NEWS AND FEATURES

Progressive Artists Group

Progressive Artists Group Indian modernism received a burst of intensity in 1947 from a group of artists who styled themselves the Progressive Artists Group. The founder-members were the rebellious and Left-oriented F. N. Souza, and K. H. Ara' and S. H. Raza; the other members were M. F. Husain, H. A. Gade and S.K. Bakre.' The timing of the group's formation was coincidental; it did not have any political motivation. The artists (ranging in ages from 24 to 35) claimed they wanted to "paint with absolute freedom for content and technique, almost anarchic, save that we are governed by one or two sound elemental and eternal laws, of aesthetic order, plastic co-ordination and colour composition." The effect of this mandate was a rather spirited use of colour in contrast to the comparative placidity and restraint of the past ' a past made up of the romanticism of' Company Painting, the revivalism of the Bengal School and, in Souza's case, the hated English academicism of the Bombay School of Art.' The modernist style that they aimed at would be' influenced by' French Impressionism and German Expressionism, specifically the painters' Rouault, van Gogh, Modigliani and Klee, among others. Souza, chafing under the sexual and religious taboos of a conservative Goan Catholic upbringing, found in European modernism the perfect tool with which to negotiate his personal release (Husain refers to Souza's Indianising of Rouault's heavy lines). His startling and even disproportionately-sized heads and' rather brazen nudes made for a sharp departure from the art of the day. His later international fame would draw the comment from John Berger that he "straddles many traditions but serves none." Ara,' unlike Souza, preferred to contemplate life, particularly the female form and still-life objects in a comparatively gentler fashion. S. H. Raza's, the other founder of the group, was a more abstract orientation, preferring to track the subtler nuances of colour and line. This would lead him, later, to evocations based on Tantric art. H. A. Gade, the fifth member, brought the rational outlook characteristic of his profession ' science ' to his work:' a preference for bare and minimal forms.' (Satish Gujral would say that the Progressives, like the Bengal School practitioners, had been indifferent to craftsmanship, quite unlike the artists of the Delhi Silpi Chakra whose technical skills he praised highly). While S. K. Bakre's bold expressionist mood would also flow into his ebullient sculptures. It was M. F. Husain, ultimately, who appears to have achieved at least one of the group's main objectives: capture the sense of what being an Indian may be. His free, seemingly careless, brushstrokes, seemed just the right device with which to combine native music, sculpture, dance, folk art forms and, above all, Hindi cinema, into a mixture which seemed to reveal the first traces of a possible Indian artistic idiom. As' a critic puts it, "Husain's is the most authentic Indian variety of modernism." In 1950, after Souza, Raza and Bakre ceased to be members, the first two having gone abroad,' V. S, Gaitonde, Krishen Khanna and Mohan Samant' joined the Group.' Though the artists disbanded in 1956, the impress of their initial gesture and the work they have followed it up with may be seen in the commitment to a program, either ideological or artistic, that many later artists have shown. (See Profiles of individual artists for more information)

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