Badri Narayan – A Retrospective

Currently on display at the Viewing Room, Mumbai, is a retrospective of Badri Narayan’s work. The exhibition is the first solo show of the ailing artist’s paintings in Mumbai in almost six years. While most of the pieces on display at the gallery are watercolours produced between 2006 and 2011, there are some early works on view as well, including one from 1971.

Narayan was born in 1929 in Secunderabad, Andhra Pradesh. He is an entirely self-taught artist and has experimented with several different genres and media through his extensive career as an artist, teacher, author and illustrator. However, the artist is best known for his watercolor paintings, and has chosen to mainly focus on these works because of the fluidity and softness the medium offers him. Narayan has exhibited extensively in India and abroad, and was awarded the Padma Shri in 1987 by the Government of India, and the Maharashtra Gourav Puruskar in 1990.

Although on first look Narayan’s art seems quite simple, it is actually rich with symbolism and significance. Horses with wings, magicians, fairies, multi-tusked elephants and unicorns are just some of the magical characters that inhabit his paintings in the current exhibition. The artist usually takes inspiration for his characters from Indian culture, religion and mythology. As such, the figures of Buddha and Ganesha also frequent his work. Furthermore, Narayan’s characters are usually set in a surreal environment and, with it, form part of a larger, complex narrative.

In his essay for the exhibition catalogue, art critic Ranjit Hoskote writes, Narayan’s “…pictorial narratives are complex and elliptical; they compress entire mythologies in a poised finger, a talismanic animal, an averted gaze. He is that most vital figure in the history of cultural transmission: the storyteller, in whose allegories the consciousness of a society is formed and re-shaped.”

Despite the present situation in which people mostly communicate through virtual media channels, the artist stresses the importance of story-telling and narration through pen or brush. He believes, that “Across the world and in every age, story-telling has been the most creative and re-creative of self renewal processes” and that “…it is a never-ending creative act that widens the scope and action of man – then, now and later”. Through his paintings, Narayan communicates elaborate stories and parables, using both technique and content to engage his viewers.

Art for Narayan has several purposes. As he notes, “…it is to provoke, to inspire, to narrate. It is also to retell or recreate in a sense of fresh enthusiasm of tales heard long ago”. This enthusiasm is expressed through nature and mythical characters which are the fruit of the artist’s imagination and creativity which is continuously soaring.

The exhibition will be on view until May 26, 2012.

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