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Modern Indian Sculpture

The basic characteristics and problems of contemporary Indian Sculpture are very similar to those of contemporary painting. If anything, it is even more alienated from the great Indian tradition, though and even more strongly hinged to the modern, eclectic, international concept.

It began in the academic style, based on mid-Victorian ideas of naturalism and smugness, and was a legacy of the British. This mannerism was perpetrated in the government art schools and colleges established around the century in Bombay, Calcutta, Madras and elsewhere. The inane achievement of this so called realist or naturalist school never even attained the height of real academic excellence and has remained a far cry from the iconographic, symbolical and religious ideals of Indian sculpture through the ages.

And then, when our sculpture was freed of this yoke, towards the ‘forties’ it looked again as in painting, to the western world for inspiration, resulting in similar processes of experimentation and eclectic exercise. From then on the story of contemporary Indian sculpture is the story of a transition from academism to well-defined non-objectivism. We have been introduced to new and unconventional materials, most certainly in the manner of employing them, such as, sheet metal, welded bric-a-brac wire, plastic, hardware and junk. Here and there, our sculptors may have achieved worthwhile results in tune with the milieu, but this achievement is not comparable with the results attained in the field in the shape of a renewed interest in folk and tribal art. But, largely, the preoccupation is still with shape and form, polish and texture and mid-way abstraction. Contemporary Indian sculpture has not shown either the speed or variety of painting and has not arrived at the logical ‘cul de sac’ which in the case of painting has provided the necessary height and perspective to a meaningful introspection, which is called the ‘Journey’s End’ is a symbolical painting that reaches beyond the explicit pictorial elements of the work. The crouching, gasping camel set against an arid desert in the twilight hours has a relevance to life in general.

Nandalal Bose is regarded as the most distinguished pupil of Abanindranath Tagore and his influence was considerable on more than one generation of artists. In the painting of a woman in the act of doing ‘Pranam’ one sees both simplicity and directness of his pictorialism as also the significant impact on his work of the vitality of folk art.

Kshitindranath Majumdar was also a renowned pupil of Abanindranath. The beautiful picture of Spring owes its inspiration to the Indian miniatures. Kshitindranath was known for his soft palette and the grace and lyrical quality of his drawing. He is almost unique in this respect.

Jamini Roy was a contemporary of the artists mentioned above, but he, more than anyone else, sought an entirely different path of expression, which had a tremendous impact on subsequent painters, deeply inspired by the Bengal folk tradition. His images and ideas as in this painting of ‘Pujarinis’ are direct, singularly stylised, and conceived in emphatic flat spaces and strong lines.

Ganganendranath Tagore shared very much with the painters of the Indian Renaissance but, he, like the distinguished poet-painter Rabindranath, was an individualist of an extraordinary order. His paintings have something considerably common with cubistic approach as in this fantastic study of the magician. His paintings are distinguished for his individualistic, highly dramatic concept of light and shadow.

Abdur Rahman Chughtai was greatly inspired by the Bengal School. But he was equally influenced by Persian thought and art, and with these two he developed a style of his own romantic and poetic with flowing lines and a palette to match his nostalgic mood.

The study of a Head in an example of the work of Rabindranath Tagore who took to painting in his late years under an irrepressible urge. His images come forth from the subconscious regions, from dream and fantasy and have an archetypal quality.

K. Sreenivasulu like Jamini Roy, was greatly moved by folk art and rural life. By virtue of the directness, decorative effects and stylisation, his work should be understood along with Jamini Roy’s. Sreenivasulu drew much inspiration from the art heritage of South India, particularly from the mural tradition of Tanjavur and Lepakshi.

With A.A. Almelkar we enter a different phase of contemporary Indian painting. It is still largely inspired, both in technique and figurative, by Indian miniature and mural tradition. But one can see the very individualistic approach to the compositional problems which had marked a departure ideologically.

What is said above is exemplified remarkably in this simple painting by K.K. Hebbar. The raphic symbolism of the bride and bridegroom, the large use of white, the panel of musicians at the bottom, point altogether strongly at the new concept of structural organisation.

We see the full realisation of this concept and a glimpse of its enormous possibilities in Laxman Pai’s ‘Autumn’. In Pai’s vision, man and nature are inseparable, two aspects of man and nature into a fantastic amalgam admirably. The image is elementary but highly suggestive.

Paintings from the sixties by J. Swaminathan belongs to a phase of contemporary Indian painting wherein one sees an attempt, again, to rediscover sources of indigenous inspiration. The Tulsi plant that sprouts from the Vrindavan against a symmetrical pair of conical rocks is one kind of such a resultant image on which Swaminathan has achieved very substantial and individualistic imagery.

The radiating, iridiscent concept of light by Biren De is another such effort. What Biran De achieves is a vision of spiritual light, a primeval, self-emanating concept of light. The dark centre, and the concentric effulgence emphasises this vision admirably.

The concept. of the human figure and of landscape has undergone a veritable transformation in the hands of the contemporary artist. A painting by Sailoz Mookherjee, of a mother and children, is an early work. The emphasis is on the composition and the concern with the basic formal concept of the figures as a whole rather than on the details.

The picture of Kathakali dancers doing their make-up by S.D. Chavda exemplifies his meticulous draughtsmanship. The strong sinewy bodies of the dancers, their postures, are very ably achieved. The rendering of the figure is unerring and the various elements of the picture are soundly distributed.

K.G. Subramanyan’s cock-seller carries abstraction of the figure further, and in a way acquires much expressive power. The prancing cocks, the attenuated man and the cart which carries cocks and the vertical complex of houses, all this is deliberately so conceived.

In “Two Figures’ Husain reduces the figures to a purely orchestrated concept of colour, in mutual contrast. The physiognomy is further abstracted with the barest of details. Husain has ever been deeply moved by Indian life and people, particularly by the rustic and picturesque rural life. Husain has built up a remarkably personal iconography over the course of years.

In an early picture of the ’50s, Satish Gujral expresses the idea of desolation beautifully by a semi-surrealistic imagery. The gaping emptiness in the background, the suggestion of a man in a state of utter collapse and the noose, are all part of this weird imagery.

Ganesh Pyne’s ‘Mother and Child’ is not as simple. as it seems. It has an air of fantasy and this is true of his paintings in general. The way the mother and child confront the viewer and the intent stare of the eyes emphasise the inherent mystery of the painting.

A collage is an organisation of an assortment of materials, both conventional and unconventional to produce an integrated pictorial concept. Piraji Sagara uses dismembered odds and bits of old wood and carvings together with pieces of metal and paint. The result is paradoxically both modern and traditional. The work relates to a legend on the sun.

A painting of F.N. Souza, of a landscape of a sprawling complex of buildings. It is highly individualised to suit the artist’s structural consideration. It is familiar but has an element of strangeness about it.

Avinash Chandra’s ‘Orchard’ goes very much further in the same direction, almost into the realm of fantasy. The sun-like entities floating in the sky, the shape of the trees, and the rhythmic cluster of patterns that inter-play, are part of this fantasy.

There are houses and houses. Most of them are nondescript. But some have character. And here is a house by N.S. Bendre, which has a remarkable character, a portrait in itself. Bendre works minutely emphasising every detail to achieve the essential spirit of this strange house.

For more than a decade and a half Shanti Dave has been painting in a style that is deceptively abstract, as one called ‘Snow Shade’. It is no doubt a pronouncedly non-objective appearance which is brought about by diligent hard work and by unconventional use of materials, like wax and encaustic, along with time honoured oil paint. He uses script, blocks with folk figures etc. to animate the surface and to create the texture. Finally what one feels is a world which is both old and new.

One of Gaitonde’s early works is unequivocally non-objective. The wide space in which the strips of red and other coloured areas float have no meaning, symbolical or explicitly. The dimension is purely plastic in this work, although in his recent work one notices a positive metaphysical element creeping in.

Ramkumar has painted a lively abstract landscape in subtle grey and green. The rhythm of the tones and the criss-cross lines more than suggest the basic idea of flight. Ramkumar was a figurative painter to begin with, then went to landscape seriously from which he now distils these abstracted, unpeopled flights into the realm of non objectivity.

An important monumental work by the renowned sculptor, D.P. Roy Chowdhury, is called the ‘Triumph of Labour’. The strong muscular bodies of the men hauling the work, their very animated postures make this an extremely expressive work. In fact it may be said that Mr. Roy Chowdhury belongs to the expressionistic school.
Altogether in a different vein, but an equally expressive work is a bust of a buoyant young woman by Ramkinker Baij. The radiant, youthful face and the ample bosom typify vitality. Sculpturally speaking the texture is highly expressive and full of energy.

The interpretation of a philosopher by B. Vithal is of a head which is everything and Vithal resorts to an accentuation of all physiognomical details, such as the nose, the half-open eyes, the long ear lobes, etc. to convey the basic idea.

The sculptor, Sankho Choudhuri, emphasises the physical attributes in a most vital manner in the sculpture of a woman preening herself. The raised arms, the flowing lines, the rounded graceful form add up to the image of Youth again.

Quite often, in the case of sculpture, the material determines the fundamental formal concept as in his bull by Raghave Kaneria. Full of energy and brute strength, the bull is poised to charge. The contours emphasise movement.

An elongated sculpture of ‘A Man’ by Davierwalla carries the concept of figure in sculpture to an altogether different level. The animated face and raised arms give it a weird, unearthly character. There is an attempt to reduce the essentials to the minimum. The character of the metal is emphasised.

Mahendra Pandya conceives in a sculpture the stone as a solid mass with the barest suggestion of the two figures, just enough. The emphasis, as it should be in the case of stone, is on mass and volume in this upright sculpture.

A simple, pastoral scene of a couple angling by the river side is an early work by Haren Das, which is rather conventional, unambiguous and expressively illustrative. A very competent work in its style.

Sunirmal Chatterji’s ‘Manali Village’ is a straight forward, conventional landscape. It exploits, within limitations, the specific characters of texture of the woodcut medium.

Somnath Hore’s ‘Birth’ springs out of a dream. Therefore, the emphasis is on the combination of unusual pictorial elements. The rose itself is the most prominent. It is an etching and the artist exploits all the possibilities of the medium suitable to his theme.

In ‘Study-3’ Dipak Banerji makes the etching medium yield even more specific effects in this principally non-objective work. The sharp line, the variegated texture, the incision, the relief, have all the excellence of an etching.