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An exhibition of artist Mohan Samant's works at Pundole


One of the most intriguing aspects of artist Mohan Samant's paintings is his use of texture; manipulation of paint materials with sand and glue in the early 1960's, paper cutouts attached to the canvas in the 1970's and the application of wire drawings in the 1980's. All these facets of his ever-evolving oeuvre are on view at an exhibition at Mumbai-based Pundole art gallery.

He traces his interest in art back to family life in the suburbs of Mumbai. He was confronted with many distinct styles of work in his childhood. He had reminisced: "I had a tremendous interest in the paintings which adorned our house. Several of these were prints of realistic, mythological paintings by Raja Ravi Varma. Other paintings in the house were large black and white photographs tinted with bromide colors of all the family members. Alongside these were the surprising creations by my mother and many of her friends. As an 8 year old it was a most intriguing concept to swallow along with landscape and village scenes in miniature - never knowing in future that I would be incorporating all these cultural activities in my works of art."

When he started working with the British War Effort office, he used to paint on his own in his spare time. During 1944-45 when he was about 20 years old he became curiously aware of some kind of modern art - the huge billboards advertising the latest popular films in a very realistic manner. Using lots of colors, shapes and movement the total effect was one of a monstrous abstraction. Largely a self taught painter and musician, he made portraits, full figures and still lives from photographs of paintings mostly of European origin.

As part of the learning process, he also tried to recreate from memory works such as 'Richness in Poverty' by a very well known water colorist Pandit S. L. Haldankar. He mentions: "Painting from a picture even if naturalistic was more inspiring than nature itself just as the most beautiful bird songs and the loud thunder in the sky were no basis for an aesthetic understanding of Indian classical music. Once I realized that nature was not a source of inspiration it was easy to get into the Indian miniature painting and ancient Indian sculpture."

In an interview, he describes spending hours at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he continues to find powerful symbols in the assembly of cultural relics from around the world. He describes his art almost like installation art; only difference being that my installation is within my frame." He does a large number of wire drawings and proceeds to fit them like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle on to the canvas. He never knows what it's going to look like until he is 70 per cent of the way through.

Contemporary, visually dramatic and monumental in scale, his works reflect his early training in the history of Indian miniatures and his subsequent study of ancient Sumerian tablets, Egyptian art as well as the cave paintings at Lauscaux. The essence of all these varied cultures have been perceived and distilled into his works. Perhaps it was his Indian background that enabled him to interpret the timeless continuum of art.

Explaining the creative processes, he once noted: ' I don't practice painting with drawing and sketching. I just paint and if I don't like it I over paint the same canvas twice, thrice, many times.” Though his paintings are invariably mixed media, the heterogeneous elements are deftly blended to create pieces that are surprisingly simple in appearance. His paintings are primarily abstract, but retain figurative aspects that often-limning mythic narratives.

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