A life-sketch of the grand old man of Indian art world

Veteran painter Madhav Shripad Satwalekar is the subject of a new book penned by Rameshchandra Patkar. The book was released at Jehangir Art gallery on January 16, 2003. Brought out by Jyostna Publications it allows us a peak into the reclusive painter's life over 144 pages. Satwalekar opens up in an elaborate interview. According to the author, the interview format has been used to appreciate the finer points in the making of Satwalekar as an artist. There's also a pictorial treat for readers in form of some exquisite images of the artist's work. An exhibition of the same at the Jehangir coincided with the book release.

Born on August 13, 1915 in Lahore, Satwalekar is considered to be one of the doyens of Contemporary Indian Art. He had rich legacy left behind by his father, Pandit S. D. Satwalekar, a renowned turn-of-the-century painter and a Vedic scholar. Determined to carry forward the legacy, Madhav Satwalekar first studied at Sir J.J. School of Art, before moving to Europe (1937 to 1940) to study at Florence Academy (Italy), Slade School (London) and Academic Grand Chamiers (Paris). He won the Mayo Medal in 1935.

Patkar rewinds the clock back to 1945 to revive the memories of Satwalekar's first exhibition on his return in 1945, at the Taj in Mumbai, which was a testimony to his talent perfected by years of creative learning. The author notes: "Having imbibed cultural catholicity through his interaction with the great artists of the time, he returned to his homeland to start his professional career." Since then Satwalekar has had over 30 solo shows in Europe, Middle East, in Uganda, Kenya, Trazania and Zanzibar (1949 - 50) apart from shows in India. Satwalekar had had an exhibition of watercolors in 1998 at Sans Tache Art Gallery. Though known better for his oils, for this particular exhibition he chose architectural views of Rajasthan with colorfully dressed women, little lambs straying in the village and lively groups of rustic villagers. Art critic Dnyaneshwar Nadkarni had then mentioned of the veteran artist "opening up a world imbued with lyrical beauty and profound humanity." The 45 watercolor works on display had brush ranges over the fields, villages and ancient structures of Rajasthan.

In the seventies and the eighties, Satwalekar served as the Director of Art, Maharashtra State. He is also the co-founder of the Indian Art Institute for spreading awareness of art. Many private and public Institutions in India and abroad feature the artist's work. He has also authored several articles and published booklets on art.

Rameshchandra Patkar in his book gives a meticulous account of the veteran painter's artistic sojourn, and tells us how his painting style, which was essentially tuned to India's cultural ethos, evolved over the years. Surprisingly, having been amidst an influential cultural milieu in the West, Satwalekar's paintings bespeak the language of the land, its customs, its pastimes, and primarily its people.

The author does not limit himself to merely portraying the artist, and gives us a kaleidoscopic view of the art scene then. This lets us put the artist's work and philosophy in a proper perspective. The book tells us how the late forties and the early fifties marked a definite change in the history of Contemporary Indian art, and then delves into the development of Satwalekar as an artist.

Patkar lucidly describes how portrait and landscape painting, both in oil and watercolor, used to enjoy public patronage, and narrates: "Just as traditional mythological subjects were depicted in art, the everyday life of the common man was also finding an expression in art. Sophistication of both oil and watercolor was seen in the superlative achievements of the likes of A X Trindade, Agaskar, and Fernandes. Coupled with British academism, decorative indigenous trends were also influencing these artists as they sought to develop their individual identity." J.D. Gondhalekar, M.R. Achrekar, N.S.Bendre. K. K. Hebbar, M. S. Joshi. P. A. Dhond and Shankar Palshikar were among his illustrious contemporaries.

Patkar notes: "It was during this period that the career of Satwalekar grew in stature and substance. He began with portraits and landscapes creating compositions with remarkable freshness and conviction. Whatever the genre, the influence of European realism is evident in his work. He, however, gradually evolved a highly individualized visual metaphor and appreciation the aesthetic content in his familiar and immediate environment." Lucid palettes, a decisive draughtsmanship, a command of the varied landscape and of the sensuously posed female form have been the hallmarks of Satwalekar's meticulously cultivated style.

The author sums up to say, "A reserved person he is, Satwalekar lets his canvasses speak for himself. Even at the age of 87, he continues to paint and exhibit his inimitable paintings with undiminished verve. His presence leaves you with a remarkable feeling of calmness and contentedness so rare in individuals of such lineage and stature."

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