent character of traditional painting though he gives them a modernist turn by accentuating its formal edge and pairing down the image to bare essentials. Undoubtedly, quietude and silence overwhelm most of his images. Yet he leaves ample scope of a dialogue between the juxtaposed formal elements within the paintings, between the viewer and the work, between nature and human consciousness at different registers. His evocative abstraction encodes an elegy of lost landscape, a nostalgic poetry, and a mapping of the poignant past either radiating joyousness or frozen into a pensive mood. The transcendental quality one feels in Haloi’s works is embedded in the very perceptual logic of his paintings.
Ganesh Pyne (1937 – 2013)
Widely acclaimed as a modern fabulist, Ganesh Pyne’s paintings are replete with fairy tales, myths and fantasy in which he discovered his contemporaneity, his experiences of a traumatized city in the wake of partition and communal riot and a sense of belonging to a distance past that is haunting and mysterious. Unlike other artists since the 40s, Pyne reconnected himself with the Bengal school of paintings and particularly with the art of Abanindranath Tagore in whose paintings he felt a restrained and gentle layering of experiences. He found in them, as he himself said ‘softly intoned soliloquies’. Many of his own paintings with a brooding quality of light and tone and menacing figures evoke an inescapable silence and a suspension of time bordering on a dream-like apparition. The process of tempera painting Pyne followed, allowed him to build up his pictorial world with several layers of paints with highly controlled tonalities thus building up a rich surface that draws the viewer into the fabulous mythical world of a modern being. Its fabulousness is partially due to the grotesque, surreal and ominous figures and somewhat due to the ambiguity of its visual construction. Partly-hidden, partly-revealed, partly-recognizable, partly- mysterious, the imageries in Pyne’s paintings are immersed in the tranquil ruminating darkened tonalities. The strange compositions of these inexplicable motifs often suggest a subdued underplayed narrative which refuses to be undeciphered. The meaning remains elusive glows like a precious jewel from within the painting. What the viewers are left with is a whispering world where images from the substratum of memory and consciousness float free but each one with a mute story of its own. This narrative quality in Pyne’s painting is enchanting although decrypting it is not what is intended. At the best a nearly inaudible soliloquy can be heard in these disturbingly quiet paintings. The delicately nuanced washes and the almost imperceptible network of linear meshes or jottings, with which Pyne created his visual language, transport his narrative to a singular obsession – the twilight zone of life and death.
Jogen Chowdhury (b. 1939)
Jogen Chowdhury responds to the time and space around him in a very organic and instinctive manner. Ostensibly, his paintings and drawings induce a congenial ornamental craving but at the deeper level it is not all that comforting. He can evoke a sense of decay and degeneration through his iconography of the ordinary. He chooses to take a highly personalized approach in style and technique and has over the years developed an idiom which is quintessentially Bengali in its social ethos yet the profound modernist character of his art make them universal. Jogen’s encounter with the modern Western when he went to Paris for higher education at the Ecole Nationale Superieur des Beaux Arts and the Atelier 17 was crucial for him in many ways. He was moved by the plethora of modern art he saw and simultaneously felt the intrinsic need to search for an idiom which was equivalent to a search for an identity. Jogen is an atypical artist who preferred to work mostly in pastels, water color and ink instead of oil-painting and strove to develop a visual idiom rooted in Indian soil without taking either any revivalist refuge or deriving out of an obvious model of western modern art. Jogen Chowdhury’s personal style can be understood as a natural consequence of his own affinity with the organic energies of life manifested in nature and an insightful observation of life around. Even the pitch dark background or the sagging people with distinctive facial features or female figures with disturbing scars on their bodies have direct or oblique references to his own traumatic experiences of life around. Further, he is one of those rare artists of his time who introduced an incisive tone of satire without referring to anything topical.