Art Alive Gallery S-221 Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110017, India. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org www.ArtAliveGallery.com Printed in India at Pragati Offset Pvt. Ltd., Hyderabad ISBN: 978-81-901844-5-8 ÂŠ Art Alive Gallery 2007 All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical including photocopy without permission in writing from the publishers. Copyrights of all the works reproduced rest with the artists/collectors, of the artistsâ€™ photographs with the publishers and the photographers.
Contents Faces of Indian Art â€“
An Introduction by Ina Puri
Defining Moments by Nemai Ghosh
A Perspective on Process by Geeti Sen
Artists in their Studios
An Introduction – Ina Puri
Time cannot vanish without trace for it is a subjective, spiritual category; and the time we have lived settles in our soul as an experience placed within time.
This introduction is in essence a retrospective, looking back in time to another time, decades ago. It all began when a high-spirited young lensman decided to be the distinguished film-maker Satyajit Ray’s Boswell, albeit at least pictorially. This was not by any means an easy task and Ghosh in the pursuit of his muse, lived ever ready to pack his kit and travel to distant locations in order to capture Ray as he worked, played the piano, directed, scribbled notes, looked through the camera or relaxed. When Ray was directing The Inner Eye, Ghosh was by his side as always keeping as he was wont to do, a hawk’s eye on Ray’s every move and expression. Quite by chance, his attention was drawn to the subject of the director’s focus and he stood riveted, in astonishment, at the sight before his eyes. Benodebehari Mukherjee, a pair of dark glasses hiding his eyes was absorbed in the painting he was creating, unmindful it felt to Ghosh of the fact that he was visually-impaired. For the first time, his attention strayed and he felt compelled to capture on film Benode babu. At the end of the day, the lensman had footage of the blind painter and his intrepid spirit as he
Benodebehari Mukherjee absorbed in his creation
painted. Back in Kolkata, Ghosh would feel inspired to explore this new vista that had appeared fleetingly before him, diverting his attention to another genre of art. He sought out Jamini Roy and spent days keenly observing the veteran paint in his inimitable style images taken from the age-old patua tradition but made his own. He revisited Santiniketan to learn more about Ramkinkar Baij who worked outdoors, seeking his inspiration in the ebonyskinned Santhals as they made their way homewards through the the khoai or the dunes, a little away from the Kopai stream. While the photographer also had other interests, namely the theatre, he found in the creators of the painted images a special affinity. As time went by, he got preoccupied with other businesses and it was when we met, years later that he shared this dream with us, at the time when Manjit Bawa was exhibiting his own paintings in Kolkata. Our response was immediate and we encouraged Ghosh to work on a series focusing on the artist and his studio from across the country, unmindful of what shape the ambitious project would take. Nemaida, long suffocated in an environment that curbed his artistic ambitions, now let his imagination soar and as we collaborated with him we realised that he was a tireless worker, ardently committed to the assignment at hand. We spent days poring over a wish-list of artists we wanted to include and finally the project took a clear direction. The next weeks, months and years flew, and gradually we were able to shoot almost everyone on our list. There are notable exceptions but that was beyond our control and we hope to address this lacuna in our next volume. On the flip side, we succeeded in
getting an insider’s view of studios that would always be out of bounds for others, and an idea of how the painter functioned in his creative space away from the frenetic world. If Benode babu worked in darkness, at the other end of the spectrum Raza painted from his rainbow palette in his garden in Gorbio saying, ’My studio is a place for meditation, it is a place where silence prevails’. In Manjit Bawa’s studio in Dalhousie, the painter would take a break at the end of a long day by gathering Pahari singers around him and singing with them, A place for meditation – Raza’s studio in Paris
often playing the dholak to keep beat. In his space, Himmat Shah sculpted with forms that seemed to defy the laws of gravity! To Nemaida’s amazement, the grand old master of Indian art, M. F. Husain started and completed a painting before his eyes…signing off with a flourish in Bengali! As Tarkovsky wrote in Sculpting in Time ‘he starts to be an artist at the moment when, in his mind or even on film, his own distinctive system of images starts to take shape – his own pattern of thoughts about the external world – and the audience are invited to judge it, to share…in his most precious and secret dreams’. So it is with this project – it was our desire to share with you the process of myth making as we saw it happen before our eyes, from the perspective of an insider. It is a visual book, so the finer nuances are even more fascinating; Arpita Singh crouched over her work, Tyeb Mehta bent over his ‘Fallen Figure’, Jogen Chowdhury crosslegged on the floor…indeed so many intimate details of artists many of us were fortunate to call our friends, but those who left us bereft in the course of time. The list seems endless, the loss beyond measure.
M. F. Husain at work
Jogen Chowdhury in his studio
As the editor, it has been important to maintain a balance between the visuals and text. Also to enlist contributors who were familiar with the artists and had actual access to the studios. I am grateful to Geeti Sen, Keshav Malik, R. Siva Kumar and the late Samir Dasgupta for their thoughtful essays that beam a ray of light on the artists and sculptors. Geeti Senâ€™s comprehensive essay will provide the discerning reader with an overview of the contemporary Indian art scene. I am indebted to Vimal and Sunaina Anand for their warm and generous support that made the venture possible. The indefatigable team at Art Alive who lent such enthusiastic support must be thanked especially. I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Veena Hariharan for her invaluable editorial inputs. Miles Ashton Glickman read through the text patiently and made some valuable suggestions. I am grateful to him. I owe a debt of gratitude to Ajitha and Shamya Dasgupta who have stood by me through it all. Finally, I am, as always, indebted to Arjun and Ravi Puri for their constant love and support. This book is dedicated to Manjit Bawa.
ARTISTS IN THEIR STUDIOS
Anjolie Ela Menon
K. G. Subramanyan
K. S. Radhakrishnan
Lalu Prasad Shaw
M. F. Husain
Shyamal Dutta Ray
Sarbari Roy Chowdhury
S. H. Raza
Photographs taken in Santiniketan, 1971
Benodebehari Mukherjee A
‘ re you showing the Khoai?’; Benodebehari reportedly asked Satyajit Ray during the making of The Inner Eye, Ray’s celebrated documentary on his teacher. And added, ‘Don’t leave it. The khoai and a solitary palm tree on it. That is it. My spirit, the essence of my life, if you find it anywhere, you will find it there. You could say that is me.’1 When he was young he had painted a striking image of the khoai in a horizontal scroll – the red, arid earth stretching endlessly, relentless in its harshness, even the determined palms struggling to survive in its inhospitable climate. The khoai defined the early landscape of Santiniketan. More than thirty years later, the landscape having been greened, the khoai
had largely disappeared and was reduced to a relic; but to Benodebehari, now blind, it remained a personal symbol. Not long before he painted the scroll he had painted himself, sitting at the far end of an austere room, engrossed in painting. The painting is small in scale just as the figure is within it. Not larger than a miniature it is the kind of painting that needs to be viewed close up; from about the distance we would read a book. That is also the distance between Benodebehari’s eyes and the painting he is working on in the picture. Despite the close viewing the painting prescribes, with his eyes averted from us and firmly fixed on his work, and with everything painted with exacting meticulousness and offered for close scrutiny, the pervading mood in the painting is one of order and solitude. A sense of stark expansiveness – not unlike that of the khoai – and the image of the artist as a solitary person are two motifs that a consideration of Benodebehari’s art and life would bring to our minds. Solitariness became a part of his life early on through the force of circumstances. Ill health, congenital blindness in one eye, and severe myopia in the other colluded to make his childhood solitary. At 13, after some scrappy schooling and considerable self learning, he went to Santiniketan. And here as he discovered his vocation as an artist his social solitariness was considerably eased through contact with mentors and friends with whom he shared a community of ideas. Their common quest for a modernism founded, (in a marked deviation from the early nationalists) on the experiential knowing of a place rather than on an imagined history, turned his individual predicament into an expedient felicity and helped him to play a pivotal role in Santiniketan’s project of modernism. But the easing of his inner sense of solitariness did not come easily, nor was it ever total. His early works from the thirties – which includes the khoai scroll and the self portrait – convey a deep sense of solitude. He achieved this less through the depiction of self-engrossed figures or landscapes of dominating vastness than through the pointed inscription of visual and A drawing of Benodebehari Mukherjee Overleaf: Satyajit Ray taking photograph of the artist at work during the making of a film ‘The Inner Eye’ in 1971
tactile sensations into their representations. The acuteness with which he inscribed the visual and the tactile into these paintings not only added to the starkness of the images but also to their persistence. And in these
images, plucked out from the seamless continuity of sensory experience and the flux of time, he turns viewing paintings into a silent and solitary activity. In contrast to this his works from the forties, appropriately dominated by murals, immerse the viewer into the sensory and temporal continuity of the world. The first major work that signals this change, his 1940 painted ceiling unrolling an encompassing image of rural Bengal, bristles with crisp and chirpy details. His other murals too from the forties, including his magnum opus ‘The Life of the Medieval Saints’, are generously populated and slide from motif to motif or surge forward like a river with an inner rhythm that regulates and turns viewing into a peripatetic affair, into a series of encounters and a passage of knowing. This change came partly through the influence of the Far Eastern painters he admired and partly through Rabindranath Tagore who taught him to rise above one’s personal circumstances and know the world. Under these influences he did not give up his conviction that inner solitude was essential for a creative person but, looking at his later work, we can definitely conclude that he gradually began to paint without self-despairing, without idealising, without rhetoric excess, and without relent in analytical rigour. His work from the fifties is thus characterised by gentle grace and unobtrusive precision, and can look deceptively simple to the less discerning eye. In 1957 he lost his sight completely after a surgery that went wrong, but this did not stop him from continuing to be an artist. In these photographs taken thirteen years later when Satyajit Ray made his documentary we find him, spurred by the experience of blindness, exploring anew the relation between representation and sensory experience – tracing with irrecoverable movements of one hand onto a space temporarily mapped out and secured by the other the image held in his mind, or testing with his mind’s eye the structural soundness of the mural he has materialised in darkness by the actions of his hands. They suggest that, although the chromatic and rhythmic energy of his late works radiate great cheer, making and knowing had once again become solitary acts for him. And that should make it easier to understand why he wanted Ray to include the khoai in his film.
R. SIVA KUMAR 1. Satyajit Ray, Benode da, Vishaya Chalachitra, Ananda Publishers, Kolkata, 1982, p. 123.
Photographs taken in Kolkata, 2005
M. F. Husain “
My horses like lightning, cut across many horizons. Seldom are their hooves shown. They hop around the spaces. From the battlefield of ‘Harbala’ to Bankura terracotta from the Chinese Tse pei Hung horse to St. Marco horse, from ornate armoured ‘Duldul’ to challenging white of ‘Ashwamedh’… the cavalcade of my horses is multidimensional.
M. F. Husain
The Grand Old Man of Indian art could well be referring to his own life and journeys here. Constantly on the move from the legendary Harbala to contemporary Dubai and Shanghai, he is an inveterate globetrotter, never to be found in the same place for long. When you think he is in Jaisalmer, out
of the blue, an illustrated volume of voluptuously erotic proportions emerges entitled Kamasutra in Paris. Given his hectic travelling schedules we were fortunate to catch up with the Ashwamedh-like painter in Ahmedabad in November 2005 and witness closely how efficiently he managed to turn a verandah replete with a traditional Gujarati swing and a gravelly-voiced cockatoo, Jacko, into a studioin-transit within minutes. Tins of paint, canvas, brushes patterned the floor within easy reach of the white-maned artist and made for an arresting picture, top-angle, as he half-sprawled on the floor and painted. His horses were indeed like lightning and within the day he had three scrolls ready for a collector in China. His cell phone, with its ringtone of a rooster crowing, crowed intermittently with calls from friends and collectors across the globe. He was in a great mood and spoke to us of his childhood in Sidpur where, whimsically, some rich Gujarati merchants of yore had built
a little Venice with vanilla pink and pista green Art Noveau mansions. He had us so intrigued that Manjit Bawa and I drove to Sidpur the next morning and it was just as he remembered! Soon after that warm winter morning when Manjit and Husain had long dialogues late into the day, our worlds changed. Manjit went into hospital and Husain was forced to quit India with the saffron brigade baying for his blood after his â€˜Bharat Mataâ€™ had caused deep offence to sensitive sentiments.
While the loyalist waited with patient hope that the self-imposed exile would end soon, he wasted no time with mawkish sentimentality and immediately set up shop in Dubai, determined not to let the circumstances hamper his prolific brush. It was merely one more space for him and he was used to working anywhere, anytime and in any situation. Husain had long known about the business of art. Indeed, decades before art became big business, he had cannily stated ‘from the concaves of dark ages to the sunlit slabs of civilisation and then rising high-touching pinnacles of shrine, the ‘Work of Art’ goes shopping in the briefcase of multinational conglomerate’.1 In 2006-07 Husain, exploring new spaces and subjects, is commanding unprecedented, audacious prices, and getting away with it. An aura of louche glamour gives the distinguished man a certain weary hauteur of renown that is somehow so characteristic. Yet there was once another time. Shamshad, his second born, recalls a crowded home in his childhood when at the end of an exhausting day, his Abbu would climb down the flight of rickety stairs to work on a painting under a streetlight late into the night. In those days of struggle, with the responsibility of a large family to look after, Husain painted billboards to earn his livelihood. There was no easel and no studio. But he went on undeterred, creating some of his most magnificent paintings. Over the years M. F. Husain has become an icon. There was critical acclaim as well as commercial success. He moved to Mumbai’s high-end Nariman Point, thronged by the rich, beautiful and famous. Despite being feted and celebrated the world over, the changed circumstances and chandeliers replacing the humble street lamp, Husain remained tirelessly preoccupied with his art. Who knows if he loved or he lost? Art remained constantly an abiding passion and demanding mistress. No subject is sans significance and even the trivial has claims to posterity. Eloquent and piquant, a pair of umbrellas form the dramatis personae in a series, strangely alive in their silent colloloquy. In other times, a cornucopia of subjects have dominated his canvas…some including familiar faces as Nehru, M. S. Subbalakshmi, Madhuri Dixit, Mother Teresa, Indira Gandhi. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Husain, at age 91, has been the most eloquent chronicler of the past century with works on canvas and celluloid in moods varying from the provocative and immediate to the mythically romantic and sharply satiric. Nothing seems to have escaped the
eagle eyes of the maverick as he journeyed across the continents, always eager to seek new experiences. Wars, riots, deluges, all became the subjects he painted boldly and in his trademark stylised strokes. Equally, the street children of Kalighat, the memsahibs of the Raj, or even Durga, Saraswati and Ganesha. He is at home in Kolkata, painting at a friend’s place, or in Mumbai at Bade Mian’s crowded eatery sketching elegantly on the table before him. The artist’s present workspace is divided between New York, London and Dubai and in each studio; his materials are kept ready awaiting the master’s command. Like his horses, Husain moves like lightning, loath to waste a single moment, painting, painting, and painting. Be it at a bloody bullfight in Rhonda or in the golden deserts of Jaisalmer, Husain is impatient and ardent in his need to touch lives and create a legacy that few can hope to match.
INA PURI 1. Bombay ‘81, M. F. Husain. 2. M. F. Husain in ‘Husain’ published by Tata Steel.
Photographs taken in Paris, 2006
S. H. Raza â€œ
Raza has been living and working in Europe for many years, if he is Indian, it is in spirit. This man, to whom nothing human is alien, is moved by the latent desire to sustain a dialogue of civilisations.
For more than fifty-five years Raza has lived and worked in France; yet his bonding with India has never been severed. The country remains a continuing source of inspiration in its painting and poetry, its music, its vibrant colors, its unceasing vitality. He is an artist at home in two countries, fusing the sophistication of both cultures.
His concerns are reflected in the environment which surrounds him. In the building in Paris, the wooden rafters of the ceiling bespeak their ancient past — a stark aesthetics which contrast with the sensuality of wood sculptures and wall hangings brought from Rajasthan. Everywhere, between the bookcases and desk are reminders of India: brass figurines, a clay pot and the Indian flag, along with tools of tube paints, a painted chair and the vibrant textures of his canvases. Among the bric-a-brac in his summer studio in Gorbio you will find a stone brought from the Narmada river which he holds sacred, a pair of Tibetan gongs to reverberate – like the resonance of expanding circles in his triptych ‘Naad Bindu’. In this sphere of expansive flux he paints, for he suggests that this studio, with ‘objects, books and images in an orderly disorder’ becomes a place for meditation. In summer months he moves to Gorbio, a twelfth century village in southern France. Here his studio looks out to the azure blue of the Mediterranean, from a garden of paradise planted with olive trees, bamboo and lemon. The fragrance of mimosa, mint and basil spark the air as he sits in the patio in the open air, working on a canvas. All these details compose the environment in which Raza paints. What he creates is a metaphor of the
life he lives. He delights in the planting of seedlings into a stone pot, with shoots of grass growing. He comments on the elements which create life, which have inspired him into the process called ‘painting’: ‘A painting grows gradually, organically. The bija, the seed, is the beginning of human life. This miniscule point which is energy condensed can grow from its embryonic form – to give birth to a whole series of paintings. We heighten the spectacle of life: days and nights, the change of seasons, male and female polarities, pleasure and pain, birth, life and death. We are aware of the five elements that constitute the human body, our world and other worlds: earth, water, fire, air and sky. In painting the five elements we use the five colors: black, white, yellow, red and blue, giving birth to a vision of nature’. In 1946 Raza had become one of the founder artists of the Bombay Progressives, with their declaration to paint in the spirit of freedom. Unlike his associates Souza, Husain and Tyeb Mehta who focused their energies on the heroic image, he was preoccupied elsewhere. His primary source of inspiration was to create with nature – abstracting from nature its essence, its deeper implications for mankind and for ecological balance in the world. At the same time, his images assimilate from traditional Indian imagery; they are fused with the vibrancy of colours, of poetry and sounds from his homeland. Memory plays a tenacious role in returning to feed on images of his past – intensifying the experience so that this becomes more vividly real than the present. One particular episode recalled by Raza has become legendary: the tiny black bindu inscribed on the wall of the school verandah in Kakaiya when he was a child, to centre his wandering mind. Decades later, this bindu gave birth to an endless series of experiments and variations. Soon after he arrived in France, the bindu surfaced with ferocious intensity as ‘Black Sun’ (1953) in a ravaged landscape where houses burn a hot orange; or again in ‘Haut de Cagnes’ (1951) where the sun is suspended in a timeless space that has no beginning or end. This bindu remains a dense black circle embedded in his subconscious mind. It is the sun, it is energy, the source of life… Raza inscribes a verse from the poet Muktibodh in his notebooks, which has inspired him and might explain his fascination with this form/colour as the root of all creation: ‘From the black void (shunya), Floats the perception of this world’.
The most powerful expression of this sensibility translates into his small canvas titled ‘Emergence’: an intense black circle exploding with energy, radiating out forces to the edge of the universe. Some ten years later he painted a similar image but now titled ‘Bharat’ (1990). Below this painting he inscribed lines from Mahatma Gandhi – recalling memories of the critical years of independence, partition and his assassination. Increasingly the bindu has acquired the propensities of the homeland: it assumes the form of the mandala, of land that is inscribed and sacred. Invited to exhibit his works at the Triennale of 1981 in New Delhi, Raza created his magnum opus titled ‘Ma’ (1980). A dense black bindu dominates at the centre, surrounded by small vignettes throbbing with the vibrant colors of medieval miniature paintings. Inspired by a poem by Ashok Vajpeyi, he describes it as ‘a painting to my mother country, India, revealing my experiences, discoveries and acquisitions. I hoped that the painting could be evidence that I was never cut off from my sources. The memories, conscious and unconscious, were ever present’. Living in France and searching for his roots in India, Raza’s images coalesce into metaphors of universal meaning.
A. Ramachandran Born in 1935, Attingal (Kerala), he did his Post Graduation in Malayalam Literature from Kerala University, 1957 and then joined Kala Bhavan, Visva Bharati University, Santiniketan to pursue Fine Arts from 1957-61. He completed his Ph.D in Mural Painting of Kerala from Visva Bharati in 1964. He was appointed Lecturer at Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi to teach History of Art in 1965 and retired as a Professor in 1992. He was appointed Honorary Chairman, Kerala Lalit Kala Akademi in 1991. He has held several solo shows besides participation in significant group shows across India and abroad. These include the Tokyo Biennale, Japan, 1967 & 1970; I, II, III, V International Triennale, Lalit Kala Akademi in 1968, 1971, 1975 & 1982; Sao Paulo Biennale, Brazil in 1971; Menton Biennale, France in 1974; ‘India: Myth & Reality – Aspect of Modern Indian Art’, Museum of Modern Art, Oxford; ‘Contemporary Indian Art’, Royal Academy of Art, London; ‘Modern Indian Painting’, Hirschorn Museum, Washington D.C. in 1982; ‘The Mythical Traveller–Journeys Basant, 2007
onto the unknown’, London in 1996; Retrospective show at NGMA, New Delhi in 2003. He was conferred the Padma Bhushan award by the Government of India in 2005. Besides painting, he also has to his credit several children’s books published in India, Japan, England and the USA which have received international acclaim. He lives and works in New Delhi.
Akbar Padamsee Born in 1928, Mumbai, Padamsee completed his Diploma in Fine Arts from Sir J.J. School of Art, Mumbai in 1949 before moving on to the Stout State University, Wisconsin after receiving J.D. Rockefeller III Fellowship in 1965. Back in India, he was awarded the Jawaharlal Nehru Fellowship and made four short films in 196970. He was also awarded the Kalidas Samman by the Madhya Pradesh State Government in 1997-98. Along with several solo shows held throughout his long career, he has participated in the Venice Biennale in 1953 and 1955; ‘Seven Indian Painters’, Gallery One in London in 1958; Sao Paulo Biennale, Brazil and Tokyo Biennale, Japan, 1959; I, II, IV International Triennale, Delhi in 1968, 1971 & 1982; ‘India: Myth and Reality – Aspects of Modern Indian Art’ at Oxford in 1982; ‘Artistes Indiens en France’, Paris in 1985; Festival of India, Moscow in 1987 and National Gallery of Modern Art, Delhi in 1991; Solo show organised by Saffron Art and Pundole Art Gallery in New York in 2002; Solo show organised by Gallery Threshold in 2005. A retrospective of his works was organised in Delhi and Mumbai in 1980. Head, 2007
He showed at ‘Modern and Contemporary Paintings: One Hundred Years’, London in 1996. He lives and works in Mumbai.
Altaf Mohammedi Born in 1942, Baroda (Gujarat), Altaf Mohammedi studied art at various colleges in England from 1961-66. He taught art at New Habib High School in Mumbai. Since 1970 his works have been part of several solo and group exhibitions across India and abroad. Some of the major ones are the Joint exhibition of drawings with Navjot Altaf at Kunst Galerie E Dedeke, Germany in 1985; `Male Formy Grafiki’, Poland; Hardtime Gallery, Bristol in 1986; ‘Artists from India and Pakistan’ at Martini Gallery, Hong Kong in 1998; The Glenbarra Art Museum Collection at NGMA, Delhi in 1997; VI Painting Biennale, Bharat Bhavan, Bhopal in 1996 etc. A retrospective show was organised by Sakshi Gallery, Mumbai on the occasion of his 60th Birthday in 2002. He had also organised workshops and participated in the Film Divisions Documentary `The Young Canvas` in 1971. He passed away in 2005. My People have Died as Fires die Without a Trace 1, 1992
Amit Ambalal Born in 1943 in Ahmedabad, he had no formal training in art but worked under the guidance of the veteran artist and teacher Chhaganlal Jadhav. He was a businessman, until he became a full-time painter in 1979. His interest in the Nathdvara School of Painting made him write The Book ‘Krishna as Shrinathji Rajasthani Paintings from Nathdvara’ which was published by Mapin in 1987. Later an exhibition of Nathdvara paintings from his collection was organised by the CMC Gallery, New Delhi in 1989. He has held over 14 solo shows and also been part of several group shows nationally and internationally including Sixth Triennale, India, 1986; Bharat Bhavan Biennale, 1990; ‘Utsava –
Festival of India’, Perth, Australia, 1995; Group show ‘Faces’, Dubai, 2000 and ‘JIVA’, Singapore, 2004. He lives and works in Ahmedabad, Gujarat.
Published on Aug 30, 2008
This book takes the reader on a journey that is quite unique. For the first time ever, you are allowed an insider’s view of how the artist w...