Indian Art – The Moderns Revisited

Akbar Padamsee, M. F. Husain, V. S. Gaitonde and S. H. Raza are some of the great Indian masters whose works reflecting their unique individual styles form part of a show in London. As an introduction to it states: 'Originality in art, as elsewhere, is a form of inspired appropriation. Every innovation has a lineage, every picture a precedent. Yet an individual style is unique.'

For example, the earliest paintings in this show by Akbar Padamsee demonstrate his 'debt to C'zanne's treatment of form and space', something that is more than homage, and provide an insight into some of his abiding concerns. On other hand, wrought in a na've style the pathos of those images of ordinary individuals caught in the grind of life was part of the social realist tendency that artist Ram Kumar was associated with in the 1950s.To him his paintings of those times simply represent his personal sense of isolation as a foreigner living in Paris. And consequently when he found that his concerns had moved away from social exile and isolation he developed a more abstracted style better suited to his new subject matter. The artist was fascinated by Benares, a city shrouded by death and an attendant spirituality.

If the Benares series is a meditation on death, then the landscape paintings concentrate on life. The vibrant colors, strong rhythms and shimmering surfaces convey a sense of restless vitality. In Untitled 2006 everything is in flux. The centrifugal rhythm of the spiral composition whirls the eye around the canvas, never allowing it to linger for more than a moment over any detail before sweeping it along.

This show at Grosvenor Gallery, London, also has works by M. F. Husain, an artist with such a facility for figuration that he has painted in several styles with equal success. While Husain's interest in Indian cultural traditions is clearly relevant to his art it is not what marks him out as an outstanding painter. His predilection for mythological subject matter means that for the most part he has been a narrative painter.

From the reflective mood of Nude Women Abstract to the energy and terror of Wounds, his grip on the pictorial elements of line, color and form and an ability to convey a range of emotions convincingly is evident whereas the dynamic arrangement of color and form in Raza's work is more often directed towards a specific symbolic purpose.

This tendency towards symbolism led to the established lexicon of signs. In Bindu the harmonious co-existence of the circle and square suggests an ideal state which many cultures have associated with the juxtaposition of those two shapes. But it serves as more than a symbol; the experience of looking at the picture is in itself restful, almost meditative, as the eye is led through darkening rings to the black inner circle, and vice versa.

In the works on view by another legendary artist, F. N. Souza, there's not much attention to elaborate composition, or such niceties of virtuoso painting as linear perspective and color harmony.

His is an art of stark contrasts and rough edges. There are other, gentler facets to his work; some paintings are tender, even quiet in mood, and demonstrate an elegant handling of paint, color and form. Yet he is less sure-footed when making such pictures and they can seem mawkish. V. S. Gaitonde's sensual abstraction is more ambiguous. However much the luminous forms of Untitled 1987 suggest letters or ideograms, they remain abstract fragments. The livid orange and black fungal smudges wreath it in an air of decay, as if it was rotting down to its constituent parts ' a type of picturesque ruination.

Yet he described his painting as non-objective and said that his principal interest was the arrangement of color, line and form without literal or metaphoric reference. There is a sense in his paintings that the marks before us are right on the edge of organizing themselves into something recognizable but never quite do. It is this visual ambiguity that breathes life into the work.

The show titled 'Indian Art ' The Moderns Revisited' continues at till November 11, 2006.

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