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Liquid Distillation of Animated Consciousness

ART OF NEERAJ GOSWAMI ARUN GHOSE


Liquid Distillation of Animated Consciousness, Art of Neeraj Goswami By Arun Ghose © Sanchit Art Publications, 2013 ISBN: 978-810926373-0-3 Images Courtesy : Neeraj Goswami, Lalit Gupta, Lalit Khanna, Renu Thakur, Raaja Kanwar, Charu Datt Bhatia and Rano Singh Jaipuria Photography of Paintings : Abhijit Das, Vicky and V.K. Jain Color Correction : S.V. Photographic Editor : Shahnaz Siganporia Design : The Grafiosi and Mayank Thakur Printing : Pragati Offset, Hyderabad Jacket Images : Moonlit, acrylic on canvas, 70” x 118”, 2012, Portrait sketch of author by Neeraj Goswami

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To all those who love art and to my parents who taught me to do so.


Foreword Nearly all my contemporaries, artists we started to work together with a common cause but each following individualised artistic paths, very idiosyncratic, have left us. Collectively however we are not indeed unhappy any longer. The work we all put in towards the cause of modernity in Indian Art has succeeded in achieving the result we had dreamt of. We are even happier to find the baton we are leaving behind has already been picked up by younger artists. At the root, talking about the very foundation on which artists conceive their artistic creations, every work of art may also be read as the spiritual statement of its creator expressed in line and colour. Neeraj has concretised this aspect by focussing how best to remove mental impurities so that his brush can faithfully translate his inner feelings. In this aspect his art is better than that of the ‘Surrealists’ as they did overlook the importance of purging their mind first. A pure mind, armed with exceptionally gifted artistic skill, alone can achieve what Neeraj has done during the last two decades. When I was a student of art in Mumbai’s J.J. School of Art, during the closing phase of our nation’s struggle for freedom, I began to drift away from the members of the Progressive Artists Group. I knew our art must acquire its modernity but not by severing our roots with India’s glorious artistic past. My close association with the great modern muralists in Mexico taught me how to achieve that. After six decades of experimentation, and that too by remaining faithful to these ideas, I now know how right we were then. I am very happy to find this intense spirit in the art of Neeraj. I only hope he will retain all his pictorial strength and will keep scaling newer peaks, alone if need be. Satish Gujral, New Delhi, December 2012


Preface Every beginning has its own beginning to start with. Not always one finds the need to begin anew after the end. And yet, after the last line has been typed, and the manuscript of this book is sealed and delivered, I feel such a need to explain why I wrote this book in the first place. The artist I chose to describe in this book is yet to reach fifty years in age and, in India if not elsewhere in the world, he is not considered old enough to merit authorly attention on the strength of his age alone. This explanation lies in his art and a lot more in his approach to art. To start with I may add that this book is not a linear biography of the artist. That may wait for a decade or perhaps even more before a comprehensive and scholarly treatise can be compiled as his official biography. What little inputs on his life are added here is intended to draw a closer relationship between his life and his art. The two are inseparable in his case. He indeed is a very special person who demands such attention with intimate knowledge about what he went through in life. Art in general has always enjoyed its spiritual supremacy and thus conveyed a message of importance to all things painted or sculpted since time immemorial, even when such images were not of any recognizable divinity. Such was and is the power of creativity in art and spiritual identity of its creator seldom fails to play the stellar role in its growth. The compulsion of resemblance in art, however, also changed from faithfully life-like representation to shapes totally abstract and non-representational. Art, like music, began to assume the role of a coded language communicable only to those initiated in decoding such hieroglyphics in the same way the acceptance of classical music depends upon training of the ear to discern its beauty. Abstract art, in the West, mainly grew out of the need to develop a personalized image of spiritual feelings that, in its core, are essentially form-less. The continuing relevance of art as a vehicle of spiritual aspiration, even when personalized to the level of obscurity, is all the more necessary in view of the fact that its survival depends on its ability to assimilate its own spiritual foundation. I found Neeraj and his art as a conscious product of similar, spiritual, aspiration and became curious to trace its roots. It was not always in the world we live in that one gets to view such an artist who openly declares his art as true reflection of his spiritual progress. There are many who proudly proclaim their disbelief in anything spiritual and would not hesitate in branding such an artist as not modern enough to merit their attention. This book is primarily aimed to convince those critics of Neeraj Goswami and, in addition, to indicate that art was, and still is and so will always be, essentially spiritual. Art of Neeraj Goswami offers the viewer such an answer. Its growth, as revealed to me, is an even more interesting documentation how the increasing strength of spiritual realization can shape the art of the artist with gradual yet forceful dimension. I am sure Neeraj will brake newer grounds in his art. His art will attain increasing intensity of simplified beauty and the joy of bliss felt during deep meditation. I only hope his future biographers, and present-day admirers, may find this book useful in such studies. Arun Ghose, Kolkata, 2012.


CONTENTS Part 1

1

Part 2

69

Epilogue

202

Postscript

213

His life, since 1964

Neeraj and His Art


Self Portrait, gold leaf and oil on canvas, 14” x 14”, 1999


Part 1

His life, since 1964

1


Fig. 1. Untitled, water colour (wash) on paper, 10” x 6”, 1980 2


'Democracy with its semi-civilization sincerely cherishes junk. The artist's power should be spiritual. But the power of the majority is material. When these worlds meet occasionally, it is pure coincidence' - Paul Klee The art of Neeraj Goswami reflects the state of art in India as it evolved over the last fifty years. During those eventful decades in post-Independent India, he had a ring-side view, where he witnessed a lot of what took place in the political, social and cultural arenas of the subcontinent. Born in the city of Patna, in 1964, he spent his early years in surroundings that received little benefit from India’s modernization process. His family had shifted to Delhi when he was only eight years of age and he spent the remaining years of his childhood in a city that was undergoing a near-exponential growth pattern that was not in tandem with the rate of progress in the rest of the country. It was also the time when one could hardly fail to notice the growth of modernity in Indian contemporary art that was emerging out of its century-old dependence on the borrowed clutches of foreign origin. Decades of hesitant manoeuvring after gaining Independence in 1947 was gradually being replaced by a nascent growth of economic stability and the lives of common people in India were also undergoing a change that, in retrospect, appears geographically uneven. His art, seen in retrospect, is a curious blend of agony and ecstasy, acceptance and rejection, youthful nihilism coupled with an intense effort for spiritual introspection. There was an underlying layer that often went unnoticed, in his art. Economic progress and omnipresent poverty could hardly erase the subtle contradictions that he inherited from his Brahmin orthodox parentage choosing a predominantly Muslim neighbourhood to live in. Patna was a city that was frequented by the British when they ruled India. Additionally, the city had its own and even more glorious past to fall back upon. The area had cradled Buddhist, Islamic and Hindu civilizations, in addition to the rather aggressive reach of the Church of England in pre-independent India, in more or less equal measure. In the field of visual art it had its own quota of traditional miniature painting whose early exponents had migrated to the city of Patna mainly from Mughal Courts in Delhi and Lucknow. They had obtained patronage from Bihar’s 3


British Colonial rulers and eventually went on to develop their own

was muddy and uneven and often failed to separate the house-

variation of ‘Company Paintings’ now known as the Patna school.

fronts that fought for space on either side of the lane. Public hy-

Charles D’Oyly, while living in the city as the Opium Agent of

giene was not a familiar concept in Patna in those days but the

the East Indian Company, took several such local artists under

neighbourhood proudly keeps its heritage alive even today with

his care to develop the ‘Bihar Amateur Lithographic Society’ and

religious zeal. Everyone was, and still is, at liberty to use the lane

its members continued the good work even after the departure of

as their personal drainage system even though it serves as their

D’Oyly from Patna in 1831.

only passage to reach the world outside. A few of the neighbours, butchers by profession, regularly slaughtered animals in their

The local Hindu population also patronized a sizeable group of

backyard and allowed the left-over blood to spill over the same

clay-modellers who had traditional expertise of creating life-size

winding lane. Jumping from one dry spot to another, if available,

and life-like, images of Gods and Goddesses needed for annual

was the usually adopted mode of walking for young kids along

community worship. The age-old technique of image-makers in-

this dirt track. Perfumers displayed rows of coloured decanters

volved fashioning of an armature with molded sticks of bamboo

containing ‘attars’ in their shop-fronts along this lane and this co-

and bales of straw tied over it; this was followed by the applica-

existed with the butcher stalls and halwai shops. Smells of blood

tion of lumps of clay over this ‘armature’ to create the desired

rotting in the butchers’ backyard mingled freely with aromas of

shapes; and eventual finishing the deity by applying colours in

cooked sweets and whiffs of heady perfumes over and above the

several layers to create the illusion of life-like realism. Annual

mainstay of stench from the accumulated garbage, stagnant drain-

worship of these images of Goddess Durga was an integral part of

age and household cooking all taking place in tandem. Children

Patna’s city life. Neeraj Goswami had his first exposure to an art-

played with marbles amid the din, and elderly men of different re-

ist’s workshop in one of those shanties, where poor clay-modellers

ligions smoked away the day in brotherly conversation. There was

used to live and perpetuate their trade.

however a big break available close at hand that was serene and beautiful in sharp contrast to this perpetual confusion. A short

The part of Patna, where Neeraj grew up, has retained its old world

walk away was the river Ganges. It served as the real escape for

look even today. Its Muslim population far outnumbered its Hindu

young Neeraj Goswami and the river played a stellar role in his

fraternity and the locality had everything one may need, excepting

life afterwards, in more ways than one.

cleanliness. The narrow and winding lane, its main thoroughfare,

Fig. 2. View of Sabji Bagh lane, Patna, today 4


Fig. 3. Door of their house visible between closed shutters.

Fig. 4 Sabji Bagh lane - another view 5


Fig. 5. Kali temple on the banks of river Ganges

6


Fig. 6. View of river Ganges in Patna, near Sabji Bagh

7


Fig. 7. Photograph of Neeraj’s parents

The family tree of the artist Neeraj Goswami can be traced back

that his family brewed and bottled in their inner courtyard. But

to several generations and through different geographic locations.

that was only the façade, in reality, he was truly devoted to his

Saraswat Brahmin by caste, they once lived in Kashmir on the

scholarly pursuits on the subject of Kashmiri-Saivisim and he

bank of river Saraswati in much earlier days. The clan had to

was also well-versed in tantric spiritual practices. He worshipped

disperse when the sacred river dried up and, for obvious reasons,

Tripurasundari and even initiated his grandson to start worship-

moved down towards the plains in Western and Northern India.

ing the Sri-Yantra, a symbolic representation of tantric origin, at

Neeraj’s branch of family chose to migrate to Sekhawati in Ra-

a relatively early age. Tall and handsome, with a flowing beard he

jasthan and distant relatives still live in those parts of Western

looked the part of the saintly soul. He had quite a large follow-

India. They continue to practice their family-trade which, be-

ing of spiritual aspirants, often referred to as chelas but seldom

sides administering traditional ayurvedic medicine, includes the

failed to advice them to refrain from using his teachings on tan-

study and teaching of scriptures. Well respected by the people

tra for material and personal gains. Neeraj inherited his grandfa-

they served, and rather orthodox in their religious practice, it was

ther’s ability to love and meditate for long periods at night. His

Neeraj’s grandfather who decided to move to the city of Patna, for

grandfather was also a recognized scholar in Sanskrit grammar

reasons not fully understood even today.

and penned some books on Tantra and Sri-Vidya. In spite of all his knowledge, and command over his disciples, the man himself

In order to know about Neeraj it is indeed necessary and even

remained poor all his life and could leave little behind for his

helpful to start with his grandfather. He was a vaid by profession

sons and grandsons.

much like his predecessors in the family, and earned his living as a medicine-man who was well-versed in ayurvedic medicine 8

The real reason for his choosing to migrate to Patna is not known


Fig. 8. Neeraj’s grandfather.

Fig. 9. His bedroom.

nor is known the circumstances behind his choice of a Muslim

his own spiritual realizations. Neeraj had lost his father at a very

neighbourhood to live and practice his trade in Patna. It surely

early age and being his grandfather’s spiritual successor only fol-

was a difficult choice, to put it mildly enough, and more so be-

lowed suit. He was his grandfather’s chosen one.

cause they were strict vegetarian while meat was slaughtered, sold and cooked all along the predominantly Muslim neighbourhood.

The place they lived in is still there in Patna and the youngest

There was yet another inexplicable element in this choice. The

son of the old man still lives there happily with his family. Even

old man, as we now know, was a staunch believer in the Tantric

after more than half a century, the house has not changed much

cult of Indian spiritual discipline and was a recognized master

excepting the fact that it has become nearly impossible to locate.

of conducting Tantric rituals. He would regularly conduct their

The tiny shops on either side of the entrance, with obvious lat-

Sri-Vidya Sadhana behind closed doors at midnight. This neigh-

eral expansion, has entirely occupied its façade leaving only the

bourhood certainly was not an ideal choice for such ‘spiritu-

inconspicuous door that remained barely visible from the nar-

al practices’. But the old patriarch was not one to be deterred.

row lane in front. The weather-bitten woodwork, its lack of a

Neeraj still recalls the tales his grandfather often repeated about

coat of paint has allowed it to blend nicely with its surroundings, 9


making the entrance even more difficult to find. The old man who

four walls was equally unsuitable to the life of the traditionally

came to live here from Rajasthan died long ago but his fame of

orthodox and reasonably wealthy Brahmins that she was earlier

being a good ‘medicine man’ still prevails upon his old neigh-

accustomed to. It is no less difficult to imagine how the match

bours and they readily help anyone interested in enquiring about

was made as his father had a job in Patna with not enough pay

him and will point out the door. Once inside, the tiny and narrow

to match. Perhaps it was the integrity and character of the young

corridor leads one to a small room that once was his bedroom.

man, coupled with the name and fame of Neeraj’s grandfather

Another room of similar dimension lies next to it facing a small

that impressed the family of the bride. Whatever it was, they

inner courtyard. On the other side of the courtyard is a room, now

lived happily in the cramped surroundings with little complaints.

kept locked, where the old a man conducted his Tantric rituals.

Neeraj was the elder of the four siblings that the couple was

The tiny courtyard is flanked on all three sides with taller hous-

blessed with and, as Neeraj recounts fondly enough, he grew up in

es that seem to engulf their punitive neighbour nestling within,

the neighbourhood with happy memories and went to the lone pri-

and make it appear as something even more humble. Even the

mary school of the area. He was fortunate in having a trained artist

sky, visible from the courtyard, appears as if in awe of their more

presiding over it as the principal. Learning to read and write, in

powerful neighbours.

addition to preliminary arithmetic, was augmented by the addition of learning how to draw. Neeraj became quite adept in making his

Neeraj’s mother came from a family with much better fortune. Her

own brushes using wads of torn cloth wrapped around thin sticks

father, Neeraj’s maternal grandfather, owned a number of houses

of bamboo and using the contraption to good effect on the school

in UP besides his own rice-mill. Her family was equally orthodox

wall as his chosen surface. The school soon became aware of the

and also retained the traditional values of a Brahmin household.

artistic talent of the young kid who could win prizes for them in

It is indeed difficult to imagine her as a coy bride happily liv-

local art competitions even at the tender age of six.

ing in the humble and compromising accommodation which her husband’s family did not even own. The world outside of their

Fig. 10. Children playing on the banks of river Ganges today. 10

Neeraj’s early years in Patna were almost free of any significant


happening that would get etched in his memory. His escapades to

talent not only to his higher officials but also the local newspaper.

the river Ganga that flowed nearby offered him free space to play

The remarkably talented display of drawing skills by the young

around with friends and the Kali temple on its banks would draw

toddler made headlines in the next edition of the local newspaper

his family along on festive days. Clay-modellers had their thatched

along with a large photograph of the drawing.

studio on its bank and the little boy would watch their modelling activity for hours together. He was born with skill to draw and an

The family treasured the copy of the newspaper but could not pre-

eye for art even though no other member of his family had inher-

serve it for long. It got lost when the family moved to Delhi in a

ited any such faculty.

couple of years. Neeraj was less than eight-years-old when the shift took place. A good job for his father in Delhi compelled him

Satyajit Ray, the noted film-maker. had made his name with his

to move to the capital city with his young wife and four kids, leav-

Apu trilogy. In the second film of the series, titled Aparajita, he

ing his old parents back in Patna where the old man, Neeraj’s

had filmed a local primary school in which the young boy named

grandfather, continued his tantric sadhana and practice of tradi-

Apu got admitted. The scene depicted the head teacher of the

tional medicine as before.

school running from one end to the other in a desperate attempt to keep the school-yard clean and to maintain some semblance

Life in Delhi, for young Neeraj, was a lot better to start with. His

of orderly atmosphere in the class-room full of noisy children. A

father‘s job in the city assured him of a better pay-packet and

visit of the Official Inspector of Schools, in those days, was a red

ability to provide reasonably decent accommodation and school-

letter day for all the primary school of the State. A good report

ing for Neeraj and his younger brothers. His school soon became

from the visiting dignitary would result in a possible increase in

aware of the artistic skill of the young prodigal and the art-teacher

fiscal grant from the Government and schools always tried to of-

took upon himself the task of developing his talent even further.

fer its best talents on display to impress the official. The veteran

A copy of a self-portrait in oil by Rembrandt, done by Neeraj dur-

film-maker who was still very young when he shot the movie, had

ing his early years in this Delhi school, became the showpiece for

introduced an old cow straying into the school compound followed

Neeraj’s artistic talent (Fig. 11) and the art-teacher would show

by funny antics of the head-man in his desperate attempt to drive

it to all others on every possible occasion. This incidentally was

the cow out as the hour is drawing near for appearance of the

the first time Neeraj tried his hand at oil painting and the result

dreaded inspector of schools.

hardly reveals the artist’s lack of previous training and practice in this difficult medium. It almost appears like he had someone

A similar scene got enacted in Neeraj’s life. The Patna Ratnavati

from within guiding him through uncharted territories since the

Vidya Mandir School, in which young Neeraj got himself admit-

early days of his life. Similar incidents of his facing something

ted at the tender age of four, was chosen by the local Inspector of

new to work with will always result in receiving similar assistance

Schools as his next destination. The school, as expected, geared

coming from within, something Neeraj began to take for granted

up to present its best foot forward for the occasion. Its principal,

and thus seldom felt hesitant in accepting unfamiliar and difficult

Ms. Kumud Sharma, chose to showcase Neeraj’s artistic talent for

tasks all along.

the visual benefit of the visiting dignitary and, under the able supervision of its artist-principal, organized a spot-painting display

The good fortune for the family soon turned into its worst mis-

with Neeraj being the only student chosen for the task. He was

fortune. His father, while on a business trip to Benaras, died in

still not tall enough to reach the writing-board of the class-room

a tragic road accident. The event, in which five people had lost

and a wooden bench was procured for him to stand on and paint

their lives, went unreported and the family got to know about it

on the black surface of the board. Armed with white chalk, and an

long after the local authorities got all the victims’ bodies cremated

elephantine memory, the toddler drew an elephant complete with

incognito. Neeraj was in his early teens, and the family retained

lively details. The obvious drawing skills of the kid impressed

the shock of not only losing their loving father all of a sudden but

the visitor immensely and he reported his discovery of an artistic

they did not even get the chance of performing his last rites. 11


Fig. 11. Copy of Rembrandt’s self-portrait by Neeraj, oil on canvas, 20” x 20”, 1979

A job in the same company for his widowed mother, with less pay

mals for similar publications while continuing his schooling in the

and arranged in haste on compassionate grounds, was the only

same institution.

saving grace and the family survived with little means but without seeking external help. When his father died, leaving the orphaned

Neeraj, known for his artistic skill in school, was equally encour-

family in dire straits, the art-teacher of the school in Delhi came

aged by his mother at home too. It appears, in retrospect, that

forward to help Neeraj to find odd jobs to augment the family

he was destined for an artistic career since childhood. Consid-

income. Neeraj began to draw artistically illustrated alphabets

ering the fiscal difficulties the family was going through it was

for children’s books and soon began to draw birds and other ani-

surely not easy for his mother to encourage her elder son to go

12


to art school. Choice of art as a career offered little guarantee

ing and controlled handling of watercolour in this slightly unfin-

of a steady income the family needed at that time. Neeraj’s past

ished work of art bears all the traits that will re-surface in his art

achievements in art since childhood, and the present efforts by

in its matured phase. Back in 1982 it offered adequate proof of

the young teenager to earn money by illustrating children’s books,

technical maturity and perfectly concealed its creator’s untrained

however helped in consolidating the idea of art to be his chosen

background. G. R. Santosh, who was shown this drawing by young

profession regardless of the difficulties he may have to face in

Neeraj to seek his considered opinion, told him he had nothing to

near future. His late father had already played his role in this

learn at the art school but nevertheless should go ahead and get

choice. He was, contrary to his orthodox upbringing, a man full of

admitted. A good certificate from an art school would help him

modern ideas and once asked his son what he wished to be in the

get a job and he sure needed one. As for his admission into it,

future. Neeraj, as expected, said he wanted to be a painter. His

he had nothing to be afraid of as he possessed more than enough

father, after learning about this choice, took him to the art teacher

skill already.

of his school in Delhi and told Mr. D. Ahluwalia that he was leaving his son to his care and hoped that Neeraj would be trained to become a good painter. Neeraj even got a helping hand from one of his friend’s in the school. His friend’s father, named Gulam Rasool Santosh, was a well-known artist of national fame and Neeraj was advised by his school-friend to show him some of his own creations to seek his advice on how to get admitted to an art school. Young Neeraj struggled for three long days to paint a picture using watercolours on a small piece of paper. It was his first-ever attempt to draw something from memory. This painting of a young aspirant (Fig. 13), as yet untrained in the academic discipline and associated nuances of modern art, bears ample evidence of his true potential which would take a few more decades to attain its desired level of maturity. He drew a picture with three prominent figures engaged in lively conversation. The story depicted is not clear enough but it is philosophical to look at without being obvious about what the story depicts. Expressions in the faces of the three figures vary from visible agony to resigned contemplation and are depicted with unmistakable mastery. Lyrical draw-

Fig. 12. Drawings from his one man show at Summerfields School, 1980 13


Fig. 13. Untitled, water colour (wash) on paper, 10” x 6”, 1980

14


Fig. 13a. Detail

Fig. 13b. Detail

15


Fig. 14. Classroom study, oil on canvas, 14.5” x 16.5”, 1982

16


Fig. 15. Sketch, oil on canvas, 8.5” x 5”, 1985 17


Fig. 16. Classroom study, oil on canvas, 14” x 28”, 1984

Fig. 17. Ellora (college tour), water color, 10” x 14”, 1983 18


Fig. 18. Classroom study, oil on canvas, 48” x 36”, 1985 19


Fig. 19. Classroom study, oil on canvas, 23” x 19”, 1984

20


Fig. 20. Classroom study, oil on canvas, 17.5” x 15.5”, 1982

21


Fig. 21. Sketch, conte on paper, 8” x 12”, 1983

Fig. 22. Classroom study, oil on canvas, 30” x 24”, 1983 22


Fig. 23. Untitled, water color on board, 4” x 4.5”, 1997

23


Fig. 24. Gurudev Sri Swami Guruprasad Paramhansa

24


Growth of India since 1960’s and the formative period of Neeraj Goswami.

Neeraj was born after the humiliation suffered by the country at the hands of its northern neighbour, China, couple of years ago in 1962. During the previous decade, since Independence in 1947, the Indian economy was struggling hard mostly on two fronts. It was forced to organize massive relief and rehabilitation for millions of people that migrated to its welcoming fold after losing their homeland in Pakistan, both on its Eastern and Western border. The next important task for the young nation was to feed its growing millions in addition to building its infrastructure on a solid foundation. Creating indigenous capacity for manufacturing of iron and steel, erecting large dams and reservoirs to augment irrigation, commissioning of large facilities to generate power, among others, was its obvious priority. Not that one would tend to agree wholeheartedly with the method adopted to achieve this goal in those days. Indian political leadership always remained a curious bag of mixed interests that, more often than not, tended to pull each other down. The country’s economy, predominantly agrarian, almost totally depended on a good monsoon and the postwar period with China saw successive failure of monsoon resulting in severe shortage of food grains. Jawaharlal Nehru’s foreign diplomacy centred on his advocacy of ‘Peaceful Co-existence’ and ‘Panchsheel’ doctrine that found few takers among his close neighbours. The war with China happened while the country was still grossly under-prepared militarily and, when Neeraj was born, India’s economic health was still feeling its after-effects. The second Indo-Pak war of 1965 made the situation even worse. Though the military pride of the country did not suffer this time, as it did three years ago with the war against China, there developed a new hindrance to its economic progress. The country, faced with hostile neighbours on all three sides of its border, was forced to spend a lot more than it could then afford to adequately equip its armed forces. Soviet Russia’s disguised ‘aid’ of military hardware, along with American food for aid programme, famously known

25


then as PL 480, intensified its hold over Indian self-esteem. The

had questioned the misuse of Government machinery for election

reach of these socio-political events was, however, limited mostly

purposes and the main opposition parties in India responded with

to the cities in India and did not include little hamlets of self-

a call for nation-wide strikes to paralyze the economy and state

containment that included Patna’s Sabjibagh lane where Neeraj

administration. Jai Prakash Narayan, the veteran leader from Bi-

grew in his early years, during the mid-sixties and early seventies

har, even called for the Army to oust Mrs. Gandhi. That happened

of the twentieth century. Political atmosphere in India, following

in 1975. Indira Gandhi, in her capacity as the Nation’s Chief Ex-

the passing away of Jawaharlal Nehru, began to get heated with

ecutive, advised President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed to declare a

new power centres cropping up a dime a dozen. India’s political

state of Emergency under the Constitution. It allowed the Central

fortune soon got even more complex as the ruling party at the

Government in Delhi to assume sweeping powers to maintain and

national level soon found itself pitted against various parties rul-

defend law and order in the country. Civil liberties and freedom of

ing some of its member states, often with conflicting ideologies.

the press suffered most from such a situation. Non-Congress Gov-

This increasingly complicated power-sharing, however, had little

ernments in Indian States were dismissed, and opposition politi-

effect in the life of those nestled in the narrow alleys of Patna.

cal leaders and activists were promptly imprisoned. Strikes and

What mattered to them was availability of two square meals a day

public protests were outlawed in all forms. There was a palpable

and an opportunity to live a peaceful life. Communal riots during

sense of fear among everyone while, at the same time, efficiency

the sixties were what mattered to them more. A major problem in

in public domain increased noticeably from such an atmosphere of

various parts of India and it almost always led to deadly fights

authoritarian rule. Neeraj lost his father during the days of Emer-

between Hindus and Muslims in the name of religious supremacy.

gency and his struggle for life started since then.

The second Indo-Pak war offered an added dimension of tensions among the followers of these two faiths. Neeraj’s family lived in

Indira Gandhi manipulated the political ambition of her party col-

that corner of Patna that was inhabited by Hindus and Muslims

leagues well and managed to organize a split in the party. Her

in unequal proportions. What was surprising is that religious ani-

own faction, then called Congress (I) party, swept back into power

mosity found no echo in the heart and mind of their neighbours.

with a large majority in January, 1980. Two years later, Neeraj was

Muslims, even with their numerical supremacy in the neighbour-

admitted to the art college in Delhi and was destined to meet his

hood, chose to live in peaceful co-existence and even helped each

spiritual guru while the whole country would watch in horror the

other while the rest of the country often erupted in flames of com-

staging of Operation Blue Star. The increasing insurgency of Sikh

munal hatred. Even during the Third Indo-Pak War of 1971, with

militancy during the previous decade had culminated in the inva-

consequent invasion by India into what was then East-Pakistan,

sion of the Indian Army to storm the Golden Temple of Amritsar

leading to the formation of Bangladesh with Indian military as-

under this coded name. The success of the operation, at best,

sistance, found little agitation in the city of Patna. This was the

was a dubious one and it eventually led to the assassination of

period during which the young Neeraj was transported from the

Indira Gandhi in 1984. The orchestrated massacre of the Sikhs

calm atmosphere of Patna to the mad haste of a growing metropolis

as a retaliatory measure brought life in Delhi, and that in the rest

which also was the capital city of India.

of India, to a standstill. Disquiet and disbelief took the place of neighbourly relations and even affected the campus camaraderie.

Changes were in the air in Delhi as well as in the rest of India.

The political vacuum, caused by the assassination of Indira Gan-

Economic and social problems, as well as allegations of corruption

dhi, soon got filled by her elder son, Rajiv while Neeraj continued

against those enjoying power to rule, caused increasing political

his studentship in Delhi Art College.

unrest across India. While the ongoing success of the Green Revolution had ushered in an era of increasing food-production, the

The Rajiv Gandhi era in Indian Politics coincided with the art-

political scenario began to assume an increasingly bleak future.

school phase of Neeraj Goswami. It also heralded a sweeping

Soon after Neeraj and his family got settled in Delhi, there was

change the country was waiting for. Rajiv Gandhi, for a change,

trouble in the air. The Allahabad High Court, in its ruling of 1974,

was not a career politician and he was also not as old as those who

26


usually occupied the positions of power in the Government so far.

ansa (Fig. 24), who played a key role during this formative phase

He was a technocrat, a commercial pilot by profession, and rep-

of his artistic career.

resented a youthful vigour to replace stagnating thought-process of the older generation of politicians. His youthful appearance

This was a strange occurrence. Life in cosmopolitan Delhi dur-

and unconventional approaches found easy acceptance in the In-

ing the eighties of the twentieth century, and more so among the

dian psyche and it was more so among the new generations. The

angry youth studying modern art of European origin, was hardly

mood found its true reflection in the form of ballot. Rajiv dis-

conducive to encourage such an urge for spiritual communion.

solved the Parliament, went for a fresh mandate and led his party

Neeraj must have inherited the seed from his grandfather. Occa-

to a resounding victory, the largest ever for any political party in

sional visits of his grandfather from Patna to Delhi, to personally

Indian democracy, winning 415 out of 545 seats. Sympathy vote

supervise the well-being of the orphaned family, continued, and

over his mother’s assassination surely was there but his own char-

the bond always remained strong enough. During one such visit of

ismatic leadership without being obvious about it also accounted

his grandfather to Delhi, Neeraj painted a portrait of him in pas-

for a large share of this success. Hope began to fly in the air and

tel on paper (Fig. 25). He used dry pastel and finished the work

rubbed off on the minds of the youth in the country. It lasted for

in oil pastel for a more lasting effect. He was still a student of

several years with gradually diminishing intensity but had man-

the second grade in the art school but the resultant work betrays

aged to usher in significant changes in the world of art as well.

nothing of his age or his status of being still an under-graduate student. The old man is portrayed in the usual three-quarter for-

The series of reform measures, initiated during Rajiv Gandhi’s

mat with light falling on the face from the opposite side to drama-

premiership, was most vital in the field of telecommunications,

tize his high cheekbones and protruding forehead. White flowing

software industry and information technology. What it really did

beard over the burnt-sienna face creates a lovable effect while the

to the life of average Indians was to bring the world a lot closer

piercing eyes, sunk deep inside, allows an easy insight to the pi-

than what it was when one had to wait for years to get something as

ous character of the man portrayed. Skill to depict physiognomic

simple as a telephone connection installed at home. Travel abroad

details with unmistakable likeness is perfectly matched in this

became easier and knowledge about the development in the world

portrait by its artistic handling of academic tools of portraiture

of art in Europe and USA no longer had much of a time lag. In

to which is added a surprisingly matured ability to handle pas-

the earlier days this information took decades to reach India and

tel, a volatile medium not often used by artists to do portraiture.

now one became at par with what was happening outside, knowl-

This portrait and several others done during this period clearly

edge wise. Delhi, the capital city of India, had the obvious edge

establish the degree of Neeraj’s early development and ability to

in reaping the benefit, and thus began the process of the growth

concentrate on a given task.

of Indian contemporary art on its own terms with the sudden leap forward to remain at par with its link to art abroad. It became

Art, since childhood, was his favourite activity and, after his ad-

more independent and increasingly original. Significant changes

mission to art college in Delhi, he took to it like a fish takes to wa-

came about in the political arena, too. Election in 1989 made

ter. One of his teacher’s, in his sophomore year, ordered him to go

Rajiv Gandhi sit in the Opposition. The Bofors scandal made the situation even worse. On 21 st May 1991, while Rajiv Gandhi was

out and sketch human life in and around the vicinity and, ordered

campaigning in Tamil Nadu on behalf of Congress (I), a Liberation

week. Whether the teacher expected the same number of sketch-

Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) female suicide bomber killed him.

es for his visual examination is not known but Neeraj responded

During this period, between 1985 and 1989, Neeraj had held two

by filling twice the number of pages in his sketchbook, and con-

solo shows in Delhi and also began to participate in many group

tinued to do so every week afterwards for years. His sketching

shows in India and abroad. He also completed his graduation,

expeditions, undertaken every day, began early in the morning

followed by his Masters, from the Delhi Art College at the same

and resumed yet again in the afternoon after college hours and

time. It was his spiritual guru, Swami Sri Guruprasad Paramah-

continued till late at night. It allowed him to observe life around

his students to show him a hundred sketches at the end of the

27


Fig. 25. Portrait of Neeraj’s grandfather, dry pastel and oil pastel on paper, 16” x 16.5”, 1984 28


him at different times of the day and that offered enough variety

though Neeraj began to feel increasingly jealous if the girl even

of activities he loved to sketch. Such repeated observations of

talked to someone else in the class. He seemed to genuinely en-

similar activities in frequently visited surroundings had a benefi-

joy the deep pangs of pain he felt on such occasions, and unable

cial effect too. The images got deeply etched in his memory and

to bear the uncertainty any longer, opened his heart to her one

allowed him to recall the same at will in his later years. He used

day. This revelation of love was something much unexpected as

such imagery time and again in developing pictorial compositions.

the girl in question did never view it in the same light and, sure

It also allowed him to experiment freely during his cubism phase

enough, did not share the same intensity of feeling towards him.

in which he displayed a deep understanding of the human body he

She could not appreciate, nor apprehend, the true meaning of this

painted, and distorted at will, so well.

passion and emotion but could not help her tears. The rejection simply shattered him both physically as well as psychologically.

While he did illustration jobs to earn money in his pre-art school

He lost sleep and appetite altogether, life had lost all its meaning

days, he graduated to undertake portrait commissions after his ad-

and purpose for him. He certainly was not a coward wishing to

mission into art college to augment the family income and to pay

commit suicide but was brave enough to welcome the end of life if

for the cost of his art-materials. He, expectedly enough, topped

it happened naturally. It was his mother, a friend for him through

his class in portraiture and soon everybody in the college became

all times, whose constant counselling during that turbulent period

aware of his ability in this branch of art as well. He received

saw him through. It was 1983 and though he recovered enough

summons from his principal one day and was informed about a

to continue his studies at the art college soon enough he with-

portrait commission that the college had received from outside.

drew into himself more and more, confined to a state of loneliness.

A reasonably high payment for the job, if done well, was assured

A sense of increasing detachment from the usual attractions of

but the job came with a rider. The time available was only three

family-life also grew inside him, eventually preparing his inner

days to complete this full-length, life-size, portrait. The task was

self to that of a monk. It was indeed a divine blessing for him that

daunting and no one in the college, including teachers and senior

he was during this time already a disciple of his guru and thus

students who were already sounded for the commission, dared to

could fall back on his advice and follow ‘his’ spiritual directives.

take it up. Neeraj seized the opportunity, worked for three days

His mental condition remained at a critical juncture for the next

without a wink, and finished the job on time. He also did it much

two years, up until his graduation in 1985. During this period

better than expected, executed the full-length portrait of Sant Ha-

he immersed himself in doing rapid drawings in watercolour that

ridas with mesmerizing detail, and was awarded adequately for his

faithfully reveals his state of mind.

labour. It also helped in reinforcing his self-confidence. Initially needed for display during the inauguration of a music program

A random sampling of a few works of this period (Fig. 26–37),

me, arranged in honour of the Saint, this painting is still available

reproduced here, are chosen not for being any superior in quality

for viewing in Vrindavan.

as almost all works of this period reveal an equally intense ‘expressionism’ in a style that reveals little indebtedness to others

Disaster followed soon afterwards. He was still in his third year

in the field. His loaded brush, with sweeping strokes of colour

of college, and as chance would have it, fell in love with a senior

applied without any pre-conceived ideas, actually reveals his pri-

student. The girl in question was older by a couple of years, beau-

vate tales of angst and mistrust in dripping paint and contrasting

tiful with a friendly manner, and loved to go out with Neeraj on

hues. Hints of figures emerge in some, and get submerged in an

sketching expeditions that was not always confined to sketching

ocean of nothingness in many other works while revealing, in a

alone! They felt happy together and that triggered the blossoming

few at least, the constructed visual of the source of his sorrow

of love in young Neeraj who began to feel increasingly tormented

and pain. It is the pain that a log waits to receive when the axe of

for not knowing whether his lady-love shared the same feeling

the wood-cutter gets up above to descend with a savage blow. It

towards him. This involvement or infatuation was confined only

is the same pain that an inflated balloon, about to explode under

in his mind and any physical response was not even thought of

its rising pressure of air blowing within, will feel. In one of these 29


works, emerges a man, denuded and bending under the burden of

The internal turmoil of Neeraj Goswami, between 1983 and 1985,

his own coffin where he is ill feted to carry himself, and finds his

also found its echo in the socio-political life in Delhi and the rest

pain reverberating all around him in sweeping red paint. In a few

of India. It however did not stop Neeraj from coming out at the top

more of such works the ‘romanticism’ of a youthful heart has pain-

of his class, in his graduation examination. This was followed by

fully dissected human shapes in order to get to the meaning of life

him joining his old school in Delhi as its art teacher, a job he gave

contrasted with death. It was in 1984 when he penned a few lines

away soon enough. While still a teacher in this school he also fell

to the same effect. It is a small poem that defies its smallness.

seriously ill. In all probability this illness had resulted after years

He wrote:

of suppressing his mental tensions. His health worsened soon enough and he was hospitalized for treatment. Eventually he re-

Darkness descended.

covered from his physical sufferings but did not return to the life of a school-teacher. He simply chose to go and seek mental solace

Engulfed the tips of nerves

and went straight to his Guru’s ashram in Jamshedpur to embrace the life of a regular monk. Inside the sublime surroundings of this

Clogged ends inflated

spiritual haven he was gently counselled by Guruprasad Paramahansa to go back and join the MA course in fine art that was being

And burst into flames of passion

initiated in Delhi Art College the same year. His guru advised him not to flee away from the hustle and bustle of life but to learn how

Air whistled a song unheard A tingling sound, an ecstatic breath And deep below the layers of wood Something stirred A hidden thought which grew With the reverberations in the dark valleys of matter Eyes moved out of the sockets

best to translate his own spiritual findings in line and colour and thus to encourage others in real life. His guru kept him at the ashram for a month and personally taught him how to get immersed in deep meditation with their kriyas. This ancient practice of ajapayoga prepared him to regain his intellectual stability and peace of mind. Neeraj came back to Delhi and, as commanded by his Guru, joined Delhi Art College to do his Masters. The country by then was suffering equally from the turmoil of political disorder that was assuming serious magnitude in every passing week. The Naxalite movement, originated almost simultaneously in Bengal and Andhra Pradesh in the early seventies of the 20th century, initially the movement had the concerns of farm labourers

And fell into deep caverns

in mind. A section of radical intellectuals of the Communist Party

To be lost forever

armed struggle aiming for total liberation, Castro style. It advocat-

Inflated balloon

remained confined to the hostile terrains in the forested corridor

in India hijacked the movement and were able to turn it into an ed guerrilla warfare to oust the state machinery and its activities that run between the states of Bengal and Orissa and reached

Exploded to reveal

the adjoining forests in Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh; quite a sizeable area under operation and often

A thousand tiny crystals

frequented by an army of dacoits. Strangely enough, the movement did manage to strike a deeply sympathetic chord among a large

And a beam of light.

section of city students as well as the young and equally disillusioned intellectuals.

30


Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi assumed the role of a

study of his art, in his matured phases, demonstrates this curious

think-tank for the movement and its tentacles reached all teaching

phenomenon of his growth as a sensitive tool of picture-making,

institutions, Art College in Delhi was no exception.

an instrument that translates effortlessly the thoughts and images growing within into an art of immense sensibility.

Developments that took place in the world of contemporary art in post-Independent India were no less interesting. It also defied the usual logic that economic prosperity of a country and its artistic pro-activity is mutually inclusive. The Government of India could hardly afford major funding for art projects in those days, and yet it’s central institution of visual art, the Lalit Kala Akademi of Delhi, did a marvellous job of energizing its art fraternity to develop its own identity, both individual and collective, during the first three decades after Independence. Even the combined effect of the ongoing food-shortage, dependence on foreign aid, spiralling inflation and depreciation of the rupee, dictated to it, peaking of corruption at all levels and disintegration of political power, among other problems. This could not dampen the spirit of artists of this era. Seniors born before Independence, and those born in Independent India but older than Neeraj, accepted the leadership of the Lalit Kala Akademi. Prizes won in its annual exhibitions, because of its genuine interest in selecting the best in those days, brought the recipients of the award into the limelight with justifiable merit. Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai had their regional activities in the field and lack of fiscal patronage did not deter the spirit of the artists at work with little facilities in those days. The position of authority enjoyed by the Akademi began to decay from the early eighties, while a major change began to germinate in the profile of art patronage in India. Emergence of more art galleries, coupled with growth of private art collections, was the logical fallout of the country’s economic prosperity. Unfortunately, it also took the artists away from the Government controlled Lalit Kala Akedemi. This pillar of modern Indian art remained stagnant with artists of questionable merit dominating the proceedings. This loosening of moral authority, so far witnessed in the sociopolitical arena, began to get manifested in art and culture too. Any sensitive student of art, Neeraj included, could hardly escape the rapidly mushrooming cloud of gloom and despair. The all pervading sense of moral despondency, coupled with internal sense of loss in love, made Neeraj wish to end it all, by the easy way available. To give up art, altogether, was an obvious choice but he was persuaded to continue with it by forces hidden deep inside him. A 31


Fig. 26. Untitled, water color and ink on paper, 10.5� x 8.5�, 1988

32


Fig. 27. Untitled, photo color on paper, 11.5� x 9.5�, 1984

33


Fig. 28. Untitled, photo color on paper, 12.5� x 4.5�, 1983 34


Fig. 29. Head, water proof ink on paper, 10” x 8.5”, 1985

35


Fig. 30. Untitled, water color and ink on paper, 6.5� x 9.5�, 1985

36


Fig. 31. Untitled, water proof ink on paper, 10” x 8.5”, 1987

37


Fig. 32. Untitled, water proof ink on paper, 7” x 5”, 1985 38


Fig. 33. Untitled, water color and ink on paper, 13� x 10�, 1988

39


Fig. 34. Untitled, water color and ink on paper, 10� x 8�, 1988 40


Fig. 35. Untitled, water proof ink on paper, 10” x 8”, 1988 41


Fig. 36. Untitled, water proof ink on paper, 10.5” x 14.5”, 1988

42


Fig. 37. Untitled, water proof ink on paper, 8.5” x 10.5”, 1988

43


Fig. 38. Neeraj with Gurudev in his inner sanctum

Fig. 39. Neeraj in Ashram (Rishi Mandir) 44


Spiritual initiation in life and its gradual growth of influence in Neeraj’s art.

Neeraj, since childhood, had always found himself reasonably well-established as an accomplished artist, and this trend continued while he pursued his graduation in the Delhi Art College. Neeraj’s grandfather, who was very fond of his talented grandson, always considered him to be his spiritual heir but did not live long enough to be able to transfer his spiritual wealth in their tantric cult fashion. It was left to his uncle to take Neeraj to his own guru for this purpose. Very little is known about this uncle who, apart from being very fond of his young artist nephew, also served the important purpose of initiating Neeraj in spiritual path. It changed his life, not instantly but in almost a pre-determined and steady pace during the last three decades, perhaps a little more. Neeraj first had a glimpse of his guru, in 1982, playing cricket in front of their ashram, at Kanpur. He was almost the same age as him, in his early twenties, and had a wide-ranging interest in earthly matters that however did not conceal his unusual spiritual powers. In their first meeting the same day, Neeraj knew he had met his pathfinder and felt a strange calmness dawning within, and at the same instant submitted himself to his guru. Neeraj came back to Delhi with an assurance that his guru, from now on, will watch his every action as he is accompanying him from within, not physically but through a manifested spirituality. No act of his will, from now would take place if not wished and authorized by the guru who, Neeraj had ample reason to believe was residing in his heart. There are many different branches of Indian holy men or sanyasis as they are usually known, and each has his own way of preaching and practicing to prepare the self to attain the ultimate. Though the end result expected is the same, the path to achieve this is various and often kept a closely guarded secret revealed only by the guru to his initiated disciples. Even the degree of intimacy between the guru and his disciple hardly remains the same with all 45


his disciples as only the guru knows who, among his chosen dis-

vowed never to take part in Akademi’s shows, a promise he has

ciples, is the most suitable to receive it in full. The particular cult

religiously kept till date. He however took the courage and sub-

to which Neeraj and his gurukul belong to is shrouded in mystery.

mitted the same painting on being invited to the Bhopal Biennial

It is usually referred by them, known only after repeated prod-

the same year and, to his utter amazement, found it winning an

ding, as ajapa-yog. The word japam is an age-old spiritual prac-

award in the prestigious show for the same entry. It was not a small

tice in which the disciple, without moving the lips is obliged to

achievement for a new entrant in the competitive art market. Soon

repeat some words dictated once by the guru during the initiation

afterwards another large painting, an oil on canvas, was acquired

and considered as sacred. It is the privilege of the guru to decide

for the National Collection by the selection committee of the Na-

what will be those words, and the disciple has to keep this mool-

tional Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi. His next important

mantra a close secret, never to disclose to anybody. Normally the

show took place in 1989, a year after completing his MFA, when

disciples do undertake this practice of japam early morning, when

K.S. Kulkarni invited him to show with him and Nirja Verma,

dawn enlightens the day and again in the evening when the day-

jointly at the Jehangir Gallery of Mumbai. He showed mostly the

light fades out to usher in the night. The ajapa-yoga practice of

works he did in the Art College and received more than expected

Neeraj’s guru involves a closely-guarded secret technique and its

response from enthusiastic collectors. He sold all he showed at

virtue consists in the fact that it enables one to feel the japam tak-

this exhibition, and the money realized from the sale allowed him

ing place inside the heart without any conscious effort of the cho-

to buy a studio space outside the city in the neighbouring town

sen disciple. Theirs is a slightly different path of spirituality as

of Sahibabad.

they, instead of worshipping a deity or an idol, worship only their guru who is omni-present since the time immemorial. Each of the

This was followed by another solo at the Vadhera Gallery in Del-

gurus in their cult trace their descent from the ancient order of

hi. While his paintings received more than expected reception in

the seven sages and the power of the guru gets transmitted to his

Mumbai, the same could not be said about the show at Vadhera Art

chosen successor for the benefit of mankind. Those initiated into

Gallery. Neeraj, soon after winning a research grant from the gov-

this cult receive the ajapa technique that guides them to spiritual-

ernment, felt rather free from the economic hardship that was the

ity and connects them with their guru. Neeraj, being initiated into

constant companion of the family till then. He was invited to join

this cult-practice, did take to it in right earnest to begin with. The

the faculty of the Dehi Art College, teaching MFA students was

urge for spiritual solace, however, intensified within him several

far from easy for young Neeraj. Many of his students were senior

years later and the reasons were equally painful for him. It also

to him in age, while a few more had their ego coming in between

brought about a major change in his artistic style and output, and

in accepting him as their teacher. He however took the task rather

will be discussed separately.

seriously and continued teaching for the next four years.

In 1985 while continuing his BFA from Delhi Art College, he was

Life in Delhi for the young painter-teacher soon assumed an

invited by an important group of established artists in the city

enjoyable routine. He would take a bus ride from his studio at

to exhibit a ‘solo’, in their studio. The Delhi Silpi Chakra was

Sahibabad in the morning, after a quick breakfast from the near-

then headed by Jagmohan Chopra; Paramjit Singh and Anupam

by eateries, and reach Art College at eleven. In the afternoon,

Sud, among others, were its active members. It was a matter of

after finishing teaching, he would take in an exhibition or two

honour for him to be invited as it also reveals the admiration of

in the neighbouring galleries of the Lalit Kala Akademi and at

his seniors for his art while he was still a student. Anupam Sud

the Sridharani and then go back to his studio to resume paint-

took the initiative and the show met with considerable success

ing. His late night spiritual practice, that would often engage him

with some of his works bought by artists and critics. Encouraged

the whole night, was not uncommon and was catalyzing a subtle

by its success he submitted couple of his works for selection at

change in his art with a slow yet steady pace. In the next ten years,

the Lalit Kala Akademi’s annual show in 1988 and his submitted

between 1991 to 2000, he held ten solos to keep his promise made to

works were summarily rejected. He felt utterly discouraged and

his guru.

46


Fig. 40. Cover of invitation card for Delhi Silpi Chakra show 47


Gallerie Ganesha was his chosen gallery during the nineties and

try. BJP led coalition Government that came to power in 1998

it continued to reap the benefit of showing Neeraj Goswami ev-

conducted India’s first ever successful experiment of detonating a

ery year for ten long years. Printed catalogues of shows organized

nuclear bomb. It brought questionable prestige to India’s military

during this eventful decade, however, was not thought of and a

and otherwise progress. It also ushered an era of economic sanc-

photographic record of Neeraj’s paintings that were put on show

tion for the Western group of countries led by the USA. The last

was also not kept. It is therefore not an easy task to reconstruct

Indo-Pak War, more famously known as Kargil war, erupted the

the changes that took place in his art during this period. This will

following year in 1999. India’s population reached the one billion

have to be attempted, and done in the next chapter, by depending

mark. Terrorism emerged in India with its ugly face and terrible

on whatever photography Neeraj has done on his own, and never

might with bomb blasts taking place in leading cities like Mum-

with any systematic approach to keep a visual archive of his own

bai, New Delhi, Jaipur, Bengaluru and Hyderabad with unwanted

artistic progress.

frequency. The country’s economic progress, in spite of all such road-blocks, continued to maintain its above eight percent growth

Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination took place in 1991. The following

on an average and so did the level of corruption at all levels.

year witnessed an even more sinister incident when a violent

The art market, so far insulated from the national mainstream be-

mob, orchestrated by saffronized political parties, demolished the

cause of its elitist background, suddenly was sucked into it. Con-

Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. The Godhra massacre and anti-Muslim

temporary art soon became an instrument of negotiable currency

riots in Gujarat took many innocent lives and shocked the coun-

and worthy of investment with a promise of many-fold return not

Fig. 41. Untitled, water color ink on paper, 9” x 13.5”, 1984 48


Fig. 42. Untitled, water proof ink on paper, 7” x 10.5”, 1984

feasible in bank deposits and company equity. Prices of art works

it, a princely sum for a new entrant in the field in those days, and

reached astronomical proportions and those artists, smart enough

for the first time in his life felt a free-from-worry feeling with his

to beat their own drums loud and clear, reaped enormous benefit.

new-found wealth. He also managed to get out of the spell of his lost love by then, thanks to his Guru’s continuing counselling and

Neeraj continued to live in Delhi to witness politics at the nation-

by his own effort of meditative practices taught to him. A new

al level taking such dramatic turnarounds but remained, by and

phase in his life was about to dawn. He soon got married.

large, somewhat untouched by its turbulence. Events of the outer world seldom held the same attraction for him as did personal

A marriage they say happens in heaven and is consummated here

realizations obtained through frequent and deep meditation. The

on earth. It became literally true in Neeraj’s own life. He got mar-

economic success of the country, after four decades of relatively

ried to a girl he had not seen before, well almost. He was asked

independent growth, was also making life easier for a section of its

to go and see her at her Aunt’s house in Hissar, a small town in

citizens. Several art galleries cropped up in Delhi, Mumbai and

Haryana. The life story of his wife-to-be, Renu, was almost identi-

Kolkata and artists no longer were dependent on the patronage

cal as she too suffered from losing her father at the tender age of

of the Government agencies, alone. Gallerie Ganesha in Delhi,

eight. Renu’s father, a doctor by training had settled in Rajasthan,

owned by Mrs. Sobha Bhatia, had roped in both Neeraj and Paresh

and much like Neeraj’s father could leave very little to support

to its exclusive fold. The artistic output of Neeraj, done in his

for his wife and kid, and the family had to depend on others to

Sahibabad studio, constituted his first solo at Gallerie Ganesha in

survive. It was her aunt, the younger sister of her mother, who

1991 and was a total sell-out. He received one lakh rupees from

brought them to Hissar, where the mother and daughter lived and

49


50


Fig. 43. Two early catalogues of exhibitions by Gallerie Ganesha, New Delhi, dedicated to Swami Guruprasad Paramahansa.

helped in the running of the large household in whatever way they

family life was full of happiness, something far more sinister was

could. Neeraj’s uncle knew his bride’s family well and acted as

brewing around the corner.

the match-maker. Both the families were eager that they get married soon, which they did as desired, and the happily married

His pictorial style was getting consolidated over the fertile bed of

young couple began to live in the small house in Sahibabad which

his self-realization that was the outcome of his spiritual life. He

also doubled as his studio as before.

never felt it necessary to keep this part of his very private life out of the public gaze, and even dedicated all his shows to the life

Gallerie Ganesha, encouraged by the success of his first solo,

and teachings of his spiritual guru, and proudly printed the same

requested Neeraj to follow it up with more shows and the artist

on the cover of thin brochures and invitation cards of all his solos

responded by producing enough works to exhibit ten solos in this

since 1990. It is however sad to note that in ‘post-independent

gallery between 1990 and 2002. From the sale proceeds of his

and modern India’ the word spiritualism had suddenly acquired

next three solos he purchased an apartment in New Delhi and

a status of questionable acceptance among a section of intellec-

shifted to in 1995. Eight years later, in 2003, he bought another

tuals. A few critics and curators, since the dawn of the present

apartment in the city and converted it into a new studio for him-

millennium, had consistently displayed their lack of enthusi-

self. His daughter, Deveshi, was born in 1993 and he was blessed

asm for Neeraj and his art and the real reason for Neeraj seldom

with a second child, a son, four years later in 1997. While his

getting the importance due to him in the world of contemporary 51


Fig. 44. Photograph of Neeraj’s wife Renu, son Nimay and daughter Deveshi, 1999

Indian art, is often attributed to his spiritual devotion without tak-

Offerings

ing into account his artistic strength. What is even more interesting to note is that art of a few he had clearly inspired in the previ-

from dew to the heavens

ous decade got their enthusiastic support while Neeraj remained somewhat ignored.

from a drop to the oceans

‘May I sing an ode to my Guru’, wrote Neeraj, on the frontispiece

mind numb with wonder

of an impressive album in which he took great pains to compile a selection of his works created since 1982. His occasional foray

“Mountain Silver” reaching the sky

in writing poetry, mostly in English, also had its own merit and this one is simply outstanding. He titled his own album ‘pebbles in time/Neeraj Goswami/1982 – 2003’ and wrote before proceeding to look beyond, as he promised to himself in the poem above, he wisely thought it necessary to chronicle his art over the last two decades, since 1982, the year he got admitted into Delhi Art College. In a way this was his humble attempt to put the record straight for all concerned on what he had done so far and how organic his development in art was. It also helps in study52

of Cobalt, Cerulean, Indigo bright flowing streams of love – compassion ethereal white. May I take a dip!


What beauty - what bliss

inaugurated in Delhi, in 2007, and his enthusiastic admirers assembled in fairly large numbers at the exhibition site to clearly

May I cling to the lotus feet

demonstrate its reach and excellence. Neeraj had to agree to the request of the owners of Gallery Aicon, who were responsible for

Through the parched arid deserts

sponsoring the show in their American gallery, to suspend sale as more than half of his works were sold out at the preview and

of passion

demand for more was on the rise. This show, more than its obvious benefits of sale proceeds, helped in cementing three important

the quagmire of desires

facts about Neeraj. The upward curve of his stylistic excellence, resulting organically through a continuity of thought-process was

May I tread slowly with his palm on my crown May I open my eyes and look beyond.

one while his ability to transfer his spiritual orientation in terms of visual metaphor was the obvious second. The third and by far the most important of the three facts about him and his art, was his unique place in Indian contemporary art which, apart from him, there were few takers who would be willing to paint their thoughts concerning the spiritual in art.

ing the nature and intensity of his influence over his contemporaries who exhibited admiration for his style without realizing its spiritual depth. ‘It all began with an elephant I drew when I was five years old – the elephant grew to be a mystic and the mystic has gone deep into meditations’ wrote Neeraj in a rare gesture of analytical monologue. ‘Maya beckons and reveals – “I am the veil of ignorance and hide the fountain of bliss. I am the illusion – if I am not there the truth will shine in all its brilliance of beauty and bliss...” I bend myself and a plethora of images surround me – they combine to create hitherto unknown rhythms and I become a humble being – words fail me – the pilgrimage begins’. Neeraj’s next important solo, and a fairly large one, was held in New York in 2007. He took two and a half years preparing for it and, in between, he went on a study tour to Europe and Mexico. His appreciation for the large murals of Sequiras and Orozco would resurface in a different perspective much later but, for this solo, there was nothing external in his works. This impressive body of works including several very large canvases was shown in a hired old house at Lutyens’ Delhi before being dispatched for American shores. It also served the purpose of proving, though not necessarily aimed for the same, to his critics the perspective in which his art grew. The show became the talk of the town when 53


Fig. 45. Apparition, oil on canvas, 6” x 6”, 1994

54


Fig. 46. Performers, oil on canvas, 16” x 14”, 1992

Fig. 47. Untitled, oil on canvas, 10” x 18”, 1990 55


Fig. 48. Untitled, oil on canvas, 11” x 18”, 1990

Fig. 49. Vision, oil on canvas, 15” x 11.5”, 1994 56


Fig. 50. Happening, oil on canvas, 19” x 21”, 1993

57


Fig. 51. Reminiscence, oil on canvas, 18” x 12”, 1993 58


Fig. 52. The Mask, water color (tempera) on paper, 16� x 10.5�, 1994 59


Fig. 53. Nostalgia, oil on canvas, 15” x 13”, 1996

60


Fig. 54. Untitled, oil on canvas, 6” x 6”, 1995

61


Fig. 55. Play, oil on canvas, 66” x 57”, 1994

62


Fig. 56. Memoirs, oil on canvas, 21” x 20”, 1996

63


Fig. 57. Are You Ready, oil on canvas, 36” x 26”, 1996 64


Fig. 58. Begining Of Another Day, oil on canvas, 71” x 73”, 1996

65


Fig. 59. The Relic, oil on board, 7” x 10”, 1998

66


Fig. 60. The Odyssey, oil on painted fabric, 21” x 36”, 1996

67


68


Part 2

Neeraj and His Art

69


Fig. 61. In Space, oil on board, 9.2” x 8.2”, 2007

70


‘For me subjects do not matter. What matters is the complete visual form and the visual experience of that form. Titles are given after I complete the works just to facilitate the viewer to connect with the work of art, so that he or she can associate themselves with the painting and then experience the hidden meaning in the form.’

- Neeraj Goswami

1. The development of modern art in India did not follow the same pattern of evolution as it did in the land it originated from. In fact it took a diametrically opposite route to reach the post-modern era we are in today. A short dissection of this history is required to gain a better understanding of Neeraj’s art. This will explain why he remains religiously faithful to the use of paint and brush on canvas, instead of using materials associated with the making of visual art that is considered to be ultra-modern, or even altermodern. His obsessive concentration on spiritual content in art is yet another aspect that one needs to understand well, in order to decode his visual metaphors and symbolic narration of personal feelings. In the West, starting with France, the modernism in art came about mainly by opposing the stranglehold of academic art patronized by the ruling elite. Since Renaissance, a painting was visualized as an open window to visualize the world lying beyond, and receding in a vanishing perspective. It started with Cimabue introducing a life-like feeling in the art of storytelling. Till then it followed the age-old flatness and stylized portrayal of biblical subjects. Giotto elevated the biblical characters with a feeling of life, and introduced space and perspective for the first time; this opened up the ‘window’ conception in art. It was a revolutionary idea that brought about a three-dimensional illusion on a two-dimensional surface. It also allowed the artists of the Renaissance era to create an imitation of life that in turn helped usher in the era of humanism in art. In the 14 th century we find Florentine art struggling to perfect the idea of perspective. Then comes Leonardo who introduced elements of inner emotion and intense feeling in his characterizations to add an extra dimension. And over the next 50 years, art 71


was levelled to real life, and this managed to humanize its content

elimination of paintings in public places and, at the same time,

and purpose. The golden era in Western art gave way to Mannerists

encouraged the growth of an art form that utilized the painterly

and Neoclassicism, a couple of centuries later when art became

skill of a few selected artists, who were lucky enough to receive

the tool of the ruling aristocracy. It was employed by the elite as

the patronage of the Mughal Durbar. They worked in tandem with

a tool through which, they could portray their wealth and power

artists imported from Persia. The religious taboo of Islam against

over the life of the rest. This diktat was mainly exercised through

image-making in any form was the norm in society at large and

the established academies of art that functined with Royal consent

the glory of Mughal Art was strictly kept limited for the exclusive

and authority. Courbet fought hard to challenge the rule of the

perusal of the ruling elite only. Art in India, for its own popula-

academia, almost single-handedly with his concept of Realism.

tion, barely existed.

The battle for an alternative school of thought on art continued with Edouard Manet taking a leading role in the 19th century, in

The growth of ‘Mughal miniature painting’ continued from 15th to

Paris. Even then art remained obsessed with the artistic skill of

19th century, with its rise and fall in conformity with the rise and

creating life-like images and the hiding of brush-strokes in order

fall of the mighty Mughal Empire. The situation turned even worse

to accentuate the illusion of reality in the work of art.

under the two centuries of British rule during which a concerted attempt was made by the colonial rulers to erase India’s own her-

Modernists, like Cezanne for instance, reacted against this prac-

itage in art and architecture, aiming to establish supremacy of

tice by deliberately making the brushstrokes visible, to destroy all

Britain in every aspect of life in India including art and culture.

possible falsification, and to emphasize the fact that a painting is

The spread of education among its Indian subjects, along with

‘made’ of paint on a flat surface. The revolutionary contribution

proliferation of printed books, allowed the colonial rulers to firm-

of Cezanne to the growth of modern art is his deliberate attempt

ly establish this systematic spread of intentional disinformation

to close the ‘window’ concept by removing the hint of vanishing

among the ‘educated’ Indians; who, in absence of visible proof of

perspective. Dadaism thereafter explored the element of chance

their own artistic heritage, had accepted this as gospel truth. This,

in the making of art. In the field of sculpture, so far confined to

in a nutshell, was the scenario when art schools were established

static mass and shaped volume, it was Calder who opened up the

in the four corners of India by its British rulers.

possibility of using space as a changing backdrop for the viewer to appreciate sculpture. ‘Swift as drawing and witty as cartoon, his

The East India Company of Great Britain, was busy plotting and

mobiles represent an extreme delicacy in balance along with the

planning to rule India forever. So, the original intention of estab-

grace of movement of a ballerina improvising her dance’.

lishing art schools in the country was to train skilled draughtsmen who could faithfully draw and paint the likeness of objects

While so much was happening in the art of Europe, the scene in

to document India’s economic wealth. The directors of the East

India was far from encouraging. We now know of the existence of

India Company never visited India and thus there was a need to

a golden era in Indian art, in the past, but it was totally forgotten

visually document every aspect of this country. So from the flora

to both ruler and the ruled, because of all that was happening in

and fauna, its demographic character, its various modes of trans-

the Western art world, during the post-Renaissance period. Art

portation, its economic trading pattern and suitable products with

in India had lost its vital link to its past heritage. The peak of its

consequent potential of profitable exploitation, to its religion and

magnificence can still be viewed on the walls of the Ajanta and

festivities; it was all documented to aid in the formulation of the

Ellora, which remained firmly hidden under a thickly forested

EICo’s policies. Such attempts to engage local artists by the Brit-

curtain of oblivion, and so was its attainment in architecture and

ish administrators, for this purpose was being practiced in select

art of sculpture in stone and other mediums. Muslim rulers saw

cities of India leading to the formation of the ‘Company School’

to its systematic destruction wherever possible and managed to

in Kolkata and other cities like Patna and Lucknow, Delhi and

declare their own supremacy in the field by raising edifices of

Chennai. There already was a steady stream of migrating artists

their own. Religious compulsions eventually led to the gradual

(mainly Mughal vintage) but rendered jobless due to decline of

72


the Mughal ruling power in Delhi, to the emerging power-cen-

2.

tres like Kolkata. The increase in the spread of the British rule

The formative years of Neeraj Goswami follows two distinct phas-

in Indian territories had resulted in a manifold increase of this

es. What he learned before and after joining art school. This may

need, and institutions were thus required to train many more art-

be seen as one continuous curve with an ascending pattern. His

ists for this purpose. A close look into the course curriculum,

second stage of learning came about after his initiation into spiri-

in art schools in India in the nineteenth century, will reveal the

tualism at a relatively early age. During this phase he learned,

overall importance given on acquisition of skill in Academic art

almost without being taught, how to inject personal emotion in his

traditions like copying faithfully from archaeological relics, the

art. He did it by first learning how to draw, realistically.

study of foliage and fauna, faithful exactitude of physical characteristics of inert as well as living objects. The ability to draw

‘Beginning from my school days in the Summerfields School of

and paint with absolute faithfulness was the single-minded aim

Kailash Colony in New Delhi, after my father’s death in April

of its students and they learned the use of various mediums like

1979, I immersed myself deeply in painting. I had started think-

watercolour and oil to do this. Lithography and other mediums of

ing about death, felt slowly attracted towards nature, began to

print-making like etching and aquatint, wood engraving and lino-

see things that I had no inkling about earlier. I realized, I had

cuts were also taught, along with the newly invented technique of

immense capabilities for realistic (academic) work. In my school

photography, and served the need of producing multiple copies of

I skipped classes and was always in the Art Room studying and

realistic images that they drew and painted. It took more than two

copying the Renaissance masters. My teacher Mr. D Ahluwalia

decades of such art training before any significant shift is noticed

provided me with colour and art materials and I was free to paint

in the course-curricula of these art schools towards inculcating an

all day without any interference. Rembrandt was my favourite

appreciation of art among its students.

painter. I copied his self-portraits (Fig. 11) and other works in oil. Later on in college, I admired Michelangelo for his mastery over

The history of art education in India easily offers a minefield of

anatomy, Velasquez, Caravaggio, Vermeer, Rubens, Leonardo and

information illustrating the colonial obsession towards cementing

others. For me Renaissance was the greatest movement and period

the idea, among the Indians, to reject everything Indian in art

of the culmination of artistic achievement’.

in favour of learning Western Academic art. What is even more significant is the fact that those recruited in UK to head these art

Neeraj wrote this self-analytical statement when asked about his

schools in India were not trained at the Royal College of Art or

influences received during his formative period. He was firmly

similar art institutions, but were alumni of the Kensington School

committed to perfecting his drawing skill all through his art col-

of Design. It resulted in introducing in local art schools an infe-

lege days. He also believed in the importance of artistic mastery

rior version of academism. It took several decades (and not until

of academic skills and that learning to ‘draw’ well was the key

the reign of these institutions were handed over to local artists

towards further explorations in art. His life in art started earlier

who though trained in European art were able to develop their

and a few of his early exploits are worth recalling once again.

originality within the academic confinement) that changes began to appear in India, and that began the attempt to embrace mod-

His first solo show took place even before his admission to art

ernism in art. Suitable changes in art school curriculum, however,

school. It materialized in the art room of the Summerfields School

remained confined towards the same academism that was thrust

when he was a student in class nine. By then this young pupil had

upon it by foreign rulers.

already won many prizes in local art competitions and this one man show still did not bring his artistic talent into the limelight. But it did, however, have far reaching consequences. It cemented the introvert in him, and the whole school began to admire him for the same and left him alone. He was free to pursue his passion, to draw, paint and neglect class-room teachings in all other subjects. 73


Soon enough he graduated into tormenting his own physique as if

pastry shop. Another shop nearby Lokenath and Company, dealing

to punish himself for remaining alive while his father, whom he

in clothes, bought his copy of Rembrandt for display in their shop

loved so dearly, had to die in such tragic circumstances. He felt

and its owner, named Motilal Khanna, paid him with clothes that

like he was in the eye of the storm while the world whirled around

Neeraj was free to choose from the shop’s overflowing shelves.

at bewildering speed. One saving grace for him was the love for

In his final year at Summerfield School, in class twelve, Neeraj

his mother and younger brothers, and he knew he had to do some-

did a painting in mixed-media, measuring seven feet by four, and

thing to make their lot a bit happier. The intensity of his night long

named it ‘Starvation’. This picture drew the attention of quite a

study sessions that used to happen every year just a week before

few and resulted in his being interviewed on local television as

school examinations ensured that he always managed to qualify

well. What was of even more importance was his one man show

for the next round of battle. Be it in the class room or in real life,

in school and his meeting with Saradindu Sen Roy, a veteran art-

where he became good enough to earn money using his acquired

ist in Delhi with a name to match. He noticed, during a visit to

skills to draw and paint. Very little of those early illustrations of

the school, the young boy’s work on show at the art room. He was

birds and animals, meant for children’s books, have survived but

very impressed and encouraged him with very kind words. The

it offers ample proof of his dual characteristics. Neeraj was an

old artist also advised him not to fall for the lure of abstract art

introvert with a romantic bent of mind ready to sacrifice his self

but to continue studying nature in line and colour. Success in art

in search of illusive perfection. But, he was also a man his family

materializes only after mastering one’s tools of the trade, advised

could depend on to the core, ever since he was fifteen and he was

the old man.

destined to become an artist by winning over all odds. Neeraj found ample opportunity to follow this advice in the art Neeraj was fortunate throughout his career and received patron-

college of Delhi as Academic discipline was still the basic force

izing support from his art teachers. It was Ms. Sharma who offered

that dictated its course structure, a hangover of its colonial past

him encouragement in his primary school days in Patna and even

that, however, served him well. Among many he learned under,

arranged a display of his artistic skills for the visual benefit of

the name of Mr. Vijaymohan stands out. in their sophomore year,

the visiting school inspector when Neeraj was only five years old.

and focussed on the nuances of drawing aimed at consolidating

In Delhi, Mr. Ahluwalia not only arranged Neeraj’s first ever solo

their academic training. He also taught them how to study three-

show in the art room at school but also found work for him so he

dimensional human anatomy by selective blocking to accentuate

could support his family.

the essentials and then breaking the desired shape into planes using angular lines. In this way, one gets a better and easier if

Illustrating children’s books was one such avenue while some-

mastered well, way of understanding how to focus on the desired

thing more important also came his way. ‘Wenger’s Pastries’, in

areas of the human physique without sacrificing its visual struc-

Delhi’s downtown shopping arcade, commissioned him to do a

ture. Not that it was anything new that Vijaymohan invented as a

large landscape in oil for display in the shop window. It was sup-

teaching tool but not everyone took it as seriously as Neeraj did.

posed to be a landscape of Udaipur in Rajasthan, and the young

While Neeraj was quite adept in capturing an exact likeness of

boy was taken there for a short vacation too. Even at such a tender

portraiture and related physical attributes of human anatomy in

age, and without any institutional training in his bag, he used to

his own style, this methodical approach of academic vintage in

spend the whole day under the scorching sun to sketch and draw

drawing opened up a new avenue for him. The influence of Vijay-

the beauty of Udaipur and the view of the castle he incorporated

amohan retained its stronghold on Neeraj’s future development in

into the painting eventually. He ended up with a high fever due to

very clear terms.

excessive exposure to the heat and dust but, he still completed the landscape. The work had fetched eight hundred rupees in those

Art, since childhood, was his favourite activity and, after his ad-

days and the painting found a proud place in the shop window, of-

mission to art college in Delhi, he took to it like a fish takes

fering a shade of confidence to the young boy who frequented the

to water. His daily sketching expeditions, instigated by his art

74


teacher in college, undertaken every day in nearby market places and railway stations began in the early morning and resumed yet again in the afternoon after college hours and continued till late at night. It allowed him to observe life around him at different times of the day and that in turn offered enough variety of activities he loved to observe and sketch. Such repeated observations of similar activities in frequently visited surroundings had a beneficial effect too. The images got deeply etched in his memory and allowed him to recall the same at will in his later years. He used such imagery time and again in developing pictorial compositions. Moreover his singular attention in those days for sketching also offered him countless opportunities to study the human body in motion, and in situations of varying emotion. To this he added his newly acquired technique of angular divisionism that he learned from Vijaymohan. It eventually led his art to the threshold of cubism that had a similar emphasis on building human anatomy with geometrically angular shapes. We shall look at his debt to cubism in some detail later. But it may now be said that this close similarity with cubism remained only skin-deep in his art, it appears in retrospect, that he seldom felt the need of a closer understanding of what cubism really stood for. For him it was only a stylistic tool that helped cement his own spiritual content. His interest in human anatomy increased in tandem with his drawing skills that now had a better and more academic approach. The intensity of his involvement with the task at hand may be seen by the fact that, in order to study the shape of the human skull, he had once had his own head shaved clean so that he could draw its shape from various angles, and thus, study the subject even without the needed availability of live models. He had installed a tall mirror and sketched his own reflection at will. He would continue with drawing and painting from live models in his class-studies at the art college during the day while, at night, he would light up a candle to study his clean-shaved head now appearing different, by being illuminated with only the candle-light, to study the effect of ‘chiaroscuro’ (Fig. 68). He loved this interplay of light against dark as if it was a battle between opposing forces of unknown magnitude, something that has always inspired many artists in the past like Rembrandt whom he always admired. Neeraj found ample opportunity of sketching his subjects in similar conditions of semi darkness when returning home every night

Fig. 62. Drawing, pen and ink on paper, 9” x 4”, 1985 75


after sketching everything that took his fancy on the way. He was so engrossed in his sketching that he once sat on a grave in a Muslim graveyard to study the labourers digging up another nearby, the shadowy figures at work was so fanciful to him that he forgot that he was sitting on a grave. Such willingness to work hard, coupled with his growing skills in academic art, made him an easy recruit for work in the official fair-ground of New Delhi, at Pragati Maidan. During the festive season, he would spend nights at the fair-ground decorating large pavilions inside out and, whenever possible, he would sketch labourers at work in diffused darkness and streaky lights. His favourite artists kept changing alongside his changing interests in art. Renaissance Masters gave way to more contemporary ones like Edgar Degas and Georges Seurat, Van Gogh and Toulouse Lautrec. German Expressionism, also caught his attention at this stage of his artistic career even before his initiation to spiritualism. This was also the time when young Neeraj was called upon to draw another ‘full-size portrait of a young girl’ (Fig. 69). She was visiting India with her father and Neeraj got some photographs taken of her to complete the job to the satisfaction of all concerned. The family went back to USA and then invited Neeraj to do another portrait of their second daughter. Neeraj refused the assignment as he never felt at ease painting someone without ‘knowing’ the person to be painted.

Fig. 63. Untitled, pen and ink on paper, 10” x 5”, 1984

76


Fig. 64. Untitled, water color on paper, 23� x 19�, 1982

77


Fig. 65. Sketch, pencil on paper, 9” x 8”, 1991

78


Fig. 66. Sketch, charcoal pencil on paper, 10” x 8”, 1991

79


Fig. 67. Untitled, oil pastel on paper, 21” x 27.5”, 1983

80


Fig. 68. Self portrait in candle light with shaven head, water color on paper, 12� x 10.5�, 1983

81


Fig. 69. Girl in a red dress, oil on canvas, 60” x 36”, 1984 82


was already in the process of earning part of his family’s breadsupply by doing regular illustrative jobs for a local publishing house. The whole school knew about his artistic skill and yet hardly any record of his achievement in those days has survived. The only significant piece of art, done by Neeraj in his pre-art college period, is the one he did in watercolour that was used as his entry-ticket to Art College (Fig. 13). Several early portraits in oil on canvas, fortunately enough, have survived and allow a closer look at the level of artistic maturity with which Neeraj entered Art College. These works, at a first glance, reveal how little remained for him to learn at the Art College of Delhi academically. Done in 1982, the year he got enrolled in the Art College at the tender age of eighteen, these portraits are fitting example of his ability to draw well and, more importantly, to create exactitude and likeness with unmistakable mastery both with pencil and a fully loaded colour palette. The ‘portrait of a young girl’ (Fig. 70), a class-project done with controlled speed of execution in 1982, may be used to illustrate his skill with which

3. There are three distinct phases in Neeraj Goswami’s life. His art changed pace and purpose simultaneously in all three phases. These phases may easily be defined in terms of his recent phase in which an increasing attachment to spiritual attainment is very significant, and his art bears clear testimony to the same. The phase earlier to this can be characterized by hesitant visualization and a lack of proper understanding of the spiritual dimension of art which, in turn, has had an even earlier phase where there was little faith in all things spiritual. To describe his art in terms of these qualitative parameters would demand us to count the years and analyse his art, backwards, starting from the most recent. Much easier will it be to follow the usual route of going back and then proceed upfront as time passes. Needless to say that this technique, of going back to front for analyzing one’s critical output chronologically, also has its own difficulties. Not many contemporary artists in India would normally care to preserve attempted artworks of one’s adolescent past, and Neeraj is no exception. These are the exploratory stages in every artist’s career where the newer works tend to eclipse, in importance, all other works done earlier. Neeraj, even when he was in his early teens,

Fig. 70. Portrait of a young girl, oil on canvas, 14.5” x 21”, 1982 83


conceal the source of illumination while capturing the happy and inquisitive look in the face of the young girl. It is a fitting example of his initial fascination with Rembrandt’s technique of using directional lighting to bring out dramatic exposure of characteristic features. A strange headband, in this painting, almost totally covers her head while lending it an added degree of importance. The colour of her skin, radiating with child-like innocence, sparkles like a jewel against the dark background that hints at an undefined space. The glow in her wide-open eyes is further endowed with a penetrating gaze. A determined look emphasized by the slightly forward thrust in her lower lips, and a pervading sense of deep contemplation in this unusual portrait, hardly reveals the artist’s real age. An interesting work, done the following year, is perhaps the lone example of his creative output in 1983. Thematically this work leads us to a series of ugly events that took place in the Indian political scene over the previous year. Operation Blue Star, codenamed to mean storming of the Golden Temple and the seat of the Akal-Takht of Sikhism, had ignited a national debate as to whether brutal aggression of Indian military power could be justified against its own citizens and that too at a religious headquarter. On the other hand, the argument in favour of such an act, Fig. 71. Portrait of an even younger girl, oil on canvas, 14” x 20”, 1982

that was primarily meant to erase the unacceptable attempt of

he started to explore the art world. The partly unfinished back-

sedition by Sikh militants and use of armed struggle to achieve

ground of this portrait clearly reveals its sketchy character. The

it, was equally strong and had many takers as well. When kings

speed with which the modelling of the face is done in a single

fight, says ancient wisdom, it is the sad fate of innocent citizens

layer of colour, applied directly on the canvas with little under-

to die. It happens to be the inevitable end of those unfortunate

modelling, is obvious and speaks eloquently about his maturity of

and often unarmed country-folk who get caught between the cross-

handling rapid brushwork. The deft use of deliberate strokes from

fire and remain mute witnesses of their own painful elimination.

his fully-loaded brush to create the desired highlight in selected

Neeraj painted such a line of his own people, five in all, standing

areas added a lively note to the portrait and is particularly no-

shoulder to shoulder in suspended animation (Fig. 72). Clad in

table in areas like the bridge of her flattened nose and protruding

a sari with a faintly reddish border, the lone woman in the group

temple-bone that characterizes the girl’s ethnic origin. The whites

hints at their Indianness while the identity of the men is cleverly

of her wide-open eyes and edges of her sprouting lips also reveal

removed. They reveal their strength in their nakedness with a su-

his unmistakable mastery over the medium. Even the unruly hair

perbly drawn masculine torso and equally powerful pair of legs

of the girl and the roughly sewn edges of her blouse, applied with

that seem to animate with raw energy. The resigned look in their

precise control and calculated abandon, speaks eloquently about

body-language, in the slight turn of their heads away from each

the girl’s social character.

other, in the placement of the figures against a background of gloomy nothingness, and the carefully constructed contradiction

Another ‘portrait of an even younger girl’ (Fig. 71), this time a

created by their agile body and forced inaction, has made this

more finished work than the one discussed before, managed to

painting a brilliant documentation of the period in modern Indian

84


Fig. 72. Silver Dungeon, oil on canvas, 50” x 37”, 1983 85


Fig. 73. Untitled, oil on canvas, 12” x 9”, 1984 86


history. It also speaks eloquently about Neeraj’s mastery of human

combine photo-realism with abstraction in this interesting work.

anatomy and academic skill in depicting the same in line and co-

This unique and deftly executed effort, coupled with the power of

lour. He however managed to get rid of his skills soon enough but

originality in developing visual metaphors, was what attracted the

not before completing his first big commissioned work.

attention of K. S. Kulkarni who, in his capacity as visiting faculty of the College, had spotted the talent in Neeraj Goswami.

Neeraj was still a student in Delhi Art College when Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, was assassinated by her own

His personal life, as stated earlier, was a total mess during the

security guards in Delhi. It was 1984 and the shocking incident,

same period. A broken love-affair with a co-student, senior to

more than paralyzing the Nation for a while, had brought in a

him by a couple of years, nearly ruined him. His infatuation was

series of incidents that were no less shocking. Scores of innocent

not adequately reciprocated and the revelation of her not being

people, mostly Sikhs, were brutally annihilated in Delhi and in

in love with him was devastating. Life suddenly lost its purpose

many other parts of India. Their shops were looted and properties

and to end it all seemed a very inviting option for the hapless

plundered as a retaliatory measure. Neeraj’s response can be seen

adult at the ripe age of twenty one. Political atrocities taking place

in some of his paintings. These are only a few that have survived

nationwide at the same time had found an echo in the heart of

from the many he did as part of his class-room exercises, dur-

this heart-broken artist, with matching visualization of acts of tor-

ing the third year of art college. He was already toying with the

ture perpetrated over the mute and helpless. The one saving grace

concept of demonstrating the solidarity of oppressed humanity by

during this turbulent phase was him obtaining spiritual initiation

placing them shoulder to shoulder on his canvases. In this picture

from his Guru, a year ago. The event had an electrifying effect on

(Fig. 73) he has drawn the same theme in a different style. His

the nervous young man and literally transformed him. The art of

skill of depicting male and female figures with academic smooth-

Neeraj is a life-long narration of how such a dramatic transforma-

ness and anatomical perfection is sacrificed in this work in fa-

tion came about in his life and how his art reciprocated the same

vour of rugged brush work. Colours, in this painting, are knifed

transformation, slowly yet steadily,

directly over the canvas with deliberate authority and the adopted style metaphorically communicates the sad story of plunder of the

A glimpse of his spiritual state of mind, in the background of the

innocent people. Denuded and dismembered, the rows of human

socio-political disturbances during the mid-eighties of the twen-

figures are painted in parallel rows in varying shades of grey that

tieth century Indian capital, is available in the two paintings we

are cool as death and set against a background of flaming orange.

have just described. His content, in both the canvases, depict the violence that was being perpetrated around him, yet an over-

Composition was one of the several things a student was supposed

whelming sense of calm detachment pervades in both works, that

to learn in art college in India. It was not a subject that figured in

leads his viewer to stand alienated as a critical spectator without

the course curriculum when the College started to function under

being emotionally involved in the scene depicted. This is the be-

the British rule in Calcutta and the name ‘composition’ must have

ginning of his nascent spirituality that will eventually envelope

been coined for want of a better understanding of what was intend-

his life and channelize his creative energies to a path not often

ed to be taught under this ‘head’. Over the years this particular

travelled by his fellow artists, friends and contemporaries. Before

class, reserved only for senior students, became synonymous with

discussing this aspect of his art we should look into his foray

creating original paintings by using techniques learned already

into cubism.

in the College. During his final year of BFA at the College, in this ‘composition’ class, Neeraj did a still life, with a difference. Earlier we have described this work, named The Butcher Shop (Fig. 74) in which carcasses of animals easily reminds one of humans skinned alive. It was his treatment to depict the scene that merits closer attention as he had, rather successfully, attempted to 87


Fig. 74. The Butcher Shop, oil on canvas, 19.5” x 19.5”, 1983

88


4. This revolutionary concept of modernism in Western Art has left few artists in India untouched and Neeraj too got into the act, but with a difference. A pen and ink drawing ( Fig. 75) of Neeraj, done on a piece of paper of moderate dimension, is perhaps the earliest surviving example of his foray in this artistically pervasive style. This drawing of a male nude retains visible signs of his efforts to understand the stylistic aspect of Cubism but with limited success. An earlier drawing (Fig. 76), this time depicting a seated male nude with his arms stretched upwards reveal a similar intent of constructivism but done in a decidedly lyrical mood that sets it apart. His more successful attempt to use ‘cubism’ in his art, however, had to wait for another couple of years. He graduated from art college in 1986 and, while doing his Masters from the same institution, he began to explore its potential use in his canvases. An international symposium to discuss the spread of Cubism in Asian art was held in Tokyo in 2005. The event, by its very name, had offered ample recognition to the strength of Cubism that had cast its overwhelming shadow, whenever modernism in art was tried and practiced. Its effect in shaping the eventual course of modern Indian art, in its post-Independence phase, was noticeable one way or the other but seldom followed the way it was thought of in the country of its origin. Picasso and Braque jointly developed the idea, and painted the same on canvases since 1907. The First World War had brought an abrupt end to their pioneering efforts, and it found many takers in different parts of the World since then. Cubism attracted not only painters and sculptors, it also influenced men of letters, poets, litterateurs and architects. Practitioners of other branches of art were equally energized by its potential use in their respective fields of activity. Cubism in its very essence had attacked the fundamental concept of visual art, which till then, assumed a static and single-point view taken by the artists as their sole objective. Cubism changed this by attempting to move beyond the bounds of a traditional single point

Fig. 75. Drawing (early cubism), pen and ink on paper, 10” x 5.2”, 1987

perspective, perceived (as though) by a totally immobile viewer, to a multiple-point perspective of the same object. The concept had, in effect, liberated the artist from the shackles of nature that it was forced to imitate so far. For the first time art assumed an omnipotent role and, with further development of Cubism in art, began to enforce an abstract route to reproduce on canvas such essentially abstract concepts like pain and love. Impressionism 89


Fig. 76. Sketch, pen and ink on paper, 11.5” x 9.5”, 1984 90


and post-Impressionism had already succeeded in their attempts

revolted against in Paris to start with. Neeraj, like many of his

to take representational imagery beyond mechanical and photo-

immediate predecessors, had dallied with the concept as it was

graphic reality. Cubism was its logical successor with the self-

almost fashionable to do so in the mid-eighties of the twentieth

generated task of shifting the centre of activity of art from heart

century but soon changed his focus.

to head, from sentimental feeling to logical analysis, from illusory reality to constructed intellectualism.

A pencil drawing of this period (Fig. 78), signed 1986, bears ample testimony to his level of understanding of this complicated

Cubism in India, and to a larger part in Asia, had surfaced in the

art technique that is more cerebral and less pleasing to look at

hands of modernists, almost through a nearly opposite route. Far

from the conventional angle of viewing. This theory of multiple

from being an analytical tool with associated cerebral intensity, it

view-points is cleverly put to use by Neeraj in this drawing of

was often used in India more for its stylistic potential than for its

a seated female nude. Here the sensual beauty of female limbs

abstracted, and primarily constructivist concept. It also resulted

are expressed in terms of ‘cubistic’ execution. Her rounded hips

in its use, in modern Indian art, for narration of stories which it

and ample breasts are made even more rounded by drawing these

Fig. 77. Untitled, pen and ink on paper, 8.2” x 10.2”, 1987 91


Fig. 78. Study, pencil on paper, 7” x 6”, 1986 92


with a subtle shift in angle of view. It also presents the view of a

also yielded a subtle hint of a story-line in this work. This pos-

dispassionate constructivist engaged in the task of recreating a fe-

sibility was further exploited by Neeraj from then on in a large

male nude in terms of geometricity of volumes and shapes, seldom

body of works in which the narrative quality of his art is expressed

seen in real life with a static viewpoint. This sense of dynamism

using Cubism as a stylistic tool.

in viewing the same object dispassionately is also available in another work of the same period (Fig. 77) in which a standing fe-

1988, his final year at the Delhi Art College, is vital in his artistic

male nude is drawn from two opposing viewpoints, frontal as well

career for more reasons than one. In retrospect it appears to be the

as from the back. It resulted, in this line drawing, of two female

period during which his future growth is charted in its embryonic

figures staring at each other while the viewer benefits from being

form and cubism happens to be the chosen platform that would

able to view the frontal attributes of the youthful female along

eventually help its future germination. The trend continued for

with a view of her posterior simultaneously.

several years and the resultant art of this period reveals a marked indebtedness to Cubism while his own idea of using the borrowed

Instead of restricting his art to the rigorous exploitation of the

style to create a significant variation from an opposing viewpoint

basic premise of Cubism, which prompts one to viewing the same

merits a closer inspection.

object from multiple viewpoints, this acquired a subtle shift in Neeraj’s art. He has succeeded in creating multiple views of the

Two drawings of this period offer an interesting reading of his

same object but has done so by creating more than one drawing of

mind at work during the formative years of his career. He, it ap-

the same but seen from opposing angles. Appearance of the female

pears, was in the process of relishing the new found freedom from

nude in her frontal and posterior nudity in the same canvas has

narrative compulsions, and thus could assemble his figures almost

Fig. 79. Untitled, pencil on paper, 5� x 8�, 1988 93


Fig. 80. Untitled, pencil on paper, 8.2� x 7.5�, 1988

94


at random on his canvases. They need not tell a story in the con-

in several variations, and in various mediums, and the trend was

ventional sense and yet the viewer is enabled to glimpse a faintly-

visibly narrative by the end. In 1989, the year he had had his

hinted at story-line out of the assembly of figures in close proxim-

first successful solo show immediately after completing his col-

ity and placed in various stages of articulation. The monumental

lege education, he drew one such couple, where the female on the

presence of the female nude (Fig. 79) in one of these works is

left is drawn, stylistically, in sharp contrast with her counterpart

accompanied by scores of lesser females depicted with incomplete

on her right. The structural geometry of the female figure is drawn

anatomy, their faces drawn to express their stylistic debt to Pi-

(Fig. 82) here using two different techniques to explore their rela-

casso. An overwhelming mood of sad contemplation results out of

tive potential. The lyrical curvature of female nude, seen from the

the curiously calculated assemblage of such figures. Neeraj, it ap-

front, is outlined with flowing lines alone. A calculated emphasis

pears, has already discovered the emotional expressivity of flow-

is seen here in separating the upper torso in the shape of a rect-

ing lines that are kept deliberately thin and delicate. His lines

angular mass to outline her chest with folded hands and rounded

now cut into each other like tangled wires to allow the formation

breasts. This rugged rectangle is placed atop a pair of vertical

of a designed surface noticeable particularly in the upper torso of

legs and joined by using shaded lines to suggest pubic hair. An

the alpha male whose reproductive organs have received a more

organic growth of curiously shaped vegetation grows where the

realistic depiction. Neeraj has used this simultaneous rendering

head generally appears and adds a mysterious symbology to this

of structural geometry of Cubism, along with realistic drawings of

female figure, which is further accentuated by the geometric ri-

academic vintage, in yet another drawing (Fig. 80).

gidity of the other female figure, drawn using the familiar style of Cubism. The rounded hips and muscular legs of this female are

Also drawn in the same period, it reveals a group of figures hud-

structurally analyzed from the back while her head is turned a

dled together in close formation. Flowing outlines of the legs, and

full one hundred and eighty degrees to confront the viewer with a

delicately drawn fingers and toes, in this drawing betray a depar-

stern gaze. Neeraj has emphasized the forward thrust of pointed

ture from Cubism. While the subtle interplay of shaded limbs al-

breasts by making them visible sideways and thus completes his

lows the artist to enjoy his new found freedom to create a designed

own version of multiple view-points. A few horizontal lines join

surface that is not pre-meditated but, at the same time, retains an

the two contrasting figures together and hints at a possible story-

authoritative feel of thoughtful execution. In a large number of

line linking the two figures but stops without being obvious and

paintings, all done the same year, we found his mind drifting pur-

eloquent. This attempted use of cubism as a pictorial style with

posefully into the realm of pure design that, significantly enough,

a narrative intent is in sharp contrast to what it was meant for

still retained a link with Cubism as a stylistic tool.

when invented in Paris. Picasso and Braque, and scores others after them, wanted to get rid of the narrative quality of art and

He returned to the traditional mode of single-viewpoint in his art

visualized cubism for its formal quality that was denuded from all

soon thereafter and began to play with the structural geometry of

hints of narration. Neeraj however took the Eastern route, always

Cubism but introduced a playful interplay of lines and forms. His

eager to tell a story and during this phase, began to play with

figures began to assume a character of its own as if to tell a story

the geometric forms of cubism to simplify, and often beautify, his

of their own life without being obvious, in sharp contrast to the

figurative elements. In 1990 he was reasonably well-known in the

non-narrative aspect of true Cubism. Four women on separate ped-

art-circles of Delhi and, to some extent, out of Delhi. He had been

estals (Fig. 81), is one of the painting’s done during this period, it

invited to take part in several group shows while still a student in

displays a curious use of thick lines, bold and lyrical, to create a

Delhi Art College which included his participation in the ‘Peace’

delicate balance between the realistic rhythm of the female nude

exhibition organized by the Russian Cultural Centre in Moscow.

form and structural strength of ‘Cubism’ at the same time. The

He was in his second year at the Delhi Art College then and it was

resultant division of space by these intersecting lines will eventu-

soon followed by his participation in another exhibition held in

ally form the basic tool in Neeraj’s art for his later years.

Shimla involving artists from all over India. We have already men-

In 1989, he repeatedly explored the theme of the figurative couple

tioned Delhi Silpi Chakra, a well established group of senior art95


Fig. 81. Untitled, water color and ink on paper, 8.5� x 10�, 1988

ists in Delhi, who came forward to organize his first professional

tions and teaching assignments all over the world and was equally

solo show, this is his first not counting the one he had had at the

involved in various organizational activities since Independence.

Summerfield School, in 1985 and this offered a major boost to his

He was the founder-Secretary of the Delhi Silpi Chakra for four-

artistic career. The next five years, between 1985 to 1990, saw

teen long years since its inception in 1948. His number of solo

him participating in various exhibitions almost on an annual basis

shows, held all over the world between 1950 to 1978 counts more

and culminated in two major shows that we have already men-

than seventy of which nearly half were held in Europe and USA,

tioned earlier. What may now be added was his show at the Jehan-

he had also exhibited in Mexico, Japan, and Egypt. He took part

gir Art Gallery in Mumbai, in 1989, in which two other artists had

in many International shows held in Tokyo, Paris, New York, Ven-

formed the trio who exhibited together in this show. The show was

ice, Sao Paolo and London. He was the Vice Chairman of the Lalit

a resounding success for Neeraj. It was K.S. Kulkarni who made

Kala Akademi, between 1972 and 1976, in 1984 they made him

the difference. Kulkarni was the Dean of the Faculty of Music and

a Fellow in recognition of four decades of his artistic activity.

Fine Arts at the Banaras Hindu University when Neeraj was born

In 1985, when Anupam Sud took the initiative of sponsoring a

in Patna. Since then, the old artist had accepted many invita-

solo show of Neeraj Goswami at the studio of Delhi Silpi Chakra,

96


Kulkarni got a chance to learn more about the young artist, who

tions of the same. The resultant form of the skinned life, in the

was still a student at Delhi Art College.

form of nailed and suspended humanity upside down, forcefully asserts its social commentary in clear terms without sacrificing

Kulkarni was seldom recognized as one of those selected few re-

its artiness. Kulkarni spotted the talent inherent in Neeraj and

sponsible for giving shape to modernity in Indian Art. He however

prophesied the potential growth of this student way back in 1983.

was respected by almost everyone in the art world in Delhi. He was a visiting Professor in the art college of the city for quite some

During his closing days at the college of art, Neeraj’s financial po-

time and, when Neeraj was doing his BFA there, came in close

sition received a slight boost by winning a commission for doing a

contact with this exceptional student. The occasion was the an-

large mural for a Fertilizer Company having its production facility

nual show of the College in which one of Neeraj’s still lives (The

in Guna. Delhi Art College was asked by the Company to under-

Butcher’s Shop, Fig. 74) was on display. Kulkarni was bowled over

take this commission and the authorities of the college responded

by its aggressive visuals. Its formal quality derives its strength

by asking its senior students to submit plans and drawings for the

from a clever mix of realism with simultaneous abstracted distor-

same. It was Neeraj’s layout that was selected by Principal, O. P.

Fig. 82. Untitled, pen and ink on paper, 6.5” x 8”, 1989 97


Fig. 83. Untitled, pen and ink on paper, 10.2” x 12.5”, 1988

Sharma. Kulkarni was also on the selection committee and the art-

amine the strength and duration of this influence in the next few

ist even took the trouble to visit the site at Guna, when the instal-

paragraphs and limit our attention to the relationship between the

lation of the big mural was in progress, to offer encouragement to

two while it lasted.

the young artist. He even offered Neeraj to share his studio space at the Lalit Kala Akademi’s art-complex in Garhi. Neeraj sure

It was Professor Kulkarni who took the initiative of booking Je-

needed a studio after his college days were over. Soon enough he

hangir Art Gallery in downtown Mumbai for a joint show (Fig. 85).

got a research grant from Lalit Kala Akademi for a year and the

At that time he considered Neeraj to be the right choice to exhibit

opportunity to work from Kulkarni’s studio at Garhi complex was

together with, as their works, when seen together, seemed to show-

accepted with alacrity. The arrangement was mutually beneficial

case a beauty of linear stylization then flowing in full bloom in

as Neeraj could lend a hand in keeping the studio-space clean and

both their work. Neeraj, being younger, volunteered to undertake

workable for both while, paying a reasonable rent to Kulkarni for

the trouble of packing paintings in crates for both of them and then

sharing the studio. The art of Neeraj, at the same time, was quite

organize the transportation of the same using normal passenger

influenced by the working style of the senior artist. We shall ex-

services of the Indian Railways between Delhi and Mumbai. In the

98


gallery he had very little time to unpack the crates and re-stretch

residence for the next decade or so.

paintings on the stretchers and was severely injured while doing so in a hurry. A friend from college helped in getting the headinjury fixed at a local hospital and the next day the exhibition was inaugurated by Neeraj’s spiritual Guru, Swami Guruprasad Paramhansa. Swamiji was all praise for Neeraj’s works and found, in Kulkarni’s canvases, less to cheer about. This masterly assessment got adequately reflected in the choice expressed by local art collectors too. Neeraj got all his works on display sold out in no time while Kulkarni drew a blank till the end of the show. Their relation, and mutual admiration, remained formal and almost cordial on the surface after the show but the two did not share the same studio after that. With the money realized from the sale of his works at the Jehangir show, Neeraj managed to acquire his small two-room house at Sahibabad, outside Delhi and reachable by bus in an hour and half, and converted it as his studio cum

Fig. 84. Studio at Sahibabad 99


Fig. 85. Catalogue of Jehangir show, front and back page. 100


5. Neeraj struggled to find his own self in art while continuing his Masters at Delhi Art College and was open to receive inspiration from Kulkarni’s linearity, Dali’s surrealistic imagery and, as mentioned before, cubism as an artistic tool for self-expression. A significant example of his surreal phase is available in the collection of the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi with two of his paintings done at this stage. The one, titled Transcendence (Fig. 86), was painted using acrylic paint on canvas of moderate dimension in 1987. Visceral remnants of a dismembered body is faintly hinted at in this unusual work and its muted violence, very rarely seen in Neeraj’s oeuvre, is almost equally counterbalanced by a pictorial rhythm. Two large spherical shapes, uneven and anguished, appear where the eyes are supposed to be in this dissected physique and offers a legitimate link to the severed neck, empty ribs and disappearing lower limbs. There is a strong reason for doing away with the lower half of the human body as this is hardly needed in spiritual practices and this painting is perhaps Neeraj’s first successful attempt to interpret his own, new found, spirituality. Life is manifested in breathing, inhalation and exhalation, in other words attraction and repulsion, goes on in our system uninterrupted as long as life exists. A conscious attempt to control this cycle of breathing leads to the elevation of mental status if done the right way and even allows the seeker to attain a state when breathing stops altogether and a vibration-free state is reached, which is indescribable in words. Neeraj, after getting initiated in their cult practice, or kriya, must have felt the same to such an extent that it prompted him to spell such an experience out in line and colour. In Transcendence this feeling is translated by painting two rows of rhythmic waves, rising up the system in the process of inhalation and, after reaching the peak (the top end of the brain also known in yogic nomenclature as sahasrar) becomes formless and is then exhaled down in a scattered pile in a perpetual cycle. The skeletal form of the human body hints at the same formlessness being achieved in this meditative practice and this painting clearly reveals the spiritual churning taking place inside the artist as early as in 1987. Vibrating Space (Fig. 87), painted in 1988, indicates a more soothing palette with the rounded shapes of a couple of female 101


Fig. 86. Transcendence, acrylic on canvas, 36” x 50”, 1987 102


Fig. 87. Vibrating Space, oil on canvas, 36” x 50”, 1988 103


Fig. 88. The Performer, oil on canvas, 72” x 48”, 1989 104


nudes painted at the top and at the bottom of this painting. In

his spiritual Guru during the same time, when the latter paid his

comparison to Transcendence, this painting clearly shows changes

disciple a visit in Delhi, in 1991. From then on these words, ut-

creeping in his work already with the flowing volumes of the fe-

tered simply with profound conviction, assumed the role of a sole

male curvature with its limbs hinting at organic growth, use of

commandment for the artist. Neeraj found a pictorial equivalent

angular divisionism balancing the rectangular shapes, and the as-

in Klee’s style and began his own path of simplification in right

semblage of pre-conceived shapes with symbolic messages.

earnest. Academic technique of drawing human anatomy was now replaced with mere suggestions of human limbs, drawn with child-

Two years later, in 1989, Neeraj produced another interesting

like innocence. ‘The trained hand often knows far more than the

work that was promptly collected by his Swiss collector. Entitled

head’, wrote Klee in his diary and the same was faithfully re-

The Performer (Fig. 88), measuring seventy two inchs by forty

enacted in Neeraj’s drawings during this period in which ‘forms’

eight inches, it shows the same upward elevation of life force

emerge out of the sub-conscious while the ‘artist’ watches the

(caused by controlled breathing exercises) taking place inside the

gradual growth of his imagery on paper like a bemused spectator.

body of a standing male figure painted in the symbolic pose of

All previously acquired knowledge of anatomical details was sur-

crucified Christ. This equates the spiritual ‘cult’ practice with di-

rendered by a playful alteration of the head taking up much more

vine significance that is further accentuated by an elliptical halo.

space while arms and toes, hands and legs appear with suggestive

A strange light pervades the denuded physique and is matched

presence (Fig. 160-163). A linear fluidity and flatter composition

by an equally peaceful space enveloping the world at large. This

took up the prime position in his art by replacing the dimensional

painting also marks the turning point in his artistic career by de-

illusion of the Renaissance vintage and thereby elevated his art

noting 1989, the year it was painted, as the dividing line between

to a more contemporary level. By using thin lines of soft graph-

confusion and clarity, emotional upheaval and spiritual bliss, in

ite and charcoal rubbings on textured paper he created a draw-

his art.

ing, now in the artist’s collection and reproduced here, in which his earlier fascination with Cubism and its geometric volume is

At about the same time Neeraj discovered Paul Klee. It is how-

strangely simplified, and this channelizing is what took over his

ever not known for certain if Neeraj, while re-examining Klee’s

attention from then on. Done in 1992, this drawing is clearly posi-

drawings that reverberates with spiritual fervour, had also got to

tioned as the precursor of what was to come in his art over the next

read Klee’s diaries. Klee became very famous worldwide after the

twenty years.

Second World War and the diaries that he meticulously kept since 1898 were first published in Germany in 1956. Its English trans-

‘For me subjects do not matter. What matters is the complete vi-

lation saw the light of day nearly a decade after that. At the age

sual form and the visual experience of that form. Titles are given

of twenty seven, in 1906, Klee wrote ‘Democracy with its semi-

after I complete the works just to facilitate the viewer to connect

civilization sincerely cherishes junk. The artist’s power should be

with the work of art so that he or she can associate themselves

spiritual. But the power of the majority is material. When these

with the painting and then experience the hidden meaning in

worlds meet occasionally, it is pure coincidence.’

the form.’ This fascination with elemental forms, when drawn or painted on a flat surface, has the potential of vibrating within its

It was no coincidence that a large number of drawings, done in

immediate spatial surroundings and also interacting with other

1991, clearly establish Neeraj’s conscious attempt to forget his

forms if positioned in close proximity.

own, academically oriented, drawing skills in order to think and draw and paint like Klee. Not many of such works have survived

In order to develop his process of simplification on a logical foot-

and are therefore not available for study and the few, reproduced

ing, Neeraj began to devote himself to play with the positioning of

in these pages, reveal simplifications to the level of a spontane-

simple forms like a straight or curved line, a rectangle with short

ous yet controlled exploration in search of how to eliminate com-

parallel lines around its outer edges or a circle encircled with

plications. ‘Think simply’ was the advice Neeraj received from

an incomplete one, a row of conical shapes creating upward and 105


Fig. 89. Couple, drawing, pen and ink on paper, 10.5” x 12.5”, 1988

downward thrust in peaks and crests, two parallel curves heading

while the vertical seem to move downwards in order to meet at

in opposite directions and similar exercises. Motion in art, when

the corner. Various shapes, when used within the given space of

represented using such artistic tools, assumes a powerful tool of

an artist’s canvas or paper, for instance, generate similar attrac-

attraction. Motion also implies possible changes in the immedi-

tion and movement, and consequent vibration which can generate

ate environment and change always calls for a reaction from the

a more meaningful purpose if the viewer is pre-conditioned to

viewer. Such impulsive reactivity is wired in the human brain and

interpret the individual forms and shapes for its projected mean-

our responses to works of art are to a large extent governed by

ings. Neeraj’s experiments in this line began to yield significant

such principles of auto-generated reactions. Oppenheimer once

results since 1991 and his promised solo every year, since that

demonstrated dependence of such dynamics in static lines by pro-

year at Gallerie Ganesha, revealed its organic development and

jecting, on a screen, two luminous lines perpendicular to each

artistic maturity.

other but short of touching each other. His selected viewers saw the lines, though perfectly static, as if moving towards each other. In other words the horizontal line seems to move toward the left 106


Fig. 90. Untitled, oil on canvas, 36” x 36”, 1988

107


Fig. 91. Untitled, pen and ink on paper, 10� x 6.5�, 1987 108


Fig. 92. Untitled, pen and ink on paper, 10.5� x 12.2�, 1988

6.

deciphering his pictorial code. Such codifications done on these

His marriage took place in 1992. Neeraj continued to work hard

canvases were painted by using a muted palette that bestowed his

in his Sahibabad studio. His young and inexperienced wife,

figures with an ethereal glow. A painting done during this period

despite having to deal with an income that left them with little

that surely merits a closer look. A standing female nude almost

extra after meeting the needs of other members of his family, filled

divides this large rectangular painting, entitled Life Goes On (Fig.

his life up with happiness. She was also initiated by his Guru soon

93), into two squarish halves of equal dimension. The female fig-

enough, and their intimate bond grew further. Neeraj responded,

ure at the centre is his bride and her beauty is portrayed lyrically

in 1993, by painting her as the central figure in almost all his

with a careful understatement. Her introspective face tilted in a

canvases and continues the practice even to-day. Though subjects

downward movement suggests a meditative mood. An inner glow

no longer mattered to him the way it did earlier, the positioning

seems to rise from within her, bottom upwards that singles her out

of figures and shapes, from then on, began to pulsate with broad

of the confusion, painted around her like accompanying notes in

hints of an untold story that invited the viewer to get into the act of

a musical symphony, in which lesser mortals play their part to 109


Fig. 93. Life Goes On, oil on canvas, 48” x 70”, 1993

produce the composed hymn. The brooding lineament and closed

simplification of forms with angular shapes. Its palette is yet to

eyes, seen in this painting, became his staple and can be seen,

attain the spiritual harmony that distinguishes his works since

again in another painting titled Pregnant (Fig. 94), done also in

1993 and, in addition, is loaded with a confusing package of ab-

1993. The couple was blessed with a daughter that year. In this

stract shapes and animated life-forms that stops short of being

painting also, he has painted his wife with eyes closed in medita-

meaningfully employed. In other words, the essential difference of

tion, lit with an inner glow rising upwards from within her. She,

his works since 1993 lies in his new-found ability to utilize every

in this painting, appears as if expecting and hints at her develop-

inch of pictorial space purposefully, with clarity of thought, free

ing pregnancy by fondly clasping her left palm over her rounded

from painterly confusion and, more importantly, painted with a

belly while the profile of another female nude, outlined with flow-

subdued palette that seems to vibrate with spiritual fervour.

ing lines to accentuate her protruding stomach, is painted beside her using lyrical lines, and offers supplementary evidence of her

On the other hand his Monk, 1993 (Fig. 96), now in a private col-

marital status.

lection, hints at his emerging style with minimalist precision by painting the dress of the meditative monk in reddish ochre, done

Changes that were dawning in Neeraj’s work are measurable in

without any hint of folds in the drapery which seem to merge with

clear terms if one compares these two paintings with a painting,

its surroundings effortlessly. This central character occupies one

titled The Nude (Fig. 95), done in the previous year. The central

half of the rectangular canvas while the remaining half is occu-

positioning of a female nude in the latter still retains its link with

pied by another figure, on its left, that retains hints of confusing

Neeraj’s earlier fascination with Cubism as is evident in the geo-

folds of drapery with its face clearly indicating the mental tension

metricity of her legs and in her face turned sideways to facilitate

continuing within. This portrayal of the disciple with incomplete

110


Fig. 94. Pregnant, oil on canvas, 48” x 48”, 1993

111


Fig. 95. Nude, oil on canvas, 15” x 1 5”, 1992

112


Fig. 96. Monk, oil on canvas, 21” x 14”, 1993 113


Fig. 97. The Feast, oil on canvas, 45” x 73”, 1995

Fig. 97. The Feast, details 114


Fig. 98. Young Girl, oil on canvas, 24” x 20”, 1995

115


Fig. 99. Together, oil on canvas, 24” x 16”, 1995 116


spiritual attainment is additionally portrayed within a confusing

Neeraj’s attempted juxtapositions of objects in angular variation,

array of non-essential elements, around his standing pose of med-

and matching application of paint, takes the viewer to another

itation while the face of the Guru on the left glows with spiritual

dimension. Maybe this is the true vocation of his art.

bliss painted in a minimalist style. The year 1995 has thus earned a special place in his art calendar In some paintings, painted mostly in and after 1993, his associa-

as it witnessed the blossoming of his matured phase as part of its

tion with cubism reappears in a new incarnation. Angular lines

logical growth and The Feast, described above demonstrates this

and two-dimensional triangles that emerge with deliberate aban-

process to a large extent.

don in these paintings convey Neeraj’s homage to Klee. Happening, Confession and an Untitled painting, all done in 1993, proves

A few more of his works done during 1995 may throw additional

the point while his Mask, Vision and Young Girl, painted in the

inputs for a better understanding. He painted Young Girl (Fig. 98)

following years along with The Feast, further illustrate the same.

soon after that, and he enjoyed seeing the resultant image develop

The Feast (Fig. 97) deserves greater attention for more reasons

on his canvas. His thinking hand playfully translated his vision in

than one. This large canvas, painted horizontally, faintly recalls

line and colour, while he appears to remain an alienated observer.

the biblical theme of ‘the last supper’. This similarity is further

The undraped torso of the nubile woman was conceived, like in

accentuated by a table that divides the painting into two clear

the previous two cases, in snow-white purity but her physical at-

halves. A row of diners are seated at the dining table and appear

tributes remain far from being accentuated. Instead a psychedelic

in the upper half as expected while the figure of a lone woman

formation of geometric shapes envelop her intimate parts with tri-

fills the bottom half. The unmistakably recognizable face of his

angles dominating over rectangles. It is all composed with careful

wife, in this female figure, is full of contemplative obedience as

abandon using singing colours and muted textures. Such forma-

if devoted with both body and soul to listen and obey the call of

tion is echoed in the way the remaining area of the canvas is filled

her ‘superiors’. What are even more noticeable are the sharp yet

with hints of similar geometry, and simplified outlines of animated

lyrical contours of faces of the diners painted on the top half along

life that goes around the woman painted in the centre.

with flowing angularity of their dresses. This orchestrated angularity in division of pictorial space is even more pronounced in the

What is even more noticeable is Neeraj’s use of etched lines that

whitish cloth covering the table, a careful understatement. Over

appear to cut deep into the pictorial surface to draw out the cen-

the folds of the cloth, rubbed with hints of colour, are drawn im-

tral figure. Similar, and often even more poetic linearity is used

ages using wiry lines. What they represent seems familiar and the

to draw everything else with a deliberate precision and controlled

usual meanings associated with these images leads the viewer to a

rhythm, but done with a variation of depth in his etched lines. His

world full of imaginative abandon. Triangles are his chosen shape

growing fascination with similar fluid linearity surfaced with a far

and a combination of triangles yields contemplative contours to

more deliberate manner in Together (Fig. 99) also done in 1995.

his faces that, from here on, will appear in his canvases, in numer-

Two standing figures, their sexual identity carefully understated,

ous variations. Triangles in various sizes seem to dominate this

fills up this rectangular canvas. His strength of academic excel-

large canvas in its entirety, it proudly announces its position of

lence in drawing of human anatomy gets clearly reflected in these

prime importance in the dress of the female figure by eliminating

two figures even when drawn by rejecting all hints of dimensional

all hints of dimension and retaining the simplified geometry of

illusionism. The figure on the left appears the more feminine of

triangles from waist downwards. His intention, it appears, was to

the two, and both faces convey their mutual bonding even when

create an object of art where the viewer is expected to play a major

painted with deliberate economy of means. Neeraj, it appears in

role. And as one looks deeper, a strange feeling takes hold, a sort

this painting, was discovering the true potential of his newfound

of disbelief in what one is seeing. The disorientation and distor-

tool of deeply etched lines and was enjoying its ability to develop

tion of feelings undermines the associations we have with famil-

spiritual vibrations when employed with thoughtful minimaliza-

iar objects. Our relationship with the object is one reality, but

tion and artistic precision. 117


A similar minimalist application of glowing colours was seen ear-

all previous auction records for Indian art when his Santiniketan

lier in The Monk (Fig. 96), and is also seen in this painting in full

triptych fetched more than a million dollars under the hammer at

flow. The playful application of triangles joined together in the

the Christies auction. The attention of the Art Market remained

background adequately hints at the presence of festive banners

focused on a select few not only among the seniors like Husain

hanging from a string, and further enriches this painting with the

and Souza but also on a few junior artists.

promise of a pictorial road reached successfully. Each of his works since 1991 has contributed to his achieving an interesting mix of

Art works that found favour in the market also found their price

pictorial economy and tells the story of its organic development.

tag rising significantly. Scores of Neeraj’s close contemporaries had benefited from the sudden surge of interest but fortunately

Neeraj continued to paint many more canvases with his newly

enough, Neeraj remained clearly out of this organized hype and

acquired language and uncomplicated process. His growing repu-

translated price-hike. His art, however, continued to do well and

tation in art was matched by the eagerness with which his paint-

remained in demand from those who knew him, and were familiar

ings were getting collected by faithful admirers. The resultant

with his art. Neeraj preferred to remain away from the race for gen-

economic stability, along with domestic bliss, contributed well

erated attention. While major art galleries, between 2001 to 2010,

towards him devoting all his attention to the emerging maturity of

had played a stellar role in catapulting Indian contemporary art to

his idiosyncratic style.

a frenzied pitch, Neeraj was firmly saddled on his ring-side seat and watched the show as it unravelled without throwing his own

His meditative mood was helpful in allowing him to go deep down

hat into the ring of the competitive art market. His art was always

into his own self, during the spiritual acts he practiced daily. He

meant for the personal contemplation of his collectors and friends,

would emerge from that state of mind and know what he would

and his name and fame had already travelled far and wide. His

paint next. In one such work, the deeply introspective profile of

association with Gallerie Ganesha remained unchanged, perhaps

his wife Renu’s lineament fills almost the entire surface of the

with less strength than before, and his exhibitions in the new mil-

canvas while playfully images, suggestive but almost formless, are

lennium took place mostly outside of Delhi.

drawn vertically downwards on the right edge. A tall female figure is outlined in the middle, and drawn with expressive lines and smudges of colour accentuating its role. He drew many more facial profiles, using angular lines with minimal precision and, at least in one surviving example, experimented with textured application of strong primary colours. The decade of the nineties in Indian contemporary art was also its wealthiest. It witnessed a major reversal in the estimation of artistic worth which, unfortunately yet inevitably, depended more on the market value of the artist than on their artistic worth. During this period art became convertible currency in India and took the pride of place as a newly discovered tool for financial investment. The value of any work of art began to be indexed dimensionally and quoted by the average price per square inch of a painted surface. This was also the period which witnessed a downward revision in the market assessment of pioneers like Abanindranath and Nandalal Bose, and Jamini Roy among others who became far less expensive than Husain, Raza and Souza. Tyeb Mehta broke 118


7. Art in the past was a conscious product of spiritual thought, it was often the result of the compulsion to create avenues of communication between a select few to humanity at large. The select few were those privileged with the intellectual faculty to conjure up spiritual thoughts that govern the human cycle. The role of art was the visual language through which those views were expressed. A close linkage could easily be found in the image of God created in different civilizations over the millenniums in the past. Almost always the image tends to follow the path of formlessness in primitive art, to the creation of a life-like realistic form of the deities as society progressed, and then it went back towards a deliberate ‘formlessness’ in some civilizations. The speed of transition followed in this cycle reflects the speed of material and technological progress of the society concerned. From the Greek figure of Apollo to the formlessness of the Cross in Christianity, to the worship of God in the form of a book in Sikhism, to the absolute formlessness of Allah in Islam, the tendency has always been to reach an increased level of abstraction in religion and religious art. Visual art followed a similar route of evolution in almost all ancient civilizations. Its spiritual foundation, in the past, was dependent on the ability to create a true-to-nature likeness by the artist with which a magic element was associated. The divine power to ‘create’ life came to be easily equated with the development of an artistic ability to create life-like images. Use of such ‘life-like’ images to convey divine messages then became the sole purpose of art. This changed with societal progress and the purpose of art changed in tandem. Spiritual aspiration yielded its pride of place in art to the more earthly needs of the ruling aristocracy in almost every civilization. It however, appears that art always enjoyed its spiritual supremacy and always managed to convey a message of importance to all divinity. Such was and continues to be the power of creativity in art. Fig. 100. Golden Canoe, oil on canvas, 68” x 26”, 1997

Art, like music, eventually clothed itself to assume the role of a coded language and was communicable only to those initiated in decoding such hieroglyphics in the same way the acceptance of classical music depends upon the training of the ear to discern its musical excellence. Abstract art, in the West, mainly grew out 119


of the need to develop a personalized image of spiritual feelings

In 1997, another addition took place in his family as he was

that, in its core, are essentially formless. Something similar also

blessed with a boy and his canvases of the same year speak vol-

happened in Neeraj’s art.

umes about his own response to the newfound happiness in his life. A gradual shift towards finding his true self, is visible in his

Art, in all societies and at all times, was a product created only by

art during this time. Exhibited by Gallerie Ganesha in the Acad-

a chosen few while many more in the trade (usually not so gifted)

emy of Fine Arts at Siri Fort in New Delhi, between 20 th to 30 th

used the format so developed for their own purpose. They also,

November, the series of faces in his canvases seemed to burst out

more often than not, out numbered the real creators of art and

in smiles instead of remaining submerged in an altered state of

managed to create confusion with their usually mediocre under-

consciousness as was seen in his earlier phase. Instead they now

standing of art. Popular perception of art, unfortunately in most

stared back at the viewers and seemed ready to pour their hearts

cases, results out of such mediocrity. Neeraj, in the middle stages

out. Subject, as already noted, had stopped playing any meaning-

of his artistic career, was fortunate in finding his style of art also

ful role in his art and his content of spiritual experiences began

being utilized by others. As it usually happens in such cases,

to assert its dominant presence in form, line and colour. Even in

this stylistic catalysis took place often without realizing the ba-

the smiling portrait of his wife (Fig. 149), exhibited in Gallerie

sic notes of spiritual communicability that forms the foundation

Ganesha, the work assumes greater connotation of spiritual bliss

in Neeraj’s art. Neeraj however felt the need to change and was

instead of remaining content with capturing the flitting moment

reluctantly led to delve deeper within himself in search of some-

of smiling countenance in pastel and charcoal. The addition of

thing even more meaningful.

profiled faces of an introspective male beside the woman, drawn using energetic lines that pulsate with latent energy in suspended

Fig. 101. Happening, oil on canvas, 32” x 24”, 1997 120


Fig. 102. Untitled, tempera on board, 4” x 5.5”, 1997

animation elevated the simple portraiture to a greater spiritual

called to illustrate this point. In this work he has painted a male

plane. There was also a noticeable shift in his palette as he be-

face that nearly takes up the entire right half of the surface. The

gan to explore the role of colour in conveying spiritual feelings

white surface of the board reveals the profile as he has cleverly

from then on. Cobalt Blue, with its pristine purity and atmospher-

left the board unpainted. The left half of the painting is occupied

ic tranquillity, dominated many of his works in this exhibition,

by yet another male head painted in dark suggesting the shadow of

which also was a sell-out.

the white head and a dark blue sky accentuates the dark and shadowy character of the face in the left. The suggestion of a bottle of

Several paintings from 1997, now in his private collection, de-

wine on the extreme right edge of the board completes the picture,

serve closer attention and most of them, if not all, reverberate

which loudly proclaims the artist’s preference for painting with

with his new obsession, ‘to simplify’. He had already received this

great economy of means. In another painting of the same period,

‘command’ from his spiritual guru and his art was undergoing the

done in pastel and charcoal on paper, the smiling face of his wife

process of purging itself of the inessentials in order to arrive at

appears with a turban (Fig. 104) and is flanked by three fecund fe-

a stage of mental self-purification through visual simplification.

males drawn in lyrical lines and geometric ornamentation. It also

Such a reductive attempt in visual art was not uncommon. What

illustrates his attempted preference for simplification. The happy

was, and is, not so common is the end-result. Several successful

frame of mind of the artist, was derived from the fact of his second

examples of the same are available since 1997. One of his rather

parenthood, and is noticable in several works of the period, more

small works (Fig. 102), painted on board in tempera, may be re-

particularly, in another pastel work in which a series of profiled 121


Fig. 103. Untitled, dry pastel and charcoal on paper, 12� x 14�, 1997

faces of his wife, all in various moods of introspection (Fig. 103),

bodies of both sexes engaged in acts of personal introspection,

fill the space. These works, in absence of the entire output of this

while remaining close to each other in atmospheric navigation.

period, allow a clear glimpse of how he had arrived at this styliza-

This ability to create an illusion of upper space with recognizable

tion based on the command of his Guru to simplify and, how this

characters defying gravitational pull to float free is done by using

was achieved organically as if ordained at a higher level.

simple means with an impressive result. Another shaped diptych (Fig. 101), with rounded arches on the top edge to accentuate the

The year 1997 also witnessed his attempt of using shaped can-

religious association of the painting, uses two identically shaped

vases to accentuate his spiritual content. A gilded frame, and the

canvasses with gilded frames joined together. The painting on the

elliptical shape of the canvas, together create an unmistakable

left depicts various characters milling around a huge cross that is

feel of the ancient order while the images float within the painting

tilted and, it appears is in the process of getting dismantled. Such

Golden Canoe (Fig. 100) transgressing the constraints of space

imagery easily brings the painting close to the Biblical theme of

and time. This painting compels the attention of the viewer to

the descent from the Cross, while Neeraj has stopped short of mak-

move up towards the sky and allows it to float around the clouds

ing the scene too obvious. This clever use of the Cross as a paint-

at will, and this feeling is achieved by painting scores of human

erly metaphor, however, has retained its spiritual intensity in very

122


Fig. 104. Untitled, dry pastel and charcoal on paper, 14� x 12�, 1997 123


clear terms. In the second canvas on the right he has encased his

his canvases with striking results. So far Neeraj was content in

wife inside a tilted cube symbolizing her happy domesticity. Her

painting vacant spaces in his canvases, often resulting as angular

face is immersed in deep introspection and is painted with con-

shapes down the edges, with cobalt blue that reflected an au-

trolled passion. Both his wife, and the cube she is encased within,

tumnal sky. His characters in the canvas derived their positional

is happily afloat in the transcendental sky painted with pregnant

strength in time and space by such associated colours of reality.

clouds. The same year he painted a large canvas (Fig. 105) to

In the series of paintings done in 1998 he, it appears, went for an

depict a female deity of unknown attributes. Like the image of the

ultramarine variety in place of sky-blue. It offered him a painterly

god Zeus, painted by Ingres in Neo-Classical style, Neeraj has po-

tool to create the right balance in his canvases now being loaded

sitioned the goddess in this painting right at the centre, taking up

with the increasing intensity of an ocular glow that he managed

almost all the available pictorial space, and leaving barely enough

to introduce with his use of gold leaves. Such a palette of pure

space to allow Neeraj to paint the blue sky all around that elevates

ultramarine and textured gold, with selective use of red and green

the position of the goddess up in the sky, devoid of earthly bond-

conveyed the inner world of a happy persona, full of mental peace

ing. In her left hand she firmly holds a sceptre, or something simi-

and material success. It betrays very little of the inner conflict

lar in measure, while her right hand rests akimbo on her waist.

that he had to go through during the most part of the previous year

Two large triangles of unequal dimension, pointing towards each

when his art began to be associated with that of others, without

other forms her body with the larger triangle denoting her lower

Neeraj getting any credit for initiating such changes in other’s art,

part with minimum effort. Images of smaller triangles painted in

during this period.

muted colours of various shades, complete the pattern of her dress while her hair is done in the traditional fashion of Indian monks, uncombed and shaped like a bun atop. Several faces of Neeraj’s wife, all in contemplative profile, are visible around the deity and Neeraj himself appears behind the left shoulder of the goddess in a similar mood of deep concentration. The use of gold leaves, pasted in flat rectangles and painted over in thin lines, has further enriched the pictorial surface with an intended message of spiritual intensity and creates the semblance of a golden doorway of the inner sanctum for the deity to settle within. Every element in this iconic painting is painted with dream-like fudginess while only the feet of the deity is drawn in realistic outline enabling the viewer to pay their obeisance to the lotus feet. In yet another painting, also done in 1997 (Fig. 106), Neeraj successfully used flat areas of gold leaf and then rubbed colours over the gold leaf to create the desired ethereal glow with the right hue and minimal texture. This painting, perhaps for the first time, shows both Neeraj and his wife painted together, engaged in loving conversation. The next year, in 1998, Neeraj had a show arranged for him in Paris for the first time. A subtle but not insignificant change found an inroad into his art at this stage perhaps without any conscious effort. In scores of paintings done in 1998 one finds this changed background in 124


Fig. 105. Valley Of The Gods, gold leaf and oil on canvas, 51” x 48”, 1997

125


Fig. 106. Couple, gold leaf and oil on canvas, 10” x 13”, 1997

8.

supremacy that often clouded the good sense still remaining in a

In May 2000 the population of India reached one billion. The

few individuals. Neeraj was one such exception who could remain

dawn of a new millennium was greeted with mindless brouhaha

unaffectedly firm in his conviction that art for him is to bring out

worldwide, instigated by the media. Public perception responded

the truth he experiences in his spiritual kriya as dictated to him by

to the staged excitement with visible zeal and élan. The eupho-

his Guru. Not many, in the 21 st century, encouraged him to think

ria of promises in the new millennium was soon eclipsed by the

and paint with spiritual content in the age of post-modernism.

emerging forces of discontent and mistrust. Instead of everlasting

These two words, religiousness and spirituality, became almost

peace and communal harmony the new era began to assume the

synonymous with stupid yearning for values long discarded by so-

role of being the age of: more experts and less solutions, taller

ciety at large while modern and post-modern art is not expected to

buildings and shorter tempers, higher incomes and lower mor-

have any link to such thoughts and values. It is to Neeraj’s credit

als, wider expressways and narrower viewpoints. Such a scenario

that he continued with his chosen line of thoughts and was able to

of gloom and despair was adequately reflected in the worldwide

break new ground in the process over the next ten years. His art,

spread of violence and it was terrorism in the name of religious

between 2001 to 2010, entered into its matured phase and there

126


fortunately was matching recognition awaiting him though not al-

His first true solo in life, as narrated already, was organized by

ways by recognizing the spiritual uniqueness of his art.

senior artists in Delhi and a few works from this show held at the studio of Delhi Silpi Chakra were collected by Krishen Khanna,

Neeraj went to Paris, his first visit abroad, for an exhibition ar-

Sunit Chopra and Professor Kulkarni. Manjit Bawa was then a

ranged there by Gallery Mohanjeet in 1998. It was part of the Fes-

very active member of the group and came out with forceful words

tival of India to celebrate Fifty Years of Indian Independence, that

praising the work of young Neeraj. Such benevolent gestures from

was being celebrated by organizing various events worldwide at

seniors in the field helped in consolidating his name and fame

that time and his travelling expenses were paid for by the Indian

since his art-college days. His price went up in tandem and new

Council for Cultural Relations who organized the show in collabo-

collectors emerged on the scene. Unfortunately Neeraj was kept

ration with this Parisian Gallery. It was not a small honour for be-

carefully in the dark about the identity of his collectors by the

ing picked up to show solo by the Ministry of External Affairs of

gallery representing him in his early days for obvious reasons.

the Government of India. Neeraj was not in his best of spirits in

Though a sizeable number of his works changed hands between

those days and soon got his purse picked out of his pocket while

1991 to 2000, we have very little information about the profile of

moving down an escalator in the Parisian Metro.

his admirers and patrons of the period. Only the name of a handful, who chose to contact the artist directly and acquired his works

Being lonely in Paris was taking its natural effect on a sensitive

frequently, are now known to us. One of his early collector’s, who

soul and he found a faint silver lining in seeing most of his works

visited his Garhi studio in Delhi in 1989, was a Swiss national

on display finding favour with the French collectors. He was con-

who bought all that was available in the studio in those days. Mr.

gratulated in superlatives and a few of his works even caught the

Paul Cervinka visited him again the following year and bought a

buying attention of more than one collector during the show which

few more works and told the young artist that Neeraj Goswami, for

prompted the gallery to request Neeraj for more solos, a promise

Cervinka, was the chosen artist after Salvador Dali. By that time

that he is yet to keep. He had shown a few of his miniature draw-

Neeraj’s Transcendence (Fig. 86) had already been collected by

ings in this show which drew the attention of the viewers for obvi-

the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi and some of his

ous reasons.

foreign collectors had their first exposure to Neeraj Goswami at the walls of this national institution. Chester Herwitz and his wife

Back home, in the same year, he was persuaded by a Gallery in

also became his early admirers and so was Professor Ratnam from

Mumbai to show with them. In the previous year, in 2000, he had

Boston. Raaja Kanwar, a very successful businessman in India,

already held his tenth solo with Gallerie Ganesha and it did not

was determined to form the largest collection of Neeraj Goswami

take much to persuade him to show with others, outside Delhi. It

in private hands and had his own living room redesigned to dis-

was to be his first solo show in the city of Mumbai and Neeraj had

play Neeraj’s works alone. Another Indian company engaged in

enough works on hand to exhibit with Art Musings Gallery. This

producing two-wheelers with a Japanese collaboration, also start-

show also was a complete sell-out and, more importantly, became

ed their private collection of Neeraj by purchasing six large can-

the talk of the town for quite some time. Encouraged by the suc-

vases and continued to collect more from his shows held abroad.

cess Neeraj exhibited again with this gallery five years later in

The Birlas, Ambanis, Ranbaxy, Punj Lloyd, and Salgaonkars, to

Mumbai. The Gallery did not have much space in its own premises

name a few, are some of the prominent names in the Indian Cor-

and had to hire Jehangir Art Gallery in the heart of Mumbai to

porate collections who have Neeraj’s work as part of their collec-

present this huge solo show, all of which got picked up by collec-

tions. The list is far from exhaustive but since Neeraj stays away

tors with alacrity. At the ripe old age of forty-one Neeraj Goswamy

from the party circuit of the rich and famous, he hardly knows

attained an enviable status in Indian Contemporary Art and gen-

who, among them, owns what and since when.

erated enough originality in his creative output to attract quite a large following of important collectors who just could not have

In May 2007 a very important solo was organized by the Aicon

enough of him.

Gallery in New York. Neeraj worked on this exhibit for eighteen 127


months refusing to sell any of the works that he completed during

would in turn unify the whole structure of paint layers while, in

this period, the resultant collection when finally exhibited, was

addition, offer an additional ‘glaze’ of the thin layers of paint that

spectacular, to say the least. The show was titled Golden Orb, and

covers them. Van Eyck, it is now known, often applied such layers

included several of his drawings besides large and very large can-

after his preliminary drawing was done in Indian ink or, occasion-

vases and a few circular disc of fibreglass coated with gold leaves

ally, with brown earth colour. William Etty, as recorded in the

and painted over. Neeraj insisted for a preview in Delhi, before

Oxford Companion to Art, applied a thin coat of umber mixed with

the show was airlifted out of the country, to enable his Indian

copal varnish over his under-paintings in black, white and Indian

admirers to view his latest works, which were, arguably enough,

red to warm them up before the final painting in full colour. In

the best till then. In retrospect this decision of a preview in Delhi

Neeraj’s work we notice a significantly different use of ‘imprimat-

appears to have been a good one as, as the opening day itself, half

ura’. It is a carefully personalized approach in its execution as his

the show got booked and the Aicon Gallery owners had to suspend

art is seldom pre-planned unlike that of the Renaissance Masters.

further sale at this point to enable their American patrons to collect the rest, for when the Golden Orb was shown in New York.

The very first layers of paint his white canvases receive do not have any under-drawing to direct his choice of palette. For this

9.

act he depends entirely on his meditative skill and a trained hand

‘Memories go back and forth’ says Neeraj, ‘it is attachment and

that takes over the intellectual function to interpret what his mind

the association of memory that plays an important role in the cre-

has began to imagine. It is more like the clouds gathering up in

ation of an image. It takes a long time to work on a single im-

the sky to form floating images. In his case the images remain hid-

age. I guess the layers that come become the manifestation of the

den in the depth of his mind and he continues to rub in ‘paints’

inner workings of the subconscious’. A closer understanding of

using hand-rollers of various sizes and shapes, and erasing also

Neeraj’s painting technique is helpful in order to arrive at a bet-

at will whenever necessary depending on his intuitive acumen,

ter appreciation of his art which, as he rightly says, is intricately

while the image germinates and grows within. The first layer of

inter-wired with his own sub-conscious self. His paintings bear a

paint is followed by several more layers, some of which may ad-

truthful representation of what goes on inside the man who created

ditionally offer a textured surface too, and together becomes his

them and this is revealed in the layers of paint that he applies on

middle layer (or imprimatura), which by then emerges with the

his canvases.

germinated idea of what shape his creation in his canvases, will appear to assume.

He, as we have already noted, maintains an unshakable link with the art of the past. He almost entirely devotes his creative energy

He works on several canvases at a time, whenever a new set of

to working with paint applied in carefully constructed layers on

canvases arrives at his studio, he works on each of them whenever

canvases that, to a large extent, mirrors the ‘Imprimatura’ tech-

he feels ready for it and the signal always comes from within.

nique of the Masters of the trade both in India and abroad. Invent-

Each painting of Neeraj Goswami thus bears witness to the con-

ed by the early Flemish and Italian Masters and later perfected

centrated act of meditation taking place within the act of painting

during the Renaissance the ‘imprimatura’, technically speaking,

on the canvas itself, and grows along the same pace of organic de-

involves application of a thin layer of paint on the canvas primed

velopment of the artwork so created. Finally he starts to draw his

in white, that provides the painter with a toned ground to paint

images over his layer of constructed ‘imprimatura’ and finishes

upon. Artists in those days always prepared their under painting

his work with touches of colours. Instead of being pre-meditated

carefully as their art was pre-conceived and often commissioned

his working process reveals a growth-pattern whose point of origin

with specific subject-matter dictated well in advance. The role

assumes equal importance for the viewer to decipher along with

of the ‘imprimatura’ for them was several. It not only provided

the end result.

them with a less absorbent ground but would easily be used as a middle-tone, which shows through the final layers of paint. This 128

Neeraj had adopted this technique for quite some time and it at-


tained near-perfection around 1995, the year he painted several

Delhi in the nineties was full of young artists and most of them

large canvases that may easily serve the purpose of illustrating

were part of the alumni of the MFA course, that Neeraj too was

this point. His young girl (Fig. 98) in oil on canvas, now part of a

part of. In fact he came out as the topper in the very first batch of

private collection, portrays a partially draped female figure whose

MFA in Delhi Art College, and was promptly invited by his Alma

glowing skin and equally unblemished pair of delicate hands is in

Mater to join as a faculty member, because the existing teaching

sharp contrast to her upper and lower part in which the carefully

staff of the college, were not MFA graduates for obvious reason,

textured ‘imprimatura’ under painting is allowed to reveal itself

and were, therefore not technically qualified to take such classes

in full glory even though the resultant form appears indetermin-

as per University rules. Neeraj was an obvious choice to help Pro-

able. This technique of applying line and colour over a carefully

fessor Om Prakash Sharma, and together they shouldered the bur-

developed ‘imprimatura’ to draw the final shapes of the visualized

den of teaching students in the MFA course. He taught there for

image (that did not have a clearly imagined beginning) is evident

four long years, and utilized the adjoining studio almost regularly

also in The Feast (Fig. 97) that we have already described earlier.

to paint, and thus was instrumental in the development of the

Layers of ‘imprimatura’, in shades of red and ochre, plays a unify-

next generation of artists in Delhi to some extent. He continued to

ing role in this large canvas. The large animated group of people

spread his stylistic spell upon others even after he left his teach-

seated atop the dining table to evoke the Biblical story appears

ing job soon after that and, as already noted, was prolific in his

clearly as having emerged out of the rubbed paint-surface and

output during the last decade of the millennium.

then finished with rigid lines and additional hints of colour to accentuate their individual appearances. The same is even more

His ten solos that happened in Delhi almost on an annual ba-

visable in the figure of the lone woman tiptoeing left to right in the

sis, kept him busy, and he remained immersed in his own private

bottom half. Her fully draped body reveals an equally clever use

world without realizing the effect produced by his art upon his

of middle-tone that, in this painting, almost takes over the role of

contemporaries in the city. A few of them had quietly adopted

the final layer.

his style and became even more famous than him soon enough, while Neeraj remained completely oblivious to what was happen-

Fig. 107. Yatra, oil on printed fabric, 30” x 60”, 2000 129


ing around him. He however felt happy about it with only a hint of

acters to travel in mechanized transportation and, in a few, has

regret as no one came forward to acknowledge the same.

grouped the humans in carriages on wheels.

The changes, however subtle, that were gradually creeping into

His fascination with angular geometry, which he learned from his

his own art during this period, and more importantly during the

tentative association with cubism during his art college days, has

closing years of the last millennium, were however more important

yielded him a stylistic tool to construct his images in stacks of

for him. He continued to meditate for long hours as before, and

triangles and cubes of various dimensions. The sharp angularity

with the spiritual guidance of his Guru who visited him annually

of triangles has helped him endow his static figures with a dy-

to remain informed about the progress being made by his disciple,

namic thrust developing within them while cubes have offered

was able to find the direction that his art is going to assume in the

dimensional strength and charm to the painted characters. He has

years to follow. Changes began to appear first in his palette, then

left the basic premise of multiple viewpoints of cubism long ago,

in the sizes and shape of his canvases and eventually got mani-

and has gone back to the more traditional approach of viewing his

fested in the final images that began to assert itself with an in-

theme from a fixed and single viewpoint.

creasing degree of authority. It appeared that he was progressing rapidly in his spiritual practices and had began to see things with

In the year 2000, he painted a horizontal canvas of moderate di-

a lot more clarity while remaining immersed in deep meditation.

mension and used printed fabric instead of his usual (primed) canvas to paint, using oil colour that was still his favourite medi-

One thing however retained its hold over his imagination over all

um. He titled the painting, when completed, Yatra (Fig. 107), that

these years and has surfaced in his art with predictable regular-

in translation, may mean travelling in a group. The painting shows

ity. His paintings always tend to visualize men and women, either

peregrination of scores of men and women moving in procession

in pairs or grouped together, and they seem to move with time. It

from right to left against the backdrop of a deep blue sky that

was his own realization that all souls are potentially divine and

seems to unite them while at the same time, offers a poignant

destined to move ahead, irrespective of their individual con-

mood to the unfolding drama waiting to happen. The overlapping

straints and misgivings, to unite with their creator; the God al-

of dresses of the humans in motion has allowed Neeraj to draw

mighty. His characters in canvas are usually seen in perpetual

them in terms of triangular shapes which, whenever joined togeth-

motion and full of emotion in their eagerness to move with time

er, seems to undulate like pendulums in perpetual motion within

and space. Neeraj has visualized them in various states of peram-

a limited trajectory. His favourite middle tone of red and ochre,

bulation and in diverse states of mental orientation. Most of them

embellished liberally with gold in final stages, has yielded the

seem unaware of their goal to unite with the divine creator, and

geometric simplification with rich ornamentation.

seem to float aimlessly with the passage of time in an unspecified yet pre-destined direction. Many more characters painted by him

This painting, and a lot more painted in the following years, reveal

appear in his canvases in introspective moods that signify their

a matured level of simplification that seems to match perfectly

depth of meditation while eager to move ahead at the same time.

with his own progress in spiritual life. His paintings, from 2002

In a few of his canvases he has loaded groups of humans in river-

onwards, mirror this slow yet steady progress.

ine transportation even though he himself does not know how to swim. It is indeed a paradox that, in spite of his inability to swim,

His painted figures, over the last few years, have also begun to

he loves to ride in country boats by himself and cherish the poten-

assume a dual characterization. The angular divisionism that pre-

tial danger of drowning with great trepidation and concealed agi-

dominated in the draperies and body parts have begun to appear

tation. His characters, loaded in groups in paddle boats, appear

in sharp contrast to the refined degree of realism with which he

to have resigned to their fate and seem to wait for the inevitable

has begun to paint faces. The internal turmoil felt during medita-

in great anticipation while the boat drifts along through uncharted

tion, it appears, finds adequate reflection in visual tensions cre-

territories. Only occasionally has he allowed his painted char-

ated by overlapping triangles while the realistically painted face,

130


Fig. 108. Reminiscence, oil on canvas, 14” x 14”, 1996

131


Fig. 109. Procession, oil on canvas, 18” x 15.5”, 2000

132


Fig. 110. Untitled, oil on canvas, 40” x 60”, 1988

appears at peace while watching the confusion within to settle

an opportunity to discuss the importance of its contents soon. The

down. His painterly progress thus is measurable by the strength of

thirty one exhibits shown in Mumbai the year before, however,

his getting rid of confusion of all kind from his visualization. The

needs a closer look first. In this series he had established his firm

same is clearly discernible in Reminiscence (Fig. 108), painted in

grip on how to express spiritual realizations in pure visual terms

oil on canvas, in 1996. To this he added a simplified background

while, at the same time, elevating the quality of art produced to a

painted mostly in blue but not always restricted to this colour

mesmerizing high level.

alone. His palette has begun to speak eloquently about his choice of background colour, that changes from red to green with ease,

Female nudes seldom appears in Neeraj’s oeuvre. The sensuous

and in each case begins to unfold its own story with painterly

lyricism in the form of a female nude as a painterly subject, his-

ease.

torically speaking, had never acquired any element of spiritual significance in modern art of the Western variety. Scores of ex-

Since 2002, for the next ten years, Neeraj became very selective

amples, however, abound in Indian and Far Eastern sculpture from

in doing solo shows. In contrast to his ten solo in as many years

earlier times when the deities were sculpted with little, if any,

in the previous decade in Delhi, he has exhibited only three be-

coverings and yet the physical form produced in stone or metal

tween 2003 and 2011, and that too in three different locations. In

appears full of spiritual energy.

2003 he was invited by the Birla Academy of Art in Kolkata. He followed this with another successful solo in Mumbai in 2006. We

After Bath (Fig. 111), shown by Neeraj, in Mumbai in 2006, is

have already mentioned his solo in the USA in 2007 and will have

one such exception. In this painting he has painted a seated nude 133


Fig. 111. After Bath, oil on canvas, 48” x 31”, 2005 134


with her arms folded closely over her chest. Accompanied by a

in the back with his favourite triangular permutation, and thus,

couple of women seated at her back, she is painted as if oblivi-

the snow-white purity of the female beauty, bathing in meditation,

ous to her being in the nude. It is not easy to understand the

and her undraped skin acquires an added degree of significance.

significance of the title as the central figure or her helpers do not exhibit any hint of bathing activity. Perhaps the cleaning of dirt

It is also equally tempting to compare the dynamic movement of

from the outer body achieved in bathing is indicative of a similar

his painted characters with a painting that he executed way back

cleansing of the soul within, through meditation and that perhaps

in 1988. This Untitled (Fig. 110) painting, in oil on canvas, shows

is what the artist has aimed to indicate by this title. The flowing

a horse that is curiously divided in two unequal parts with a wom-

outline of the youthful female, accentuated by a turquoise green

an about to step out in the middle. Stylistically speaking, it is in

with matching strength of thickness, has endowed her nubile body

closer proximity to the work of Italian Futurists, especially to that

with an out-of-the-world purity. Neeraj has chosen to do away with

of Umberto Boccioni. Futurism was an artistic and social move-

his angular format but, in this case, has painted her very life-like,

ment that originated in Italy in the early 20 th century. The mani-

with a more conventional application of chiaroscuro and a single

festo of this art movement essentially distanced itself from all the

source of light illuminating her body and soul. Her natural action

art of the past in order to proclaim their faith in the future of the

to cover her breasts with folded arms appears even more instinc-

present. It had chosen symbols of such machinery of the modern

tive, and certainly done with no conscious effort, when seen to-

age that generates motion like the aeroplane and locomotive, and

gether with her facial expression that seem to radiate with spiri-

had chosen to emphasize themes associated with contemporary

tual bliss, it justifies the title. The artist has draped the helpers

concepts of the future including speed, technology, youth and

Fig. 112. Mystics and Angels, oil on canvas, 48� x 72�, 2005 135


Fig. 113. Arrival-celebration, acrylic on canvas, 60” x 96”, 2011

violence. The art of the Futurists tends to glorify objects such as

bining the surface quality of Futurism and Cubism in developing

the car, airplane and the industrial city. Futurism was inspired

his personal idiom of spiritualism. The unconcealed fascination of

by the developments of Cubism but went beyond the latter’s sole

Neeraj for depicting movement in his art, as is evident in this ear-

emphasis on techniques. It was largely an Italian phenomenon,

ly work of 1988, records his admiration for Futurism while retain-

though there were parallel movements in Russia, England and

ing his love for Cubism. He in fact was convinced, judging by the

elsewhere. Painters subscribing to these theories tried to capture

example of this untitled work, that it is indeed possible to paint

the rhythm of repetitive lines and, inspired mainly by the contem-

men and women in motion, walking or running or even dancing,

porary developments in photography, began to portray motion by

and that this sense of movement can be successfully translated in

breaking their subject into small sequences and a wide range of

visual terms using triangles and geometric divisionism.

angles aimed at creating an illusion of movement. It was a very influential art movement but remained confined to the verisimili-

There were several works, in his solo of 2006 at Mumbai’s Jehan-

tude of the outer world.

gir Art Gallery that had successfully showcased this aspect of his art. Marathon of the Mystics, Mystics & Angels, Follow the Mys-

Key figures of the movement include the Italians Filippo Mari-

tic, Walk like an Angel, and a few more in this exhibition clearly

netti, Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carrà, Giacomo Balla, and the

establish his ability to analyze human movement in pure visual

Russians led by Natalia Goncharova, Velimir Khlebnikov, and

terms and in a self-developed style that has already acquired an

Vladimir Mayakovsky. But none of them had the spiritual orienta-

added measure of spiritual significance.

tion of Klee and Kandinsky. A group of seven people in a painting of this series, entitled It is left to the credit of Neeraj to discover the possibility of com136

Run (Fig. 131), is one such work. It shows his use of geometric


Fig. 114. Golden Canoe, oil on canvas, 30� x 40�, 2005

division of the intertwined figures to generate an unmistakable

with green, fills the background in the painting entitled Follow

feel of the group running forward in unison. Their faces, paint-

the Mystic (Fig. 126). The flat background that appears in this

ed with adelicately balanced mix of Realism with hints of an-

work also binds the three characters with a shared empathy. Two

gular dimension, have yielded a look of devotional surrender to

of them are engaged voluntarily to escort the lone woman in the

their spiritual pathfinder. There is one woman, in the front of this

middle towards the path of spiritual salvation. They appear with

group, whose wide open eyes bestow upon her the responsibility

a concerned look in their faces and eyes, while the woman’s eyes

of leading the group. The variation in treatment in their faces,

are closed in deep meditation and a look of attainable peace in her

compared to the rest of their physique, also brings into attention

youthful lineament is oblivious to her dependence on her fellow-

their organic growth in spiritual life; from confusion of domestic

believers. The abundance of triangles in their dresses appears in

life to tranquillity of spiritual upliftment.

peaceful co-existence with no hint of confusion to their resigned presence in this act of mystic camaraderie. Almost all the paint-

His Mystics & Angels (Fig. 112) shows a similar group, this time

ings in this series exhibit a heightened degree of spiritual peace

riding the waves of human existence in a boat, and has the ad-

of the artist who created them and the same is mirrored in his at-

vantage of a winged angel in the group. An unfathomable depth

tempt to minimalise his visual by removing all that is not strictly

of mystified tranquillity, painted flat in a hue of mustard tinged

necessary.

137


Neeraj Goswami, since 2006, appears to have realized his place in contemporary Indian art while treading a path seldom used by his contemporaries. Even those who felt influenced by his style of constructing pictorial space with angular divisionism failed to realize the importance of the role played by his spiritual quest in the development of his art. Neeraj’s next major solo took place in New York City with a preview in Delhi. Aicon Gallery arranged the show in May 2007, and it had several large canvases that showcased the result of his spiritual quest in clear terms.

Fig. 115. Marathon of the Mystics, oil on canvas, 48” x 60”, 2005 138


Fig. 116. Walk like an Angel, oil on canvas, 48” x 36”, 2005 139


Fig. 117. Flight, oil on canvas, 24” x 24”, 2005

140


Fig. 118. Nostalgia, oil on board, 39” x 27.5”, 2005 141


Fig. 119. Together, oil on canvas, 36” x 24”, 2005 142


Fig. 120. Encounter, oil on canvas, 18” x 12”, 2005 143


Fig. 121. Untitled, charcoal pencil on paper, 6.5” x 10”, 2005

Fig. 122. Holy Dip, oil on canvas, 12” x 24”, 2005 144


Fig. 123. Untitled, charcoal pencil on paper, 10� x 6.5�, 2005 145


Fig. 124. A Step Forward, oil on canvas, 17” x 18”, 2005

146


Fig. 125. Happening, mixed media on paper, 22� x 14.5�, 2005 147


Fig. 126. Follow the Mystic, acrylic on board, 31” x 35”, 2005

148


Fig. 127. Circumambulation, oil on canvas, 48” x 36”, 2007 149


Fig. 128. Walk, oil on canvas, 36” x 30”, 2005

150


Fig. 129. Walk, tempera on paper, 13” x 10”, 2005 151


Fig. 130. Toy House, oil on canvas, 48” x 36”, 2005 152


Fig. 131. Run, oil on canvas, 48” x 48”, 2005

153


Fig. 132. Brought the moon for you, oil on canvas, 30” x 24”, 2009 154


Fig. 133. Reaching Out - for the Sun, acrylic on canvas, 84” x 48”, 2010 155


Fig. 134. Untitled, oil on canvas, 43.5” x 36”, 1995 156


Fig. 135. Golden Ouvre, oil on canvas, 24” x 24”, 2010

157


Fig. 136. Godhuli (Golden Orb series), oil on canvas, 60” x 48”, 2007 158


10. The role of image in religion has been there from the very beginning, but the role of image in worship has not always been fully understood­, particularly in the case of Hinduism where there are a multitude of god­- images. Every individual having faith in this ancient religion is allowed to retain its right to choose one’s own god ­image which may take the form of Vishnu or Shiva, Durga or Kali or any of the other gods or goddesses. Each morning a priest comes in and conducts his daily ritual of worship by reciting mantras in front of a chosen image of the deity, he waves a wick lamp and incense sticks before the image, while the devotees celebrate with trumpets, drums and bells and conch­s hells in unison. The poor Hindu sits before this idol and says ‘O Lord, I cannot conceive Thee as spirit, so let me conceive Thee in this form. O Lord, forgive me for this imperfect worship of Thee’. Communication in visual art also rests on such limitations and the artist paints images that he conjures up, and believes that the end product will convey the intended message. Artists are also aware that their viewers may not get all of his coded messages and prays nevertheless that they will. Swami Vivekananda explained this situation clearly with these words: ‘All of you have been taught to think of an omnipresent God. Try to think of it. How few of you can have any idea of what omnipresence means! If you struggle hard, you will get something like the idea of the ocean, or of the sky, or of a vast stretch of green earth, or of a desert. All these are material images, and so long as you cannot conceive of the abstract as abstract, of the ideal as ideal, you will have to resort to these forms, to these material images’. The art of Neeraj Goswami, when examined under this logic, reveals its vibrative effect on viewers with a subtle yet unshakable impact even when the viewer is not able to understand its pictorial code completely. These images are loaded with a spiritual vision that was conceived by the artist without any conscious effort on his part. The images appear in his vision while he prepares his inner self to receive such appearances. In order to view this individually one may easily begin with his 2007 series done for the show with Aicon Gallery in New York. He titled this series Golden Orb. An ‘orb’ is traditionally known to represent globular celestial objects like the Earth, Sun and Moon, or even a planet or a star in distant horizon revolving in motion in outer space in its 159


Fig. 137. Golden Orb 1, gold leaf and oil on fibre glass, 5” x 10.25”, 2006

Fig. 138. Golden Orb II, gold leaf and oil on fibre glass, 5” x 10.25”, 2007

predictable orbit. An orb, in old age astronomy, usually denotes

of cubes. By shading the contour lines, on both sides of the lines,

a transparent sphere that surrounds the Earth carrying heavenly

he has added his own variation of the Kalighat­p at style. In a sense

bodies in their revolution. It also symbolizes the divine charter

he has borrowed judiciously from this urbanized­ folk medium and

on selected individuals in earthly matters like, for instance, the

then employed his own variation to create an idiosyncratic style,

Royal family in Britain uses an orb surmounted by a cross, as their

in which he has painted the angel within this small circular disc.

symbolic right to rule. Neeraj viewed it in its spiritual context and

Its face, painted with a similar fascination for two­ dimensional

painted three variations of orb to portray his meditated vision.

geometry, has an intensely meditative look, and yet easily betrays its readiness to transform the inertia of the seated position into a

There were two circular discs, each a diameter of nearly twelve

kinetic burst of speed at the press of a button. His palette retains

inches and coated with gold leaves, that serves as the pictorial

its love for blue and, in addition, he has opted for a selective use

surface for his Golden Orb. Its ‘tondo’ like shape, favoured during

of red and gold that has yielded the needed strength to add life

the Western Renaissance to paint Biblical themes, offers an added

to the shades of blue used here. Titled Golden Orb II (Fig. 138),

dimension to its intended religiosity. In one of the discs a modern­

this painting cleverly defies its dimensional limitation in order to

day angel fills the space with a sharply angular physicality. Hints

reach greater spiritual significance in its style of execution. The

of a wing on its shoulder offers the required clue to its celestial

same may be said too for his Golden Orb I (Fig. 137) in which the

characterization. The mechanical sharpness of its constructed

introspective face of a male figure occupies centre stage. Con-

body vibrates with a heightened degree of latent energy, as if ready

fined and rooted firmly within a rectangular space, the character

to fly out. Its inertia of rest is a charade, while the soul within

seems about to fly out of this cocoon in search of the illusive

watches the countdown going on inside the body and is all set to

orb. Scores of similar characters of both sexes, each similarly co-

ignite into divine motion at the right moment. There is a feeling of

cooned within its own spiritual realisation, are circling in tandem

artistic perfection in this piece, done with almost no pre­c onceived

in infinite space around the central character and together forms

preparation, which carefully conceals the organic growth of the

the desired pictorial content in this small disc. There was another

subject right on the surface of the canvas. Neeraj has taken care

painting in this show with the same title (Fig. 139) that completes

to utilize his love for dividing the human body into the geometric

his view of the chase for the orb. In the third variation, this time

division of rectangles and stops short of viewing the same in terms

painted on a rectangular canvas, a standing male has got hold of

160


Fig. 139. Golden Orb III, oil on canvas, 10.5” x 6.5”, 2006 161


Fig. 140. El Dorado (Golden Orb series), oil on canvas, 60� x 100�, 2007

the orb like disc of gold in his hands and appears to meditate on

While a dancer beside her is painted by the artist using only the

his catch. The round shape of the golden disc is causing a cyclic

rhythmic outline of the undulating garment painted with flowing

vibration in his body, and the wavy movement in the fold of the

yet simple linearity. There are many more figures painted in the

dress carries the inner vibration to the outer world. In all the three

lower strata of the Universe and the three at the left bottom are

paintings of the orb he has been able to create a visual metaphor

clearly seen to pray for salvation and release from human bondage.

to depict the inertia of rest and motion together in a frame of sus-

Two angels fly down from above the three individuals at prayer

pended animation, happening inside the same human being. It is

while scores of luckier individuals, circling the outer space in

a curious juxtaposition of static posture with dynamic possibility,

perpetual motion of spiritual bliss, have got hold of their cher-

and of emotional stability with spiritual outburst. Almost all the

ished golden orb. A knight watchman, dressed in an angular suit

paintings in this series represent the same feeling in various pic-

of armour, stands tall on the right edge of this super large canvas,

torial compositions and a few, among them, deserve a closer look.

and watches over the proceedings in solitary confinement. The

El Dorado (Fig. 140) is one of them.

successful portrayal of varying states of alienation and involvement, motion and emotion, stability and speed, meditation and

As seen in the traditional description of the heavenly orb, all the

attainment, and the static and dynamic state, are successfully

figures painted in El Dorado are in rotational movement by re-

portrayed in this painting. Neeraj has taken from his past achieve-

maining cocooned within their private world. This personalized

ments and combined Cubism and Futurism deep into the realm of

envelope of varying transparency also serves to metaphorically

spiritual inwardness.

represent their kinetic status and, at the same time, indicate their level of spiritual attainment. A woman seated on her aunches with

This series, was conceptualized and executed through the year

hands holding her meditative head has a grey envelope that faintly

2006, is significant not only for the rapid progress made by the

hints at her domestic habitat, solid and immovable.

artist in his spiritual quest but also for a momentous change that

162


dawned on his palette. Seen in retrospect this change appears not

phorically in the woman at prayer with the promised reward of the

to be something that he had consciously worked to achieve but are

golden orb at her feet. A vast space of inscrutable depth surrounds

visible from one painting to another without any predictable shift-

all of them, this is emphasized by the use of a sky that envelops

ing pattern. His Godhuli (Fig. 136), done in 2007, exhibits an un-

the characters with its mystified blue with a greenish undertone.

ashamed preference for warm browns, while Mystical Walk (Fig.

An unmistakable envelope of exploding silence is further empha-

141) and Beginning of Another Day (Fig. 142) done during the

sized by the simple outline of two snow­c apped peaks seen in the

same year, indicates a mixed palette of blue shared with brown, in

distance. The economy of lines and a deliberate attempt to get to

a curious consistency. An Untitled (Fig. 143) work done in 2007

the essential basics by a minimalist approach have emerged in his

however sings literally with variations of blue in which shades of

art over the last two years and its fruition is seen in this painting,

ochre and umbers, add to the warmth while remaining dominated

arguably at its very best. Neeraj Goswami, from 2007 onwards,

by the celestial hue of cobalt and ultramarine. The mood of each

is destined to devote his creative energy with increasing sense of

painting in this series, hovers with shifting focus from blue to

inner tranquillity that will also reflect his spiritual ascendancy.

green and reddish brown to golden yellow. He seldom uses primary colours and has the uncanny ability to generate a mystical quality with his variations of emerald green and turquoise blue, warm sepia and Indian red. In each of these colours, chosen judiciously to depict the mood of the moment, he adds brilliant touches of a complementary palette consisting of textured gold and golden yellow and also metallic silver, used occasionally. Such engagement with a limited palette however was sufficient for Neeraj to picturize his paintings with an appearance of meditative palette in which colours and textures surrender to get unified. This aspect in his art may be viewed in yet another work from his 2006 series done for his New York show. He titled it Play II (Fig. 148) and painted a group five youth in various positions of acrobatics while the lone woman in the group, placed right at the end, is standing atop a round object that, judging by the title of the series itself, looks like a golden orb. A similar orb, much smaller in size, is held by the boyish youth at the opposite end of the group. Such a portrayal of dynamic acrobatics of the youthful figures is however done as if they are all frozen in suspended animation while each character in this painting appears as though immersed in their own private world. Unlike his usual theme of a forward thrust, this one is concerned with stalemate, while the characters are pitted against each other excepting the woman on the right edge. She is shown as if bending down in an apparent act of prayer to the unseen god ahead of her, and with this simple act asserts the duality of life. Useless confrontation of modern times is pictorially translated by Neeraj in the image of the group of youth trying to bring each other down even while at play, and as the path to salvation is being conceived by the artist meta163


Fig. 141. Mystical Walk (Golden Orb series), oil on canvas, 48” x 42”, 2007

164


Fig. 142. Begining of Another Day (Golden Orb series), oil on canvas, 24” x 18”, 2007 165


Fig. 143. Untitled (Golden Orb series), oil on canvas, 18” x 24”, 2007

166


Fig. 144. Happening I (Golden Orb series), oil on canvas, 36” x 48”, 2007

167


Fig. 145. Tandem (Golden Orb series), oil on canvas board, 8.5” x 5.5”, 2006 168


Fig. 146. A Step Forward (Golden Orb series), oil on canvas, 18” x 12”, 2006 169


Fig. 147. Cityscape (Golden Orb series), oil on canvas, 18” x 24”, 2007

170


Fig. 148. Play II, oil on canvas, 28.5” x 48”, 2006

171


Fig. 149. Portrait of Renu, dry pastel on paper, 8” x 7.5”, 1997

Fig. 150. Detail of ‘Are You Ready’ (Fig. 57) 172


Fig. 151. Detail of ‘Reminiscence’ (Fig. 51)

Fig. 152. Vidaai, detail

11.

without receiving any formal training in this difficult medium,

In order to critically stimulate his mind while not at work, and

still decorates the library of the Summerfield School where he

more so when the mind feels overworked and less responsive to

studied before joining Art College. The portrait of his grandfather,

his silent prayer during meditation, he takes up his note book and

executed deftly in pastel with mesmerizing detail, is yet another

allows his hand to draw at will. It is his favourite pastime and,

example of his academic portraiture executed in his early days of

seen in retrospect, offers an open window to assess the trends of

studies at Art College. He painted his own self­p ortrait by candle­

his creative mind at work at any given time during the last three

light in those days but, surprisingly enough, revealed little inter-

decades. An interesting fact about Neeraj may in addition be de-

est to paint self­p ortraits as is often noticed among artists, past and

rivable by studying his drawings. It reveals his strong love for

present. Instead he has showered his love of portraiture by taking

academic realism that he started his career with, and it resurfaces

up the face of the only woman in his life who appears time and

in his art even when he tries his hand to draw differently.

again in almost all his paintings done since 2002. It is the comely face of his wife he loves with deep intensity. In one of his early

His paintings may also be seen as an extended presentation of his

portraits of his wife he has painted her realistically (Fig. 149),

drawing as he, after applying his paint­l ayers cautiously, draws out

with light highlighting her innocently inquisitive face from the

his intended picture over it and thus treats his colours, already

right, but introduced his favourite line to draw out the facial cur-

laid out on the canvas, as a carefully prepared under­s urface. A

vature of the rounded cheeks. The light that illuminates her also

brief look at his drawings, with or without the painted and tex-

floods the background in the painting with equal intensity and his

tured surface, is therefore expected to lead his viewers to a better

line thus brings out the face out of the glow. Such use of academic

level of understanding of his stylistic evolution. He started his

discipline in drawing of female faces in his paintings has contin-

career, in his pre­a rt college days, with a surprising level of skill in

ued even in his later years and even though his artistic style has

drawing the exact likeness of life and nature, and was rewarded by

undergone significant changes, from realism, geometric variation

his receiving commissioned jobs at frequent intervals to illustrate

to spiritualism. A random selection of facial detail, from several

children’s books with similar subjects drawn realistically in fine

paintings done during the last two decades, clearly establishes

detail. His portrait of Munshi Premchand, done in oil on canvas

his love for realistic drawing even when the background and all 173


Fig. 153. Drawing, pencil on paper, 8.2” x 7.5”, 1988

174


Fig. 154. Drawing, pencil on paper, 5” x 8”, 1988

Fig. 155. Happening, pencil on paper, 7.5” x 12.5”, 1989 175


Fig. 156. Drawing, pen and ink on paper, 6.5” x 10”, 1987

other areas of his paintings are painted or drawn in a different

patterns, done with shading selective parts of the male physique

painterly idiom.

with variations in pencilled grey is still there, but the intention of creating a flat pictorial surface with designed contours is clearly

We have already discussed some of his drawings during his Cub-

evident in this drawing, and more so in the lyrical shape of the

ism phase and have also noted how it eventually became a sty-

female consort drawn with lyrical grace as expected in the form of

listic tool in his later developments. Couple of drawings, done in

a female nude.

1988, helps one realize the same in fine detail. This may easily be considered as the end­p hase to his formative period as he was

In yet another drawing done the year after, in 1989 (Fig. 155), he

about to exit from his studies at the Delhi Art College at this time.

appears to remain seriously immersed in the magical attraction

In one of the drawings he drew a family of five persons (Fig. 153);

of the female form. His sub­c onscious self, at the same time, was

a man on the left flanked by his wife and two children of unspeci-

still nursing the wound he had suffered in not receiving an equal

fied gender. The outline of another person emerges at the back

response to his teenage infatuation. A dismembered torso and de-

with neck outstretched as if shouting a mouthful of protest. The

formed physique of a female nude which, at the same time, is

story presented, with mostly undefined characterization, has little

drawn with controlled shading to bring out the voluminous breasts

interest for the average viewer but assumes importance only when

and tubular legs, easily reflects his mentally anguished status.

compared to the way he drew it. Angular geometry of cubist vin-

The lyrical grace of the female form was at play here with the geo-

tage has given way, in this small drawing, to an almost lyrical de-

metric rigor of Cubism; he was destined to mix the two in his own

piction of the muscular build of the alpha male. Hints of angular

way thereafter. In yet another drawing of 1987, (Fig. 156) the dis-

176


membered bodies of three human beings are drawn by Neeraj with

‘I am creating my own iconography by wielding silence and music,

a controlled mastery of pen and ink. The uniform fluidity of his

sharp angles, curves, triangles and planes merge with fluid shad-

line, while drawing out the mutilated physique in playful aban-

ow lines and mysterious depths that balance. The yearning of soul

don, has a charm of its own and has the magic potential to keep

and its need to find solitude and peace amidst the chaotic turmoil

the viewer’s attention riveted on the small drawing. The graceful

that is life is what my art is all about. I believe that “truth lies in

linearity of his drawing thus rises above the expressive angst of

the moment”.’ Neeraj’s sentiment, as expressed in these words, is

his inner self, and even in his early stage of spiritual initiation,

reflected in scores of drawings executed in between his working

reveals his inner character where peace wins over struggle. He

on larger canvases all these years, and is particularly noticeable

retained the angular geometry from this phase but used it to gen-

in a chosen few reproduced here.

erate a special charm seeped deep in his own spiritual feelings, and thus created a new direction for his art. It culminated in a

One of his drawings (Fig. 157), done towards the closing period

near­-abstract form, embellished with textured space converting

of the last Millennium, shows a couple lying at an unusual angle,

the negative space of the paper into a positive vibration, as is

their head resting against a woman standing at the far end. Neeraj

evident in several drawings from the period.

has introduced another woman at the other end of the couple in

Fig. 157. Untitled, mixed media on paper, 4.5” x 6”, 1999 177


a more visible state of resigned grief and yet another character

one forget everything else from the world outside. Sharp and rigid

is seen under the feet of the supine couple. A naturalistic look

lines vibrate palpably with latent energy and are drawn vertically

in the faces and more so in the expressive eyes, is complimented

from top downwards. The artist has profiled the character of the

by a genuine feel of freedom with which the figures are drawn us-

group in clear terms using such deliberately forceful lines while

ing flowing lines and angular contours. In his own way the artist

using a dark tone to indicate the earth below and a mystified blue

has achieved his desired stylistic identity and, when compared

above to hint at the passage of time, as the day recedes into night.

with his drawings from 2008, the extent of his subtle changes

Very economical in approach yet spontaneous in execution, this

is obvious.

small drawing easily serves to illustrate his developmental path for the next few years.

In another one of his drawings (Fig. 41), a rather ancient scene of a gurukul is drawn. It narrates the intimate method of teaching

Another drawing of a couple, done in 2008, also helps one to mar-

adopted by Indian sages in the early ages when the disciples went

vel at the range of his drawing skills (Fig. 158). The figure of a

and lived with their chosen guru and learned from them upfront.

man, and that of a woman at his back, is drawn with playful mini-

The hint of any image of the outer world is eliminated in this draw-

malism of unevenly drawn cubes and similar geometric shapes

ing to suggest the intensity of the teaching process, which makes

which get combined to hint at the intimacy of a seated couple. The

Fig. 158. Drawing, black marker on paper, 7� x 9�, 2008 178


Fig. 159. Drawing, black marker on paper, 7� x 9�, 2008

warmth of the relationship is further hinted at by the assemblage of dots that partly encircle their bodies, a trick he will reuse time and again in his later days.

179


Fig. 160. Untitled, conte, pen and ink on paper, 3.5� x 2.5�, 1991 180


Fig. 161. Clown, conte, pen and ink on paper, 6.5� x 3�, 1991 181


Fig. 162. Drawing, conte, pen and ink on paper, 6� x 3�, 1991 182


Fig. 163. Drawing, conte, pen and ink on paper, 3.5� x 2.5�, 1991 183


Fig. 164. Drawing, brown marker on paper, 10.5” x 12”, 1997

184


Fig. 165. Running Angel, rotring pen on paper, 11.5� x 8�, 2005 185


Fig. 166. Drawing, pen and ink on paper, 7.5” x 5”, 1998 186


Fig. 167. Drawing, pen and ink on paper, 9” x 8”, 1998

187


Fig. 168. Bath, pen and ink on paper board, 8” x 6”, 2007 188


Fig. 169. Couple, rotring pen on paper, 9” x 12”, 2006

189


Fig. 170. Drawing, rotring pen on paper, 9” x 12”, 2008

190


Fig. 171. Happening, rotring pen on paper, 8.2� x 10.5�, 2008

191


Fig. 172. Reclining Figures, pen and ink on board, 9.2” x 9.5”, 2008

192


Fig. 173. Seated Form, rotring pen on paper, 11.5” x 8”, 2005 193


Fig. 174. Untitled, mixed media on paper, 10” x 7”, 2007 194


Fig. 175. Moonlit Night, mixed media on paper, 11.5” x 15”, 2006

195


Fig. 176. Untitled, charcoal on paper, 12” x 9”, 2008 196


Fig. 177. Untitled, charcoal, pen and ink on paper board, 9� x 9.5�, 2008

197


Fig. 178. Untitled, mixed media on paper, 11.2” x 8”, 2010 198


Fig. 179. Mystics and angels, rotring pen on paper, 8� x 11.5�, 2005

199


200


Epilogue

201


Fig. 180. Running Woman, gold leaf and oil on canvas, 30” x 24”, 2012 202


An epilogue is normally described as the final part of a book that aims at finalizing, or attempting to complete, the contents of a non­d ramatic literary work. Within this restricted meaning it is neither possible, nor advisable, to write an epilogue for this book. It is, admittedly, a non­d ramatic description of an artist’s working life but the end of his artistic career is nowhere near. It is only peaking with every passing year and a close look at his output since 2005 will clearly establish this fact. His art, like his painted characters, always appears as if speeding ahead in celestial motion. What however, can be argued in favour of an epilogue is that in these final pages we are looking at Neeraj’s final phase of art work (since the last few years reveal a sense of conclusion to his search for the Golden Orb). We have already discussed his works, done in 2005 and 2006, shown in his New York exhibition of the Aicon gallery. His series of murals for the Shivaji Stadium Terminal of the New Delhi Metro Railway, and works done after that for a solo to be shown at Delhi and Mumbai by Sanchit Art Gallery, conveys to the present author a palpable feel of an epilogue to his life­time achievement. He is sure to scale new heights from now on, and is expected to travel through still uncharted territories in art. I have chosen to add a few drawings of Neeraj to illustrate this point (Fig. 164-174). He had always displayed a marked tendency to leave most of his pictorial space vacant and drew his characters displaying a great economy of lines. This has not changed, but the negative spaces in his papers now assume a more positive role. The space around the drawn figures now seem to unify them playing the role of the earth below and sky above without being obvious. Changes came mostly in his application of lines which had an unmistakably nervous tension earlier, with their wiry and interconnected look. It has now been replaced by a near­ perfect autonomy in which his lines play the role of God, dividing and thus demarcating, the role of individuals he drew. His drawing now appears free of all earthly tension, calm and is dignified with 203


a heightened degree of self­ assurance. His art appears well aware

strength of a pair of wings attached on its hull. A deep aquama-

of the task they are to perform in real life. The mutual attraction

rine blue surrounds the navigating instrument ferrying a boat­l oad

and inevitable repulsion of his painted group of individuals fol-

of passengers, their faces revealing an unhurried expectancy of a

lows a dotted line as if pre­d etermined by the unseen hand of the

miracle about to happen. Neeraj, in this oblong canvas, has done

God determining their individual role that they are scheduled to

away with his earlier practice of ‘rubbed’ imprimatura surface and

enact in Earth. A celestial bliss pervades his drawings and has

has instead introduced a flat layer of paint that reverberates with

also transformed his recent canvases into a significant portrayal

eloquent silence. This crafted absence of textured layers of paint,

of his superior spiritual status in recent years. His recent series,

in addition, has easily yielded an unmistakable sense of minimal-

done over the last two years, is truly an epic portrayal of his ani-

ist mysticism in this canvas but, at the same time, positions this

mated consciousness, distilled as clear liquid falling drop by drop

painting at the unknown threshold of surrealism and minimalism.

on his canvases with the same rhythm of ajapa yoga that he prac-

This somewhat new style, however, was not fully explored in this

tices daily.

phase and Neeraj took it up a year or two later while doing the series entitled The Golden Orb. The full potential of employing

The symptoms of such change was, infact, noticed in a work, ex-

this technique was utilized by him while painting a series of large

ecuted in 2004, entitled Vimana (Fig. 181). In this rectangular

vertical canvases to be displayed together as a large mural in the

canvas Neeraj has painted a boat flying high in the sky on the

main terminal of Delhi Metro. A total of eight boards, all identi-

Fig. 181. Vimaan, oil on canvas, 14” x 21”, 2004 204


cally vertical, creates that out­ of­ this­ world feeling in a very force-

taining a significant share of newness. An interesting example

ful manner when displayed together; and surely merits a close

of this phenomenon may be seen in a vastly horizontal canvas

look. They offer a world of peace and tranquillity to its intended

that surely merits a closer look. It is sub­d ivided into two equally

visitors running around either to catch the next train or walking

rectangular halves and Neeraj has painted the top half in black,

away at a brisk pace after alighting from an incoming train.

a colour he has seldom used before, particularly over such a large space. The unfathomable depth of black at the top is in

Even a quick glance at this series of works hardly fails to re-

even sharper contrast with a pink used at the bottom half, its

veal the combined storehouse of spiritual bliss, and that is written

pastel shade offering a dreamy atmosphere in which floats his

in these boards with the help of a carefully chosen palette. The

painted characters (Fig. 194). It portrays an uninterrupted chain

artist has subdivided each panel into two identical squares, and

of humanity moving right to left in perpetual motion, resigned to

each square has a different story to tell. (Fig. 182) A group of

their fate and waiting for divine ordination. The black nothing-

four brahmcharis (ascetics) and one woman in one of these pan-

ness of the outer space at the top half, however, also has float-

els, painted as if lost in private thoughts with their heads down

ing characters but each cocooned within an individualized shell

and eyes closed in introspection, has a pink wall to accentuate

of spiritual attainment. They seem to move at a celestial speed,

their thoughtfulness. Such a meditative atmosphere, in the lower

anti­c lockwise. It is a superb portrayal of the Great Spirit at work

half of this panel, is in sharp contrast to the animated movement

in the Universe at its apparently playful abandon, predetermined

portrayed in the top half, where two women are seen with hands

yet unfathomable .

stretched upward as if praying for salvation. A third woman is animatedly walking out with similarly outstretched arms in prayer,

His use of gold leaf as an undercoating in many of his recent works

but painted in profile with a wheel of motion in its midriff to sug-

has also added its own variation of mysticism when rubbed over

gest its speed of movement. The fourth woman in this group, also

with subtle layers of paint. A beautifully proportioned female, her

painted as if walking out in a great hurry, is held back by her own

skin white as purest alabaster (Fig. 180), is painted in one such

offspring. The static outline of women figures in the bottom half

canvases with a clear suggestion of her intention to step out of her

of this panel is in equally sharp contrast to the curved outlines of

mundane domesticity. Neeraj has painted this female nude with a

the four women painted in the top half. So are the colours used to

special urge for escape in her expectant look while she remains

fill each of the squares in which the women are enclosed. Neer-

totally oblivious of her undraped appearance, something that sug-

aj, it appears, has attained a masterly command over his palette

gests a superior level of spiritual attainment in which the devotee

and has employed them to sing what he wanted them to sing. A

is able to forget its earthly status. Neeraj has left the brightness

thoughtful pink, used at the bottom half of this panel clearly indi-

of the gold underpaint in the left half to reveal the mental glory

cates a meditative mood while the warmth of his yellows at the top

and has thus allowed the viewer to feel the bright spiritual future

half is full of animated life to complement the characters painted

awaiting the female, if she’s able to jump out into it. The other

against such contrasting yet thoughtful colours.

half of the space, in which she is still confined, has a darker surface that hides the brightness of the gold and thus cleverly

All eight works from this series exhibit the same mastery over the

suggests the lower level of spiritual manifestations in daily life.

language of colours that are employed to emphasise the flatness of his panels, clarity of thoughts, and poignancy of its visual lan-

In yet another work (Fig. 191) the artist has put a similarly clever

guage. This becomes both stimulating and pleasurable in equal

use of gold to suggest the celestial halo of the heavenly sky. While

measure and, last but not the least, these works boast his painterly

the dark complexion of the man in this painting is portrayed with

minimalism that is loaded with his idiosyncratic style.

a suggestion of angelic wings that he may add to his desired suit of arms, the artist has created his body using angular division-

Some of his very recent works thus assume a greater share of poi-

ism that reveals his past achievement in arts. What is new is the

gnancy and appear familiar with his past achievement while re-

use of golden sky that sings aloud with heavenly bliss. ‘Doing is 205


very good; but it comes from thinking. Fill the mind were fore

should always aim for. In the Indian yogic tradition such visions,

with highest thoughts, out of which will come great work’, thus

that appear to a blessed few during deep meditation, are to be kept

said Swami Vivekananda. The significant role of spirituality in

close to oneself and not to be divulged even to fellow w ­ orshippers.

art arises therein. In a broader sense all artists are spiritual while

Neeraj is an exception in the sense because he does paint what he

some are more conscious about it than the rest, and Neeraj surely

sees, but only with eyes closed.

ranks as one of the more serious exponents in the field of visual art. The role of spirituality in shaping the developmental course

‘I do not paint the World as I see it. I paint it the way I imagined

in his art can hardly be overstated but one needs to take a closer

it’, said Pablo Picasso. The Master painted recognizable figures

look at this stage on what defines spirituality.

even though he changed their appearances dramatically, and often touched the threshold of emotional and abstract feelings with his

Spirituality may be described as an interesting manifestation of

masterly manipulation of recognizable elements of the subject he

human intellect that draws its strength out of specific practices

used in his canvases. What Picasso and the rest of the modern

to train individual thought processes. The purpose of such yogic

masters in the West have done with the outward appearance of

practices is to channelize one’s mind in a specific direction that

men and nature, Neeraj has attempted by looking inward. In the

makes you transcend the barriers of worldliness. The usual con-

art of Neeraj Goswami we find a special mirror at work, tuned to

ception of caste, creed, religion as well as lesser impulses like

his inner self. His mirror does not reflect the image as is normally

sex and sensuality gets dissolved when the mind transcends into

done faithfully in all mirrors. His mirror, instead, adds another

this spiritual path and, at the same time, enables you to realize

dimension to images reflected from the surface of his mental mir-

your connection with the ‘truth’. Spirituality is often quoted as

ror coated with a ‘spiritual layer of mercury’. Years of spiritual

‘the personal, subjective dimension of religion, particularly that

practices have allowed him to consolidate the layer at the back

which pertains to liberation or salvation’. As cultural historian

of his ‘mirror’ and the quality of image reflected out of it has

and Yogi William Irwin Thompson put it, ‘Religion is not identi-

gained significantly.

cal with spirituality; rather religion is the form spirituality takes in civilization.’

As I said before writing this epilogue that it is neither possible, nor advisable, to write an epilogue when the artist in question is

It is important to note that his progress in the arts, during his days

active as ever, and perhaps even more so with the refined level of

in Art College and thereafter, had quickly paved the way for a

spiritual insight gained over the years. Neeraj, expectedly enough,

gradual shift of preference from Realism to mysticism. Rembrandt

will continue to scale new heights and others will get enough to

was his chosen idol even when he was yet to receive any formal

write about in the future. For the present, however, he appears to

training in art. It reveals an uninhibited love for mysticism for

have reached the summit of his chosen stylistic path, his life and

which the Dutch Master is famous for with his fabled interplay of

his art so far, thus justifies this small epilogue.

mysterious light and the inscrutable depths of darkness. Neeraj had a jolt with the brief and heart­b reaking love affair that had coated his unsuspecting heart with additional layers of grief and prepared his soul to receive the divine communion. Neeraj’s spiritual orientation that was kept in an expected level of suspension, since he got separated from his pious grandfather, got rekindled after he met his Guru in 1982. His art however took time to reflect his changed mental direction and, during these formative years, had moved from one direction to another but it never regressed. It also moved from the realistic, to depict life around us, to the increasingly symbolic portrayal of spiritual bliss that humanity 206


Fig. 182a, Detail

207


Fig. 183. Performers, oil on board, 38” x 10”, 2012 208


Fig. 184. Journey towards light, oil on canvas, 36” x 48”, 2012

209


Fig. 185. Travel, conte on paper, 5.3” x 8.4”, 2012

210


Fig. 186. The Boat, conte on paper, 8.4” x 5.4”, 2012 211


212


Postscript In the followings pages I am forced to include a selection of paintings that Neeraj did very recently and I feel obliged to offer some explanation for the need of using a postscript to do so. This, it must be admitted, is indeed a departure from the usual format of art books. It became necessary because of Neeraj. He was scheduled to exhibit his works, done during the last three years, in a large solo in January 2013 and I had the privilege of witnessing him at work over the same period. Such experience of knowing how his thoughts, germinating and animating his consciousness, gets distilled and take up liquid forms in his canvases was a joy in itself and also inspired me to trace his roots as he has had to travel a very difficult road to reach his spiritual goal. I was sure of being able to include, in my writings about him, whatever I thought to be of importance. His very latest works, done over the months of November and December 2012, forced me to add this postscript. I am leaving the readers at this stage by stopping my pen to allow an independent assessment of how Neeraj is re-inventing himself by subtle changes in his palette. He also has concentrated his energies to large canvases, seldom done before, and has gone back to using black that he had abandoned long ago. His emotionally disturbed student life in art college got reflected in those days in an outburst of expressionistic watercolours in which black, expectedly enough, was used with a careful abandon. This time the same palette finds a spiritual overtone and thus offers an interesting explanation of his art which are self-explanatory. I hope I shall now be excused of using this needful departure. Some of his recent works are indeed extraordinary and their exclusion would have caused this book awfully incomplete.

213


Fig. 187. Young Couple-proposal in space, acrylic on canvas, 12” x 18”, 2012

214


Fig. 188. Dancing Couple, acrylic on canvas, 18” x 14”, 2012 215


Fig. 189. Flight I, acrylic on canvas, 12” x 16”, 2012

216


Fig. 190. Flight II, oil on canvas, 12” x 12”, 2012

217


Fig. 191. Golden Space, mixed media on paper board, 15” x 10.5”, 2012 218


Fig. 192. Happening, oil on canvas, 14” x 11”, 2012 219


Fig. 193. Performers by the sea, gold leaf and oil on canvas, 48” x 42”, 2012

220


Fig. 194. Night Watch, acrylic on canvas, 48” x 84”, 2012

221


Fig. 195. Play I, acrylic on canvas, 24” x 20”, 2012

222


Fig. 196. Rise, oil on canvas, 20” x 17”, 2012

223


Fig. 197. Together, conte on paper, 5.3” x 8.4”, 2012

224


Fig. 198. With the Moon, acrylic and oil on canvas, 12” x 18”, 2012

225


Fig. 199. Young Couple, acrylic on canvas, 19” x 18”, 2012

226


Fig. 200. Untitled, acrylic and oil on canvas, 12” x 16”, 2012

227


Fig. 201. From darkness lead me to light, oil on canvas, 60” x 48”, 2012 228


Fig. 202. Dancing Girl, oil on canvas, 48” x 36”, 2012 229


Fig. 203. The Temple, oil on fibre glass and canvas, 24” x 30”, 2011

230


Fig. 204. Walk by Night, acrylic and oil on canvas, 60” x 36”, 2012 231


Fig. 205. Moonlit, acrylic on canvas, 70” x 118”, 2012

232


Fig. 206. Play II, gold leaf and oil on board, 2012

233


Fig. 207. In Blue Space, oil on canvas, 40” x 30”, 2012 234


235


236


204a


Fig. 182. Journey Of Life-A Celebration (mural for Delhi metro airport express, Shivaji Stadium station), acrylic on calcium silicate board, 96� x 384�, 2011

204b

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