In India when people say Modern Art, it is often to earmark the artistic production of the Progressive Artist’s Group (PAG) read, F N Souza, S H Raza, M F Husain, S Bakre, K H Ara, K H Gade, Amrita Sher-Gil, Tyeb Mehta, Akbar Padamsee, Ram Kumar and others like Krishen Khanna and Jehangir Sabavala to name a few. There is a subsequent generation of Moderns, who play an as important role in shaping the journey of Modern Art in India. These are known as the second generation of Modern Masters.
Surrendra Paul Art Gallery at Sangeet Shyamala and Vadehra Art Gallery, present The Modern Masters of Indian Art II, an exhibition that opened on the 27th of April and is on till the 11th of May, that highlights and features the second generation of Moderns like Arpita Singh, Anjolie Ela Menon, A. Ramachandran, Chameli Ramachandran, Ganesh Pyne, Jogen Chowdhury, Paramjit Singh and Rameshwar Broota.
This group of Moderns displays a different set of concerns and a shift in stylistic approach, moving towards a more localized and personal idiom. Their lexicon is woven out of stylistic progressions made post the 1980s and the 1990s which connected to Independent India opening globally but telling its own stories in a local tongue.
The story of Partition of East Pakistan, the horrors of the Naxalite movement, of economic deprivation, of gender inequality and of the struggle of traditional arts to make the transition to the lexicon of the Modern are some of their concerns. Artists like Arpita Singh, Pyne and Chowdhury focused on the initial turmoil of India’s Partition from Bangladesh, the Naxalite movement and an ensuing of unrest, which inspires many of their works. In the latter half of her oeuvre, Singh focuses on the rapid urbanization of cosmopolitan India. The anomaly between the aging body and the residue of desire, between the ordinary and the divine and the threat of the violent fluxes of the impinging external world gives her work its piquancy and edge.
Pyne draws his inspiration from the city of his birth, Kolkata with its decaying mansions and Naxalite movement. In the summer of 1946, when communal riots had rocked Kolkata Pyne had his first brush with death. He and his family were forced to abandon their crumbling mansion and he came upon a pile of bodies in the street. It is that dark vision that continued to haunt Pyne and he continues to return to that as his source. He was also inspired by mythological stories, and fairy tales told by his grandmother and the political environs of Calcutta in its coffee houses. His works have a dark brooding quality, with a touch of the surreal.
Jogen Chowdhury is known for his ability to successfully bring together traditional imagery with the zeitgeist of contemporary painting. His skillful blend of an urbane self-awareness and a highly localized Bengali influence makes him an internationally accessible name.
Other artists like A. Ramachandran and Chameli Ramachandran have chosen to focus on nature in a manner that references the tradition of the miniatures and Japanese wash technique, while Paramjit Singh evokes bucolic landscapes in a Modernist manner. Menon weaves a personal narrative of the feminine experience in everyday life. Each artist has made an important contribution to Modern Indian Art and this exhibition strives to tease out the themes and stylistic approaches of these artists.
A Ramachandran uses archetypal Indian imagery only after years of painting in the modernist vein. In most of his works, the decorative element does not stand out; it is intrinsic, built into his figures’ clothes and jewelry as a part of the overall design, while Paramjit Singh’s brush charts a course on the canvas that gives the viewer panoramic visions of mystic landscapes.
Rameshwar Broota’s mixed media has been sourced from his latest body of work that was part of his solo exhibition titled Scripted in Time at Vadehra Art Gallery in the month of March. The works are created out of epoxy resin and have the effect of a floating world, a microcosm where various objects and forms that have been trapped in its sticky surface, where they lead an afterlife suspended in time. The objects vary, from metallic nails, an X-ray of the lungs, stray feathers to the all-important bits of text upon which the inspiration of the exhibition hinges. One may note that the suspended objects, when treated to the resin, gain a kind of mysterious air to them. It changes their meaning adding another layer that goes beyond their visual play and glowing surface. Resin mummifies and when we consider the choice of Broota’s objects, one cannot miss that they hint towards a critique of violence.
It is wonderful to have access to such fine work by this ‘second generation’ of Masters, at an institute like Sangeet Shyamala where kids visit regularly for their music, dance, and art classes. It gives them exposure and inspiration.