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A retrospective to mark Abani Sen's birth centenary

Abani Sen passed away in 1972, but his rich legacy is still alive. On eve of his birth centenary, a show was held in an effort to appreciate and to appraise his contribution to Indian contemporary art. Right Lines gallery in Bangalore paid a tribute to the artist by holding an exhibition of his famous works in the second week of June. It was a sort of retrospective to mark his birth centenary.

Abani Sen is regarded as one of the old masters of modern Indian painting who had mastery over several media, including pencil and crayon, watercolor and oil. He was also renowned as an art teacher and a visionary painter, who brought important trends into Indian art. This gifted and passionate artist left a valuable legacy of paintings, sketches, drawings and students.

The 25 works on show, done from 1935-65, gave a glimpse of this rich legacy. It comprised inks, oil pastels, charcoals, and watercolors on paper. He was a guide and philosopher to many artists such as K.K. Hebbar, M.F. Husain, Pradosh Dasgupta and Subho Tagore who sought his critique and instruction. He was a mentor to young generation artists and art students.

The artist is quoted to have said: 'In my paintings, I try to transform myself into the things that I paint, whether it is the radiant light or the darkest shadows. I surrender to the speed of the running deer or to the calmness, action or repose of the environment. I try to surrender to the object, whatever it may be, living, still or moving, and in this attempt, I feel the impulse of an eternal joy'. He had a tremendous empathy with the world of animals. He observed their anatomy, read their body language, understood their unspoken thoughts. They appeared to be eloquent in his paintings.

Considered among the fathers of Indian modernity, Abani Sen was born in Dhaka in 1905. He first studied art at Kolkata's Government School of Arts and Crafts. The British principal Percy Brown spotted his talent.

Abani Sen never considered art as a career or a profession. It was a mission to spread awareness of art. Neither believing in formal education nor bound by any school of art, the artist searched for his subject in the everyday life. He would pick up people from the streets, and they would be his models.

Throughout his long career he won many awards and recognition throughout India. He was awarded the Governor general's Plaque in 1949. The works on view gave an insight into the mindset and the philosophy of the artist and threw light on his main preoccupations, his subjects and his themes. Drawings with portrait studies of heads done in pencil, charcoal or pen and ink in different proportions reveal a blend of detailed representation, tender intuition and expressive probing. The artist handled color even in oils in a manner similar to his monochromatic drawings, his light, quick and dynamic strokes. Evaluating Abani Sen's contribution to Indian art, critic Marta Jakimowicz mentions: 'The artist did enjoy a good measure of regard during his life abroad having exhibited there also, this quiet painter represents an oeuvre that does not wholly participate in either of the more spectacular art-historical movements that aesthetically and ideologically reflected the shaping of the national ethos.

Unlike the Orientalist painters around the Tagore family and Santiniketan who found inspiration in local and Far-Eastern traditions, he was educated at the epitome of British academicism - the Government College of Art, Kolkata. He did not stylize archaic folklore. His departure from colonial paradigms was his respectful attuning to the reality and beauty of ordinary life and nature. In contrast to Santiniketan, this came primarily with the help of realism, its schoolish conventions and rigidities being rejected for the sake of clear but sensitive observation and empathy.'

His main contribution to Indian Art has been to bring about a change and to break through the Colonial Academic Painting by reviving the vital elements of native Indian tradition. He believed that it is in the folk tradition, the vast multitude of village population, that the main powerhouse of Indian art can be realized. Abani Sen taught Picasso, Cezanne, and Matisse to his students, but his roots are solidly grounded in the native soil. In cooperation with the young artists of his time, he organised the 'Young Artists' Union' and later, the 'Art Rebel Centre'. His main contribution to the Indian art scene was to change and defy the colonial tradition of painting by reviving elements of native Indian tradition. The show was a tribute to the master artist.

View the artist's works

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