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Remembering Nandalal Bose

Pioneer of modern Indian art, he openly denounced western techniques and his colours were positive, lines more assured and compositions more compactly structured, writes Dr Harsha Bhargavi Pandiri

Indian painting has come a long way in the last decades and in diverse ways. One of the known artists of revivalist movement at the turn of the century was Nandalal Bose, who used art as a communication tool to express humanity, family and friendship. As the country celebrates 75 years of Independence, it is important to inform the new generation about the valuable contributions of the people from creative fields. Remembering Nandalal Bose on the eve of Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, the National Gallery of Modern Art is yet to organise an exhibition with all his works presented in a thematic setup. Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his ‘Mann ki baat 2.0’ on August 25, 2019, had said. “There is a famous art show called the Venice Biennale where people from the world congregate. This time, in the India Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, a very interesting exhibition based on memories of Gandhiji was organised. Of special interest were the Haripura Panels.” A Padma Vibhushan awardee, Bose designed the Emblem of India and beautified the original manuscript of the Constitution. His work on the original hand written Constitution is the resemblance of his empathy, apprehension of the country in diverse aspects. Bose had drawn the emblems for highest awards given by the Indian Government such as Bharat Ratna and Padma Shri. His artwork adorns our Constitution lending it a new, unique identity. The very commitment and reverence of Bose have made him, along with the Constitution, immortal. The themes of illustrations depict a fragment of India’s vast historical and cultural heritage. The illustrations were created using indigenous techniques of applying gold-leaf and stone colours. While Beohar Rammanohar Sinha is credited with the Preamble Page, it was his student Dinanath Bhargava who sketched the National Emblem. Bose shared a personal rapport with Father of Nation Mahatma Gandhi and Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore. His close association with Tagore woke up a poet in him and his contact with Gandhiji woke up a patriot in him. He was asked by Gandhiji to create a panache of paintings at the Haripura session of Congress depicting Indian social life, thus awakening use of khadi and embracing swadeshi. Thanks to Tagore, he generated awareness about the use of watercolours in paintings as opposed to use of oil, which was accepted in the west but was very elitist and expensive.

As a disciple of Abhinandan Tagore, Bose used watercolours extensively in his paintings whether it’s the illustrations in the Constitution or the setting of panels of paintings in the Haripura session of Congress. Recognising their capacity for suffering and sacrifice, Gandhiji drove women out of their hearths and homes into the thick of freedom struggle. Reflecting these moves of Gandhiji, Bose depicted women in household courses, but engaged in creative pursuits. His portraits of Gandhiji with his Dandi are more than iconographic. A linocut and a watercolour became a testimony of India’s freedom and the cruel ways of the British. Bose was among the first to recognise that the image of Gandhiji alone had the potential to unify a movement beyond the realm of a select few to express collective will of a new nation. He created several posters in support of the civil disobedience movement, but they were immediately torn down and destroyed, virtually none survived. Tagore recognised the abounding talent in Bose and invited him to serve as principal of Shantiniketan. He did linocuts for his book Sahaj Path. Tagore visited Japan in 1916 and was impressed by the artworks for their remarkable clarity of statement, brevity, and direct expression and distrust of needless detail. His letters from Japan indicated the art movement to take a new turn. He also wanted miniature format and gain in visual impact. Bose was a pioneer in introducing landscapes at a time when portraits were the dominant theme ever since the Mughal paintings. To him the credit goes for digging in themes not only for landscapes, but also social life of common people. At a time when photography was little known, Bose during his travels used to come up with paintings which were modelled on photography capturing the natural scenic beauty. He came up with a travelogue with paintings showing a bird in flight, a flower in bloom, a mountain under mist, the branches of a tree swaying gracefully in gentle breeze, the rich tones and textures of life in the countryside, the splendour of starlight, night sky. Capturing the iconic instances in those epics was a striking feature of Bose paintings.

For instance, the desperate battle of Abhimanyu when he was trapped in the chakravyuha. These pictures captured the struggle of Pandavas in their fight for justice. Apart from these, his yet another focus was on depicting the various shades of love, like Yashoda and Gopal, Radha Krishna, Parvati and Ganesh and the spiritual yearning of Mira. Bose gets the credit for depicting the birth of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. He did splendid work in depicting Buddhism and the life of monks. His artworks tried to focus the attention of the public on household art forms like Alpana. His first exposure to mural paintings was in 1909 when he went to assist Lady Herringham in copying the murals of Ajanta caves that influenced his later artistic expressions. His association journey with Lady Herringham, Arai Kampo, Havell, Abaindarnath, Coomaraswamy, Okakura, Sister Nivedita, Gorpius, Bauhaus, Ramakrishna also influenced his works. He introduced techniques like Jaipur fresco, Gesso work, stained glass etc. The decorated walls of the Basu Vijnana Griha, walls of a room in the old library building in Shantiniketan with large floral scrolls based on Ajanta – Bagh motifs are some of his excellent works. The National Gallery of Modern Art has a wide range of 6,000 artworks by him. The unpredictable nature of his work had a style that was personal as his signature. He was committed towards professional excellence and social accountability. He was groomed with individuality and independence in his work by Abindranath Tagore. He was a modernist, proclaiming himself to be classicist and openly denounced western techniques. He believed in idealisation of the human figure rather than distortion. His drawings were free, sensitive and elegant and his palette, crisp, delicate and succinct. Pioneer of modern Indian art, contextual modernism and his colours were positive, his lines more assured and his compositions more compactly structured.

Dr Harsha Bhargavi Pandiri holds a Doctorate in Communication and Journalism from Osmania University, Hyderabad. She is a gold medalist in post-graduation in communication and Journalism. After working as Assistant Director with the Telangana State Information Centre, New Delhi, she’s presently working as Assistant Director (Public Relations), National Gallery of Modern Art, Government of India, New Delhi.

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Monumental Moments

Nivedita Mishra veers away from creating works within the format of an average sized figurine and takes bold strides into the arena of mammoth sculptors with the ease and artistry of a confident creator, says Subhra Mazumdar

Sculptor Nivedita Mishra, does not sculpt her works according to the conventional norms of her art form. What this entails is that this artist veers away from creating works within the format of an average sized figurine and takes bold strides into the arena of mammoth sculptors with the ease and artistry of a confident creator. Spending an evening with this creator one realises that forms, in sizes ranging upto nine feet and eleven feet are the average output from these five feet and more, sized creator, for whom the ‘bones’ of her structure are developed around strength and simplicity using the least malleable of materials: hard granite stone, which she chisels, using just her muscle power and a hand-held drill.

As for her subjects of depiction, there is nothing derivative or even down-to-earth in them. These works draw the viewer’s imagination into the very primal source of human thought, namely the wellspring of Shiva’s spiritual energy that was presented to mankind in the form of Devi or Durga. Hence the latest series of works from the Nivedita Mishra studio are based on the depictions of numerous Shakti Sthala associations, which are today worshipped as spaces that had received the bodily parts of the goddess when she was being carried round the universe.

Thus, in her works, the sources for her subjects are the essential divine parts that have inspired the shapes and textures of her art. Her giant-sized anatomical output ceases to be a mere exaggeration of the human anatomy and becomes elements of form and rhythm that somehow weave themselves into a spiritual way of creating rhythm and delicacy in her hands. The seemingly rough surface of the stone, which the sculptor deliberately leaves untouched, evokes the minimum of human interference for purposes of ornamentation, or anatomical reasons and thus concentrates the viewers’ attention on the innate philosophy that she has expressed through her sensitised and essential treatment of her material of choice. The leitmotif of her art is not an attempt to make the stone a feature for recognition of the body parts of the goddess, but a powerful form that is unmistakably a depiction of the Shakti peetha objects that tradition states fell on sacred spots of the land of Bharat and has now become the cornerstone of homogeneity in the philosophic acceptance of profound truths. And this is not all, for this artist’s primal source of creation is the idea of ‘Nari Shakti, not through its commonest emblematic choices as in the form of Durga, but as the 64 Yoginis. Thereby, she bridges the human and the divine in its most popular universal conceptualisation in the sphere of art, namely the feminine form. Having lived for over 15-17 years in western Odisha, an essentially tribal friendly part of the state where Tantric knowledge has acquired widespread scholarship, Nivedita has experienced the in depth understanding of yogini ideations through her lived opportunities. In her milieu the yoginis were flesh and blood individuals who visited and It was therefore a foregone fallout that in her latest exhibition, which had come into fruition after a preparatory stage of 17 years, this unique concept should find expression in the most exploratory journey visible. Using her sculptural expertise, this time in metal, the artist infused life into malleable metal through her creation of 64 Yoginis, a bronze conglomerate of individual torsos with each facial expression transcending beyond aestheticism and intellectualism into the realm of the super spiritual that critics have adjudged as canonical outputs of religio-mythical iconography. What viewers were gripped by was the variety of facial expressions of all the 64 sculpted personae. interacted with the local folk around.

Even their ornamentation and their anatomies, such as the shape of the nose, are deliberately underlining the statement that humanity is interlinked and yet each of us is an individual identity as well. An artist who is also an out-of-the-box exhibitor of outdoor artworks, Nivedita makes use of borrowed space to advantage by placing her specimen references of figural contours delightfully juxtaposed into garden settings. In other works, Nivedita uses the exterior façade of the cemented gallery building and the floors and walls of studio space as areas to exhibit the dimensionality of her sculptures. In the bargain, these works acquired another form of artistic dialogue, comprising eye-catching attractions both within and outside the exhibition precincts of the Shridharani Gallery. It was the placement of this conglomerate of 64 yoginis that made the focal energy.

While the outdoor area was occupied with references to the expose of the Shiva cult in the form of human sacrifice references, the semblance of a cremation ground, having the tell tale samples of such destinations, the explicit end of this conceptualisation was achieved by placing of the model of a gallows contraption, alongside. On the other hand, the interior space was contrastingly serene and yet equally soul jerking in its effect. It was the placement of a conglomerate of 64 yoginis that spelt out the Indian spiritual wellspring of focal energy. Around the amalgamation of the 64 yogini torsos was a binding force of femininity depicted through a floor spread of powdered haldi sourced from the natural grown product from her area, where the cult of Yogini practices is a living practice. Thus the aroma of freshly ground spice wafted the senses into imagining a setting where the yogini per se, was not an extraneous concept, but one that was interlinked in the persona of every woman who exudes a bedrock of inner strength, which needs no frivolous outward signs to make its presence palpable to one and all. Incidentally, the familiar pungency of the spice not only freshened the air indoors, but when the light fell on the features of her sculpted shapes, the shadows of these statuesque forms fell obliquely on the yellow mass making their appeal a duality born of aromatic vibrancy like none other.

Even the wooden platform on which the whole composition was mounted had an old world and reclaimed air, as it was constructed from salvaged railway sleepers. The wood was bereft of any cosmetic touches adding another dimension of otherworldliness to the environs. Then as the visitors arrived at the opening of the show, they were induced into the appropriate frame of mind with chantings from the slokas sung by a duo of special pandits who graced the occasion, coming all the way for this special inauguration from Varanasi. Today, while the exhibition doors have long been drawn at the gallery, the specimen creations have been given a new lease of life in a garden setting, where the silver grey of the granite is a repository of the wisdom of the ages, and the greenery sprouting beneath one’s feet becomes the image of new life absorbing the ancient wisdom passively and graciously.

While this is just a temporary halting ground before the works are shifted into their designated exhibition areas as outdoor sculptures, Nivedita is busy in her studio, which too, is a covered area roofed with eco-friendly bamboo where the artist and her muse can be seen chiselling, rubbing, etching and shaping yet another form, based on the wisdom of mankind and brought into focus through her massive or diminutive shapes preparation for the next exhibition, in another venue and at another time.

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Master Strokes

Samir Mondal has endowed watercolours with the status of oils by developing textures and structural features, but never losing their originality and elegance, says Saswati Chaudhuri

Samir Mondal has a name that is hard to forget, and the same could be said for his glorious artwork. It is not easy to forget the beauty of it once you have cast your gaze upon it. Hailed as the watercolour man of India, 70-year-old Mondal is an artist evolved by nature. Much before his paintings for the 2007 Bollywood blockbuster, Taare Zameen Par, became the talk of the town, the illustrious painter started his artistic odyssey from Balti, a small Bengali village in the North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal.”It was such a small village that there was no trace of town-like features and no facilities. In fact, there was nothing,” recalls the Mumbai-based artist. “But it was rich in terms of nature’s bounty. It was an undisturbed rural location with a small river, ponds, boats, trees and plants, a village temple, rituals and local festivals, customs and traditions, and simple people living friendly with each other. It was like growing up with nature freely without any restriction. No light, no noise like cities, it was so untouched by modernity that there was no paper,” he says. Can you imagine that he used to write on palm leaves in his childhood? “It sounds like I was born a thousand years ago,” says the artist credited with a continual revival of watercolours. He describes the Sonai River in a very artistic manner, reflecting his deep observation from early childhood memories. “Sonai with its crystal-clear water without any undercurrent was the lifeline of that small village. It was not very broad and its water was very sweet which was used by the villagers for their daily life, he remembers. Mondal was the eldest among six siblings and his father was a teacher at a school in a different village. That school had a pucca building and that is where Mondal started his schooling. Although no one, including himself, knew that he would be an artist of this stature as we know him today, being close to nature definitely helped lay the foundation. His family shifted to another village near Basirhat town as his mother wanted better education for her children. Basirhat was well connected with Kolkata by road and train. Many significant Bengali families lived there. Mondal joined Basirhat High School, which had a grand building and he found people using the radio and reading newspapers in many houses near his home! It was a progressive change for him but as a whole, the financial condition of people was not so good because it was just after independence and the country was yet to develop a proper system for better public life. During his growing years, there was no understanding about becoming an artist, butkeen observation towards nature in detail gave him pleasure. His narrative description about the flowing water in the river, playful fish near the boat, colourful flowers and foliage gives the impression that he always had an artistic sensibility and spending time with nature was the formative chapter for today’s Samir Mondal. In school, art as a subject was not very significant, but he used to draw on plain white or ruled school notebooks, which left his father fuming as he considered it was a waste of stationery. Buying colours was an expensive affair. So the only available colour was wax crayons, not good enough for colouring. “Those crayons were like colourful candles,” he says. But he noticed some of his friends using watercolour cakes to paint with a brush mixing water and using thick quality papers. He used to draw with ink and pencil and watched movies with neighbourhood friends and listened to city-stories from a relative of his friend who lived in Kolkata. “Sulekha inkpot and writing tool, which was dipped into the ink to draw or write was the reality at that time. Along with that, local cultural events like yatras, meaning watching village theatre at night, was extremely interesting,” he says. Like every Bengali teen, story illustrations and Bengali comic book pictures were his favourite. These events gave him exposure about the creative world, but it wasn’t much for him to decide to be an artist. His art teacher at Basirhat High School, Sri Sudhir Sarkar, was from the Government College of Art and Craft and was a batchmate of many well-known artists like Ganesh Haloi, Sarbari Roychowdhury, Uma Siddhanta and others.

Mondal saw some watercolour paintings done by his teacher, which were framed and displayed. But he was shy to interact with the teacher and also felt those artworks were of a very high level for him. Moreover, the weekly art class was not very impactful, though his friends appreciated his drawings and other craftworks. Kolkata was completely unknown to him and for someone from a low income family, it made more sense to go to the Basirhat college for graduation, learn typing and find some job as a teacher like his father, or a clerk to earn and support the family. But as luck would have it, one day a relative of his friend from Kolkata asked him something specific about his plan for further studies. No one ever asked him this and his next question was “Would you like to try studying art?” Mondal didn’t know the answer because he didn’t know anything about it. Next, the same person offered to arrange a meeting with a teacher of the art college in Kolkata. This conversation created curiosity and a new direction. When he told this to his father, his parents also started thinking on those lines and enquired about the course from their sources, but the information was not very positive, so there was no clarity. For Mondal, however, going to art college was destined. He met with his friend’s relative, who happened to be sculptor Sunil Paul, Head of the Sculpture Department, at the college. At the same time, another friend invited him to stay with him in Kolkata as a guest for a few days to see the city before making the decision. Mondal recalls these two events changed everything. He joined Indian Art College, which was the second popular fine art institution in Kolkata, but after a year he got admission in Government College of Art and Craft. So it was a six-year study for him. He lived in his uncle (mama)’s house in North Kolkata and used to walk more than 8 km everyday to reach his college to save money. His walking route was through Bidhan Sarani, which gave him a deep understanding about the city and as an artist that was a true depth of his passion. He feels this was the most valuable period of learning and inspiration. Crucial statements from teachers gave him artistic wisdom. He recalls how eminent artist Gopal Ghosh, his teacher in the second year, once did a watercolour painting in class that left Mondal mesmerised. “The way he applied the strokes, put colours on the paper and continued to look at the painting for a while and worked on it again to finish taught us how a human touch creates a piece of art,” he says. Mondal, on his part, has given a new dimension to the watercolour medium, which is generally considered second-rate, or less vibrant and difficult to handle compared to oil on canvas medium. He learnt continuously by watching the works of other painters throughout his journey, got influenced by some of them and over a period of time came out of that influence as well. Not only paper, Mondal has done watercolour paintings on leather, wood, canvas, glass and even on mirrors. At his alma mater, there was a trend of regular watercolour practice for students. It was the British school technique of transparent watercolour on paper with colour perspective and depth. Everyone used it with a minimal palette in an almost monochromic way. It was mainly a practice medium, not exactly classroom syllabus. The main academic medium to learn was oil on canvas. Being part of the same GCAC alumni, I have known Samir Da, who used to create beautiful watercolours and we juniors used to watch him paint during outdoor practice. He perceived watercolour as the main working medium, discovering its true essence and exuberance, asserting through his dynamic style that we see as his signature or identity. Many learning spaces and workshops around the world observe his style and contribution are discussed during scholarly lectures for next generation artists. More than any awards, this is the greatest achievement for any artist. “Do we artists really need to create an identity? I don’t know. I do not take pride in being famous. I don’t think I have reached the highest point,” he says, “Is there any rule to find an individual style for an artist to authenticate or he can go any direction to explore creativity as it comes naturally. In reality, there is no definite formula. An artist’s identity can come into reality in many ways that may be in terms of popularity, in terms of grace or presentation. If an artist works continuously, it shows a flow and a signature style finds its way,” he says, adding, “If an artist works taking a long break in between, the same thing may not be visible in the artwork. So it depends on the workflow of an artist and also it is not always a conscious development for an artist to create a specific identity. As it is a lifetime commitment towards a field of work, after the academic learning there are periods of search, research and a responsibility to do something meaningful.” He agrees that while we create art, it is a dialogue between the artist and the artwork. If that communication is established, creation happens. He also says there is no good art or bad art but he does not believe that ‘skill’ prevents us from being creative, which has been a popular opinion recently.

He started his solo artistic endeavour in 1980 with an insight about the resurgence of watercolour painting. Although some of the predecessors worked on the watercolour medium very seriously and watercolour exhibitions were organised to acknowledge its importance, the oil medium was always dominating. Studio painting using watercolour was less visible. In annual shows at art galleries like Academy of Fine Arts, Kolkata, the prominent halls were dedicated to the artists, who created large-size oil paintings which have a great impact on viewers. “As if watercolour belongs to a minority community,” he says. This scenario disturbed him, made him angry and he was determined to take watercolour paintings to that large prominent exhibition space. His aspiration was, “Bado ghare jete hobe” means “I have to reach to that large hall”. Mondal says his style today involves the influences of different cultures, themes, styles and techniques that he has been exposed to throughout his career. “I’m forever evolving, learning from the medium itself. I love the accidents and unpredictability of the medium, the happenings from the mixing and merging of the medium beyond our control. I am merely guiding these processes to a meaningful conclusion,” he says.”I believe the biggest deciding factor about the evolution of my style is the unpredictable nature of the medium. I start out expecting or anticipating a certain result, but the outcome is sometimes far from what I initially set to achieve. I do not consider this as my failure, but a positive new knowledge for me. I have incorporated this in my style as well, the unpredictability of watercolours.” He recalls how he once threw water hopelessly on his incomplete painting and left it on the floor. After a few days, when he looked at his work, the textures and effects amazed him. It was a new experience. This event gave him fresh energy, as if he found that missing link and his own style was born. It was accidental, but it was the beginning. He continued working and he also thought watercolour would be economically supportive compared to oil. He used to do large size watercolour paintings on full size papers, even joining papers together, using paper rolls. He intensely observed the attributes of oil painting masterpieces and noted the richness, depth and substance. He desired to achieve similar qualities in watercolour medium and experimented with textures and constructional features; not losing the original classic grace of watercolour medium and developed a contemporary method. As he pursued his work, he received opportunities to exhibit and appreciation and achievements followed. He created the ‘Shelter’ series paintings which were 4’ X 4’ that were not in practice at that time. In his peacock series, he even experimented with a combination of bright and subdued shades; in ‘Faded Manuscript’ series, he made brilliant use of black with red, ultramarine and rich yellow. He created a magical yet powerful statement. He introduced a kind of building up process in watercolour, bringing a weight just like oil paintings. Shyamal Dutta Roy’s concept driven water colour was his inspiration. He says, “Finally my work started being displayed in the large hall,” which he determined. Sandip Sarkar, one of the most reputed and learned art historians and art critics of Bengal talked about his work; later few of his works, some of them are portraits of personalities, were published as the cover pages of Desh Patrika and The Illustrated Weekly of India, which was a great honour. Desh Patrika cover page used to be for very senior artists of Bengal, which was considered a highly prestigious event of that period. Mondal’s work reached there at a very young age. He feels very lucky that there used to be a regular column on watercolour in the reputed Illustrated Weekly in the form of a full page painting by him. In Sunday Observer, his portraits of famous actors and actresses were regularly published during the 90s. Besides, many commission works in the form of calendars, greetings and illustrations for books, magazines, periodicals and newspapers published in India and abroad made watercolour to be mainstream and an established medium like oil on canvas. He created his own strategy about using pigments to bring in the weight and luminosity that was acknowledged as pioneering and original. He often works in a planned manner in layers, sometimes it takes several days to complete one painting, yet it looks ‘finished at one go’. Spontaneity is a natural quality of watercolour; he plays with this quality and manipulates it gradually in his own mastery. He breaks the traditionalism embracing bold colours and definite structure. He has gone through several changes. Besides orthodox British method of watercolour painting, which has a fresh transparency and dynamic three-dimensional look, he studied many techniques like Chinese watercolours with bold brush strokes, Egyptian simplified motifs, Ajanta Cave paintings etc., to experiment. This learning made him realise that watercolour medium is still very much unexplored. He also spent a good time learning performing arts like mime; the body movement of mime looked like moving sculpture to him. He also learnt classical dance like Kathakali from guru P. Govindan Kutty to understand body movement and anatomy. He even worked on animation for eight to ten years.

All these activities influenced him as an artist. But his humble conclusion is, “I have not yet reached a stage where I can say I am a great artist. I am happy that I am doing it, art is uncertain but I am still holding it. My medium is my friend, I can play with it without getting bored. It is an ongoing process.” His recent works came out to be completely different due to the lockdown period, when he was in Western Australia visiting his son. He did not have access to his own watercolours. He created small black and white sketchbook works using charcoal and some digital works inspired by Aboriginal Art of Australia. This new approach is also expected to be continued because that is the basic nature of evolving artists.

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Truly The Bose

TRULY THE BOSE

Bose Krishnamachari continues to revolutionise world

perception of contemporary art by reinventing its benchmarks

and language, pushing relentlessly at the boundaries of

imagination, says Divya Menon

Samuel Beckett’s plays that explore the absurdities and polarities in society create a conducive climate for the intelligent man to manifest a parallel world of expression using aesthetics imbibed from these quirks and form born in their imagination.

For Bose Krishnamachari, who, in one of his earliest trysts with theatre, played the role of Beckett’s Estragon, understanding of these extremes of life dawned early. A lot that he has said in 30 years, through his art could be traced to these inspirations. For instance, his ambitious project in 1992 after suffering a blow being rusticated from Mumbai’s Sir J.J. School of Art, was ironically titled AmUseuM and shown at the Jahangir Gallery in Mumbai. It was born in the concept of impermanence and materiality driven by human imagination and the coexisting idiosyncrasies of Mumbai’s book selling footpaths. He recalls that in the early 90s, the library at the Sir J.J. School of Art despite being well stacked had a dearth of reading material on modern and contemporary art. His search for such knowledge exposed him to street book sellers, some squatting on the ground amidst stacks of books, others perched atop pillars of books!

The absurdity of the scene, the dichotomy of absence and excess, his thirst for information and its inaccessibility grew into AmUseuM that showcased within glass cases, painted spiral bound books bearing inscriptions of poetry and mummified with colours on glued pages, mimicking conventional museums. His Ghost/Transmemoir in 2006, explored ambivalence even more critically with an extraordinary presentation of 108 tiffin boxes with their bellies torn and embedded with LCD monitors that relayed commentaries by celebrities and commoners alike. The show recreated the sounds of both dissonance and harmony typical of Mumbai – the city that throbs with an energy that instantly absorbs one into its many polarised layers. The show was first previewed at Kitab Mahal in Mumbai, then New York’s AiCon Gallery, Milan, Dubai, Lille, London’s Serpentine Gallery, Lyon Museum, Singapore, Astrup Fearnley Museum Oslo and Herning Museum in Denmark.

The soft-spoken gentleman with deep political consciousness and social awareness is, however, an outspoken critic of the fallacies and mishaps that afflict contemporary times. In 2020 at Kolkata’s Emami Art, his first solo in nine years titled The Mirror Sees Best in the Dark addressed his worries and aversions without brevity in the language of maximalism and minimalism, exploring diverse materiality. Some projects in this series used maximum ornamentation like gilt, golden frames and Kerala’s Aranmula Kannadi (polished metal mirror), while others sank into minimalist mode with paper and Braille like perforations.

When a mirror becomes the protagonist of an artist’s creation, it explodes into our psyche, absorbing and reflecting us and the world around us. It lays bare our obsessions that lie hidden, carefully camouflaged under layers of fallacy. Obsession is a dangerous state of mind that can ruin the very fabric of human existence. Bose says, “I find obsession running deeply in contemporary society, obsession with religion, God, capitalism, racism and so on. It worries me”.

It is 2021 but the pandemic still looms large over us manifesting mixed scenarios in our world. It has locked us down behind unseen walls and rechartered our plans and physical boundaries. In many parts of the world, it has silenced galleries, biennales and shows indefinitely causing deepest anguish to artists, but has also catalysed with greater urgency than ever, the migration of art into virtual space where borders are merely subjective. For our thinkers who have been hankering for a free space for expression without borders, it has spawned an entirely new world. And yet again, in a cold reminder about the mpermanence of existence, it has theatrically shrunk the chasm between life and death! These are strange times indeed! But this is also the time, that Bose imagined would be just right for Lokame Tharavadu (The World is One Family) – an expression of solidarity, an art show of excesses, be it in the number of artists or, of an abstraction called imagination. Like a crusader, Bose Krishnamachari, the man at its helm spent much of 2020 networking with Malayali artists across the world, travelling the length and breadth of Kerala and other places, studying their works, holding discussions, understanding their backgrounds and so on for the The exhibition dubbed India’s biggest contemporary art event since the pandemic, has showcased works of 267 Malayali artists, across 6 venues in Alappuzha and Ernakulam. Interestingly, it is a new platform for many obscure artists who were handpicked by Bose to hop onto his Noah’s Ark of sorts.

Putting debates on the timing of the show to rest, Bose says that art is simply therapeutic and that after long periods of confinement, a coming together to boost sinking morale was a necessity. The pandemic being a leveler of sorts had just delivered a powerful message to the world that beneath the cacophony of social disparities is a commonality – that we are all equally vulnerable. Bose’s blueprint for the show was thus born in the urgency of the times. Those who are familiar with the phenomenal mind of the man called Bose Krishnamachari would concur that this is not the first time that he has done something seminal.

As the long-distance video conversation progresses into interesting vistas, the man whose brush wields power offers a generous peek into his art and mind, “Technology has made life so easy, but I fear that it could be robbing our young artists of their ability to imagine”, laments Bose. The ability to visualise and dream are both sacrosanct to creativity but the gadget strapped youth of today, lured by the infinite possibilities that rest at the touch of a button, is edging towards a major cultural catastrophe with imagination slowly becoming a dying art!

He says, “At 22 when I caught the Jayanti Janatha train from Kerala to Mumbai to study art, I had just recovered from a long illness, had no inkling what Mumbai looked like, had never before ventured out of Kerala and there was no Google in those days! But I was fortunate to have had the gift of imagination that allowed me to visualise and create a space to hoist my dreams.”

The man whose brush wields power offers a generous

peek into his art and mind, “Technology has made life so

easy, but I fear that it could be robbing our young

artists of their ability to imagine,” he says.

But initial days in Mumbai were trying. He says, “Survival as an art student was hard because funds were low. In Western countries, students receive financial support of various kinds but that is not the case here. I stayed in a chawl in Saki Naka sharing a room with several others.” His stint at Worli’s Mela Restaurant as a sketching artist that exposed him to all classes of people is where he honed his language skills and sharpened his observations. He adds, “I made portraits for Rs 10 and was often given tips by my clients and that helped me to live life big time, party, travel and buy books.”

Much has been written about his student life at the Sir J.J. School of Art in Mumbai that introduced him to different disciplines of art study, where he topped with record scores, made associations with brilliant minds like Kapil Gupta, Geetanjali Rao, Samira Rathod, Sudarshan Shetty and others, did a teaching fellowship at the Institute before being chucked out for an open critique about the school! In hindsight, all that transpired at Mumbai were precursors to the monumental journey he would undertake in the years that followed.

BFA and several shows later, he won the Charles Wallace India Trust Scholarship (1999-2000) that took him to Goldsmiths, University of London, from where he acquired his MFA in Visual Art Theory and Practice.

Bose Krishnamachari has always been a champion of artistic development in the country and a keen spectator of India’s changing social fabric. He says, “Culture is the backbone of society and should ideally be part of the Education Ministry as it used to be. Our students do not get enough exposure to world practices in contemporary art for lack of resources, collective spaces and collaborative efforts.

Talent is plenty but often it is not skill that matters but how you present it. Aesthetics is a core aspect of design and technology and must become part of mainstream education. We need museums that can be continually reprogrammed to grow into centres of education. We must ask pertinent questions like why we make art and what we are trying to educate with our art projects. The educational system in India could do with some reformation so that perception of art can change and greater value can be attached to art education.”

He believes that the future of the world would be one that is coengineered by artists, designers and scientists and that the collaboration of these people will create an impactful space.

On the lines of art democratisation, he says that art needs to enter the life of the common man more intimately to stimulate cultural dialogues at all levels. In 2005 with his ingenious project titled Laboratory of Visual Art (LaVA), he gave a glimpse into what an inventive space could do by travelling away from practiced norms. Through LaVa he expanded the landscape of the conventional museum space by demolishing its implicit boundaries. LaVa was designed as a travelling, temporary space in order to elicit greater involvement and enthusiasm from the public as it moved from one city to another, absorbing viewers into its whirlpool of interaction.

With 12 monitors and specially made modular furniture, the space featured more than 3000 books, 1800 DVDs and other objects of interest spanning visual art, architecture, design, culture, fashion, philosophyand more. These were hand-picked by him on his numerous visits to galleries, museums and shows worldwide and thrown open to artists and students.

With LaVA, he reformatted the gallery experience giving his viewers a taste of the myriad possibilities of an interactive space. From the Max Mueller Bhavan in Mumbai where it was first exhibited, it travelled to the Travancore House in Delhi and then to Kolkata’s Gallery 88, Red Earth Gallery in Baroda and Bangalore’s Sumukha Gallery, for couple of months each before moving to Kochi’s Kashi Art Gallery and then returned to Gallery BMB in Mumbai created in 2009 by Yash Birla, Devaunshi Mehta and Bose. From 2011 it has been at the Pepper House in Kochi as part of the Kochi Biennale Foundation.

Cultural tourism is another interest he nurtures deeply. Citing the Kochi-Muziris Biennale formula, he says, “Greater investment must be made to transform more Indian cities into cultural centres with festivals to attract visitors and bring in the economy because we already have a rich heritage”. The event has put Kerala on the world cultural map and is a collective space for artists from different practices from all over the world with several verticals under its banner like the ABC (Art By Children) Art Room for schools and the Students’ Biennale which is the first of its kind internationally.

The Kochi-Muziris Biennale is India’s first one and has assumed colossal proportions today as a successful socio-cultural model for cultural exchange. It was conceived at a private meeting at Bose’s Mumbai residence in 2010 with the then Education and Cultural Minister of Kerala M.A. Baby and later at Borivali with artist friends like Riyas Komu and Jyothi Basu. With its rich heritage, social fabric and cultural openness to worldwide voices, Kochi was the perfect springboard for the Biennale, touted as the largest art festival in Asia and Bose is the Director and the Founding President of the Kochi Biennale Foundation.

He says, “Across the world, biennales have catalyzed cultural and social movements that altered the lives of people in those cities. Take the ‘Bilbao effect’ for instance. The coming together of revolutionary ideas, new ways of thinking have always sparked positive changes which is why we need more such collectives and biennales in India.”

The challenge of the unpredictable in art is something that he enjoys and believes that if it was predictable, it wouldn’t be art. Tweaking Joseph Beuys’s quote he says that everyone could, be an artist but curatorship is more complex than common perception. He has curated shows in India and internationally. In 2012 Bose co-curated the first Kochi-Muziris Biennale and in 2016 curated For an Image, Faster than Light, first edition of the Yinchuan Biennale, in Yinchuan, MOCA, China. He says, “A curator is not merely someone who packs pieces of art into a show but someone who researches into the premise of the concept, studies the backgrounds of the artists, the space, the need to exhibit, its relevance to contemporary times and has awareness of architectural and scenographical processes and historical sensibilities in relation to the concept”. We arrive at several high notes in the conversation, especially when he talks about how Kerala and Mumbai are both dear to him differently. Kerala gifted him his first platform to express his art, through theatre, music and dance. The Kerala cuisine that can be anything from a humble gruel to a majestic 16 dish feast taught him early in life about the beauty in extremes.

His socio-cultural sentimentalities were born here. His skill and generosity are genetic legacies of his parents. Whereas Mumbai, the city of survival or Bose’s ‘city of maximum’ is the place that transformed the village boy from Kerala into a phenomenal presence in the art world.

It gets even more interesting when he says that his art and life resonate deeply. Some of his works are jarringly loud visually, and then there are others that are shockingly minimalist, pretty much like his sense of fashion that can be anything from quirky to elegant. He says, “Well, life is full of extremes. If there is chaos, there is order as well. An artist knows how to create order from chaos”.

Art is an omnipresent reality that lies concurrent to man’s life, constantly shaping his world. The artist of today is not someone who lives and creates in isolation. Freedom to explore and express are important to him. It is essentially this liberal space that Bose Krishnamachari has been trying to create through his art that speaks to current times.

He continues to revolutionise world perception of contemporary art by reinventing its benchmarks and language, pushing relentlessly at the boundaries of imagination. He is a gallerist and an art collector with collections dating back to his student days that include stellar works by young artists and big names alike from around the world.

The conceptualist is unstoppable and moves between many more roles from a thinker to a facilitator, a narrator and critic of contemporary times, a friend, a patron of young artists and a teacher who is kind and willing to share for he believes art is for all. He says, “I have no success mantra but my life has been carved around, destiny, passion, enthusiasm and commitment. I do not encourage my students to follow me, I myself follow none though many have inspired me on my journey which has been truly rewarding this far; at the same time, my deepest regret is the loss of precious time with my family”.

For Bose, with more to be said and done, there is no time to pause.

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The Mystery of the Infinite

The Mystery of the Infinite - Geeta Chandran
Bharatanatyam dancer Geeta Chandran’s new dance autobiography speaks of how she tackled the pandemic as an artist and inspires all to emerge out of darkness
Clad in a gorgeous green saree, noted Bharatanatyam danseuse and Padma Shri awardee Geeta Chandran set the Stein Auditorium stage on fire with the rhythmic sounds of her ghunghroos as she presented her new works entitled “In Search of Infinity” strung together by five poignant dance sequences on Saturday, May 21, 2022, at the India Habitat Centre, Lodi Estate, New Delhi.

The auditorium reverberated with live musicians playing for her as she performed a 90-minute piece reflecting her internal dance journey through the Covid pandemic. “I believe the other side of infinity is insanity. It is a tough choice during the pandemic that we had to make about whether we were going down the slope towards insanity or whether we were able to rescue ourselves towards infinity,” she said. The pandemic that the world has witnessed in the past two years has greatly impacted every person on the planet. To portray that era of darkness that everyone needs to put aside while treading the path forward with caution, Chandran deployed ‘Beeti Vibhavari Jaag Ri’ by Hindi poet Jai Shankar Prasad Ji as a potent metaphor that also promises a better tomorrow. Using images of rejuvenation and of finding renewed strength within, the opening piece set the pace and tone for the evening. The pandemic had seen each of us experience different emotions ranging from anger, compassion, fear and restlessness. Mirroring this, the episode of Lord Krishna lifting the Govardhan Mountain to protect humanity offered an opportunity for Chandran to explore various nava-rasas in her dance spiralling into the deepest recesses of her core to understand feelings of sorrow, wonder, disgust, and love. Verses in Sanskrit from the Sri Krishna Karna-amrita shlokam of Bilvamangala Swami become the libretto for this exploration in music and abhinaya. The performance then approached transcendence in the danseuse serenading the Goddess in Amba Nilambari, who drapes the sky as her garment.

Chandran said that she specially chose this Goddess who rules the skies as her object of devotion since Covid too came to us air-borne. This grand Carnatic music composition of vaggyekara Shri Muthuswami Dikshithar was presented in a mature vilambit fashion. Chandran’s abhinaya of the Goddess, Neelambari who blesses devotees with eyes full of compassion, became a dance of hope and post pandemic sustenance. In Search of Infinity also brought out Chandran’s maternal feelings which were invoked watching her grandson toddle around during the pandemic year. This experience informed a beautiful lullaby wherein Ma Yashoda narrates the story of Rama while putting little Krishna to sleep. In an epiphanic moment in the story, when Sita isabducted by Ravana, the baby Krishna, transcending time and space, calls out to Lakshmana (his brother in his previous incarnation as Ram) to get his bow readied, since he wants to call out Ravana. This wonderful literary piece by Poet Surdas, presented the concept of a grand Sanatan philosophy were avatars are linked in cyclical memory. Finally, Chandran concluded her performance with a call for social tolerance of differences. In a piece written by Swami Annamacharya of the Tirupati Balaji temple, the poet called for samdrishti to human beings who may follow different sets of beliefs. All of humanity is one, says the poet, even as all the Gods are one! Images of devotees worshipping Vishnu, Shiva, Devi, Tantra practices and Vedanta all showed the multiple ways of reaching the single Parabhramam. Chandran said: “The pandemic affected all performing artists deeply. I was no exception. My dance studio, which was, until then, daily humming with hyper creative activity and the bustle of students, went eerily silent. After a brief hiatus of about two weeks, I shook off my ennui and started reassessing my blessings.

I recognised that my art was replete and capable of feeding my soul and saving me from the downward spirals that so many around me were sliding down into! And I also realised that my internal landscape was robust enough to keep me busy, creatively occupied, feeling fulfilled and happy. I reached the blissful Point Zero within myself, and I thank the pandemic for that. I truly tasted eternity.”

She further added, “In Search of Infinity showcases compositions I worked on during those 30 null months. With the support of stellar musicians K. Venkateswaran and Manohar Balatchandirane who were my pandemic co-travelers, I survived the pandemic and two Covid infection cycles with hope, and positivity.” Calm, quiet and Nirvana can be achieved if one wills it and this is what Chandran tried to bring out through her performances as she took a housefull audience through this fascinating autobiographical journey of how she emerged from the pandemic quick sands that engulfed so many. There is a reason why performing arts have been esteemed so high as they and other creative fields are the most potential ways at hand for anyone to find balm for battered souls. Through In Search of Infinity, Chandran inspired everyone to find their happiness and calm within themselves and quench their creative thirst. The outburst of an impromptu standing ovation was proof that the audience heartily endorsed Chandran’s path. Chandran started dancing at the age of five. She has spent the last 55 years teaching and performing the classical dance, which has proved her as ‘dynamic’ and ‘magnificent’. Even after giving many best performances, she is always eager to learn something.

“The 30 months of
the pandemic underlined
limits of everything; we were
all boxed in both physically
and metaphorically. In that
state of despair, my dance
led me to deeper spaces
within myself.”

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Lalit Kala Akademi Awards for 20 artists

The 62nd National Exhibition of Art covering artworks from a broad range of mediums exhibits artistic brilliance, innovative use of materials and aesthetic appeal of the selected artists

After the difficult phase of the Corona period, there is some good news for the artists. Lalit Kala Akademi organised its 62nd National Exhibition of Art in the Capital from April 9 and also honoured 20 artists on the same day. Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu presented these honours to the outstanding artists working in other mediums, including painting, sculpture, graphic, and photography in a grand ceremony at Vigyan Bhawan. Speaking at the award function, the Vice President called upon schools and parents to encourage children to learn any art form of their choice as part of the efforts to preserve and promote India’s rich cultural heritage. Stressing the need to go back to our roots, he called for a cultural renaissance in Indian society. He also said that our rich traditional folk-art forms such as puppetry are disappearing due to the craze for western culture. They have to be revived with active involvement of not just the governments but society at large. Observing that exposure to creativity and art at an early age will help children become more aware of their surroundings and help them lead a more meaningful life, Shri Naidu wanted educational institutions to give equal importance to art subjects in their curriculum. Lauding the contributions of artists in “strengthening the thread of continuity connecting our rich past to the present and future”, Shri Naidu observed that art unites people across cultures, influences and inspires them, thus “becoming a powerful agent of change in the process”. “It is the duty of each one of us to preserve and promote our grand cultural traditions and various art forms”, he said. The awardees were presented with a copper plate and a shawl, along with Rs.2 lakh in cash.

The artists, who were honoured for the Lalit Kala Akademi award this time are Anand Narayan Dabli, Bhola Kumar, Devesh Upadhyay, Digvijay Khatua, Ghanshyam Kahar, Jagan Mohan Penuganti, Jintu Mohan Kalita, Kusum Pandey, Lakshmipriya Panigrahi, Manjunath. Honnapura, Mohan Bhoya, Nema Ram Jangid, Nisha Chadda, Prabhu Harsoor, Prem Kumar Singh, Pritam Maiti, Rishi Raj Tomar, S.A. Vimalanathan, Shivanand Shagoti and Sunil Kumar Singh Kushwaha. These artists have been selected for these awards by a jury of art connoisseurs who have studied the work of the artists closely. This jury was also constituted by the Lalit Kala Akademi and its members were Dattatreya Apte, Vipul Prajapati, Vasudev Kamat, Yogendra Tripathi, Mithun Kumar Dutta, Deepak Ponnikar and Shivkumar Kesarmadu. Artefacts and artistic expression of these artists have been displayed at the National Art Exhibition, which was inaugurated on April 9, by the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Development of North- East Region, G. Kishan Reddy, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs and Culture Arjun Ram Meghwal and Minister of State for External Affairs and Culture Meenakshi Lekhi. The selection of the artworks were done on the basis of the quality of execution, freshness of images, innovative use of materials, novel application of colour and originality of stylistic markers in the works. Chairman of Lalit Kala Akademi Uma Nanduri said that “After a long period of Covid-19 pandemic, this exhibition on national level will encourage the artist. This year the number of awards has been increased from 15 to 20. I congratulate all the award winners.” Akademi received 5450 entries from 2351 artists, out of which the 1st tier Jury (Selection Jury) selected more than 300 exhibits for display in the exhibition. IInd Tier Jury (Award Jury) selected 20 artworks for award for 62 nd National Akademi Awards.

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All That Glitters

Kanhai’s painting with Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in the background and PM Modi in the foreground may find a place at the Statue of Unity
TEXT: TEAM ART SOUL LIFE

Padmshri awardee painter Krishn Kanhai got his latest art work unveiled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The life-size potrait of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel impressed PM Modi so much that he suggested that there should be a special place for the painting. “When PM Modi saw the painting, he said that he wanted it to be kept at the Statue of Unity (at Kewadia, Gujarat). This is the biggest compliment that I could get. Lakhs of people visit the Statue of Unity, it will be a big thing for me,” Kanhai says. The painting has Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in the background and PM Modi in the foreground. “When the lockdown was announced in March 2020, I thought of making a painting of PM Modi as he is one of the most popular leaders of the world. First, I thought I would make PM’s painting with Mahatma Gandhi, then I decided that I should go ahead with Sardar Patel,” Kanhai says, explaining how he decided to pick Modi and Patel as,the subject of his painting.

Always prepared to draw things that take his fancy, Vrindavan-based Kanhai, was 15 when his classmates started asking him to show his drawing prowess in school. “It all began after seeing my father Kanhai Chitrakar. And as the son of a renowned artist, my friends at school used to push me to draw something on the blackboard,” he says. “So initially just with chalk, I used to draw peacocks, flowers, and sometimes Radha-Krishan on the blackboard. After completing my high school education, I completely focused on painting,” he informs. Notably, Krishn Kanhai’s father, also a Padma Shri awardee, was also an acclaimed artist and a painter who pioneered an art form known as Kanhai gold painting, which is somewhat like the well-loved Tanjore art, but the Kanhai’s are proportionate, unlike the Tanjores, which feature short, stout figures. In addition, the Kanhai paintings use only 24-carat pure gold, which is applied more liberally than the fine-touch gold typically used in other Indian paintings. Pertinent to mention, Krishn Kanhai, throughout his artistic career spanning over four decades, has painted thousands of portraits on the now perishing theme of Radha- Krishna and their tales. He has, however, not confined himself to the traditional style, but has also introduced certain significant techniques of his own that make the canvas aesthetically appealing and spiritually rich. In a way, he can be called a fusion artist for making beautiful use of enchanting Radha-Krishna postures and turning them into contemporary modern art that is eye-catching and unforgettable. So, following the footsteps of his father and mentor Kanhai Chitrakar, young Kanhai was encouraged to carve out his own niche in the artistic world. His son, Arjun Kanhai, a BFA from University of Southampton, UK, is also an expert in traditional and portrait painting. It is seldom that a father and a son have been honoured with a National award like Padma Shri. The Kanhai Family and the Bachchan Family are the only two families in India where both father and son have won the Padma Shri. “What I learned from my father at the age of 15 gave me recognition after 25 year of struggle into the painting world”, underlines the dexterous artist. Kanhai’s first work was a portrait of Swami Haridas, which he sold for Rs 4 in 1975. “This Rs 4 was my first earning through a painting and it gave me a sense of satisfaction that my paintings are being liked by the people,” he says.

Initially I used to draw peacocks, flowers, and sometimes Radha-Krishan on the blackboard with a chalk After completing my high school education, I completely focused on painting Narrating the three-decade-old experience of working alongside his father, Kanhai says he was 27-year-old when he decided to create his own art form, It is after this realisation that he started working on folk themes to revive the Brij and Yamuna Bank Culture into his artwork and gradually came to evolve a style of his own, which bore his personal stamp. It did not take much time for him to get known, as the precursor of the Yamuna Ghat Painting School.

Since then Kanhai’s paintings have received great acclaim due to their improved artistic composition, use of oil paints and embossing material, realistic style of large canvases, excellent gem-setting work, and an opulent 24-carat gold foiling. Yes he often uses pure gold and precious gems as raw materials for his paintings. “Painting using pure gold was done a long time ago, but this form of art had become extinct in North India in recent times. Thinking of creative ways to make a painting more beautiful, I revived this form,” says Kanhai.

He brought a new dimension to the art arena by creating paintings that recited visually mesmerising stories. Groomed under the expert guidance of his father he earned international recognition and the epithet of the artist with the Midas touch. But it is not just the Radha-Krishna paintings or the portraits that depicted folk culture for what he is known for. He kept experimenting with his artistic work.

He is also known to the political elite of the world, with several Presidents and Prime Ministers among his clients whose portraits were done by him. The list includes names, like former Prime minister of India Atal Bihari Vajpayee and former Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani, former US President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary Clinton, former US President Barack Obama and his family, besides eminent industrialists like Adiya Birla and his wife Rajshri Birla, and veteran Bollywood actor-turnedpolitician Hema Malini. In 2016, on a special request from the Uttar Pradesh Government, Kanhai painted a life-size portrait of 22 Chief Ministers of UP – past and present along with 19 past and present Speakers of the UP Assembly, besides two life-size portraits of Mahatma Gandhi. “I feel that I am fortunate to be the only artist whose 40 portraits are on the walls of Uttar Pradesh Vidhan Sabha,” he says.

“Sheer hard work is the only key to success. You have to give everything to achieve something in your life,” he speaks. In the future, the veteran artist plans to open a “Kanhai Art Academy” in Vrindavan and share his four decades of skills with the young generation.

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The Crypto Rush

As NFTs become much more mainstream, reputed artists and art collectors are thrilled about the immense prospects and exploring the latest craze
Text: Team Art Soul Life

Paresh Maity, one of India’s most distinguished and admired artists, who is always open to new ideas and thoughts, says he finds NFT art very interesting and he will soon try out this medium in a big way. “I have a few ideas in my head. You will soon see me coming up with the same,” says the painter, thrilled about the immense prospects that the pandemic has opened up for artists in terms of online or digital exhibitions and shows. The artist duo Thukral and Tagra, who work with a wide range of media, including interactive games and videos, are currently researching the medium. Last year, 84-year-old Lalu Prasad Shaw’s new show landed on a blockchain powered platform. Conceptualised as part of the first edition of what the organisers called the ‘Masters’ series, the online show presented a selection of 27 of Shaw’s recent paintings. With this unique exhibition, the Bengal born Shaw became arguably the first Indian modern artist to trade his pieces with registered non-fungible tokens. Reacting to the development, Shaw says, “Changes are always welcome. I am hoping that this kind of beginning can take art to another level.” Shaw, who is based in Kolkata, explains, “I had been preparing for this exhibition for a few months. All these new paintings were made especially for the show. Simplicity is the key to my art. I like to depict the happiness in my surroundings through each of my paintings.” The 27 works bear a similar style, showcasing a bright palette and a joyous celebration of womanhood. If India’s biggest cryptocurrency exchange in terms of trading volume, Wazir-X, is to be believed, it sold 166 pieces of digital art in the first month of the launch of its platform for NFTs or non-fungible tokens, as more and more Indians try to ride the latest craze in the crypto world. The highest amount for an NFT on Wazir-X was paid for an art depicting an abstract rendition of the fourth avatar of Vishnu by Ishita Banerjee. The art was sold for 3,112 WRX or `2,66,616, as per today’s exchange rate for rupee. Banerjee is an Indian origin artist based out of Montréal, Canada. Intestinally, the next two highest paid NFTs — Kali and Phoenix — also were by Banerjee that went for `2,49,743.36 and `2,42,019.34, respectively. The amount and the worth of digital art sold so far is significant as NFTs are entirely a new concept for Indians. Pune-bsed mural artist Sneha Chakraborty tried her hand with NFTs last year, and she hasn’t turned back. “Traditional art gave me a lot, and I was doing good. It was fun and games, and everything until the whole talk of NFT started happening in the world. And then being an artist, of course, I was quite intrigued, but I was in a very comfortable space,” Sneha said, describing her plunge away from traditional art. “That time when WazirX got in touch with me, they were looking for a traditional artist, liked my profile and wanted me like a spotlight artist. Once I got into it, and once I started learning about NFT, it started coming from a very honest space.” Sneha discussed the real point that drew her more and more into the NFT space, “It is such an open space. As a traditional artist, I had to rely on other people to sell my canvas; I had to rely on a middleman or curators to showcase my artwork. Here, NFT is providing a space where there is no middleman anymore. There’s just the buyer and the seller; the buyer likes your work and collects it. And when you get to mint, you’re getting a free space.

Since the beginning, artists have needed to have a name or some work done, but NFT is a 100% merit-based platform.” Mumbai-based visual artist Santanu Hazarika, who’s having his first solo show at a Mumbai gallery as we write this, thinks blockchain technology dismantles the culture of gatekeeping in a bid to empower artists. “It’s important to remember that digital art was never considered fine art and was always sidelined. But because of the NFT boom, there’s a huge shift in focus towards digital artists. It’s empowering, and it’s giving them a lot more attention,” says Hazarika. The doodle artist made an artwork for electronic producer and frequent collaborator Ritviz to accompany his album announcement. The NFT, released on WazirX NFT Marketplace for 300 WRX ($388.5), was sold just 37 seconds after going live, making it one of the world’s fastest NFT sales. Hazarika says he’s very optimistic as the possibilities are endless. “We have this huge crypto boom in this digital age because of which we have so many people investing in crypto. NFTs are commodities that are a huge part of this new decentralised world and in this digital age, NFTs have a huge allure. As artists, this is a massive development, since art is being made so much more accessible. The marketplace opens up the doors to an endless number of collectors who want to buy from the artists directly,” he explains. Historically, digital art has been almost impossible to monetize. Blockchain technology can solve that problem. When a digital asset made by an artist is added to a digital gallery, a token is generated by a smart contract and deposited in the artist’s wallet. The token is permanently linked to the artwork, and is a unique, one-of-a-kind asset that represents ownership and authenticity of the underlying artwork. Once created, the artwork starts its life on the given blockchain, where a fan or collector can purchase it, and where it can be subsequently exchanged, traded or held by collectors like any other rare artefact. But if you want to be an NFT artist, just uploading an artwork won’t help. Says Sneha: “It is in trend right now, and everyone wants to get into it. If someone is interested, they have to join the community because they have collectors and sellers. You have to talk to them; you have to talk about your artwork to connect with many collectors on the NFT platform. So if someone wants to maintain NFT, it’s better to get into a community.” following this up with her tips to newcomers in the space. She says you must do your research. “NFT sounds intimidating, also, being an artist, we are very comfortable in the space that we are in. But I would suggest this space for you, this is good for you and will only give you many possibilities in the future. Find a platform that you connect with, and then start minting. Fail once in a while because that is important for success.” Traditionally, the barrier of entry to the art marketplace, for both artists who wish to sell their works and buyers who wish to collect and/or invest in those works, has been extremely high. Artists face a catch-22 situation where they have to achieve a certain level of fame and renown before their pieces can reach high-profile marketplaces, but talented artists without connections may lack the exposure to ascend. Buyers, likewise, must have a certain high level of wealth to purchase works from such marketplaces. This has the effect of excluding a vast majority of the art creating and purchasing population from the very marketplaces that are supposed to serve them. What is needed is an open, decentralized marketplace with no such barriers to entry where buyers and artists from around the world can trade freely without relying on an auction house as a middleman. Rarible, for instance, is a simple platform for the creation and sale of digital art and collectables. OpenSea operates as a sort of decentralized eBay for digital collectables and items. NFTs are particularly useful for artists working in purely digital form, many artists may not be sure how it fits into their practice if they are working in physical mediums like painting, sculpture, etc.

Surely enough, obstacles remain. Persuading mainstream artists to use NFTs, an esoteric technology, could be a challenge, arguably. The biggest barrier to growth is that people have difficulty understanding what an NFT is. It’s a counterintuitive concept that people have trouble getting their minds around, but. Once people understand what an NFT is and why the concept is so powerful, they quickly become obsessed. In brief, digital art generally, and blockchain-based art specifically, have surely gained traction. But for digital art to burst forth over the long term, it has to find a way to reward artists, gallerists and others. They need to make money from their toil. This is where blockchain technology and NFTs change the game: They furnish enduring proof of an artwork’s uniqueness, enabling it to be sold and resold again and again. And each time that happens, the artist profits. It’s written in the code. Already, people are talking about how digital art is the Next Big Bet.

Similar to how Bitcoin is superior to gold in almost every way, digital art is superior to traditional art in almost every way also. A traditional piece of art is static and sits on a wall. There is no motion. The art does not change unless someone takes the art off the wall and hangs a different piece. Physical art is hard to move around the world, it can be easily damaged, and there is difficulty in proving what is authentic and what is not. Digital art is the next evolution of art. Each piece can incorporate complex movement and motion into the art. A single screen on a wall can periodically cycle through different pieces of art at the predetermined direction of the homeowner or art collector. The digital art can be sent to anyone in the world with a few clicks of a button, it is immune from damage, and authenticity and provenance is transparently available for anyone to verify. Quite literally, digital art has significant advantages over traditional art in the same way that digital news has advantages over physical newspapers. Right now, as more and more artists see how the blockchain elegantly solves digital art’s provenance problem, NFTs are exploding across the internet. At the same time, as all the possibilities of the metaverse continue to come into view, pioneering collectors are diving in and setting the tone for what it means to collect and invest in the cultural assets of the future. A key concept of NFTs is their ability to give tamper-proof provenance (a record of ownership) to digital goods—and be portable across the internet. Now that NFTs have solved digital art’s provenance problem, more collectors and investors are getting on board. This influx of investment is enabling a broader audience to develop, and setting the stage for a larger community to enter the space. While we can’t predict exactly how the future will look, NFT technology will play an important role—so while the technology’s still unfolding, it’s an exciting time to get involved.

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ART FOR KEEPS

History unravels in Ahmedabad-based collector Shrikant Parikh’s hobby as he speaks to N. Kalyani about his passion and how his kitty has grown over the years…
As we celebrate the 75th year of India’s Independence, we can take note of the freedom movement by way of personalities and events portrayed on stamps and coins.

Postage stamps are pieces of miniature art. Besides serving the purpose of postage, stamps are also a source of knowledge. Referred to as ambassadors of a nation, they showcase a nation’s history, politics, economy, geography, society, culture, traditions, art, architecture, flora and fauna. These themes are portrayed in aesthetically pleasing and attractive ways on a postage stamp. Stamps, therefore, also make for collectibles. So is the case with currency notes and coins minted by nations. They serve the purpose of money, but additionally, coins and notes are also collected as beautiful pieces of art, and for the wealth of information they carry. Now as we celebrate the 75th year of India’s Independence, we can, for instance, take note of the freedom movement, by way of personalities and events, portrayed on stamps and coins. Likewise, in this festive season, we take a look at Diwali depicted in Indian and foreign stamps. For Shrikant Parikh, it is the collecting of postage stamps and postcards, as also currency notes and coins that is a passion. Besides his interest in philately and numismatics, he also has a fetish for collecting souvenir spoons and shot glasses. In an interview with Art Soul Life Magazine, the Ahmedabad-based collector speaks of his hobbies, and how his kitty of collectibles has grown over the years.

Please tell us what makes up your collection – the philatelic and numismatic collection, and other collectibles.

My philatelic collection consists of postage stamps in mint condition issued by the Indian postal department from 1947 to date. Regular and commemorative coins issued by India in denominations from 1 paisa to Rs 1000 are also of interest to me. Currency notes issued by the Reserve Bank of India since Independence in all denominations, carrying the signatures of different RBI governors (except withdrawn notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 denomination) are also part of my numismatic collection. I also collect foreign coins.

My collection also includes picture postcards from 90 countries. And the 5000-plus picture postcards are on many interesting themes: flowers, animals, birds, paintings, butterflies, flags, costumes, dances, UNESCO sites, mountains, Blue Cats by Irina Zeinuk, shaped cards, sunset and dolls. I also collect souvenir spoons and shot glasses from countries around the world. Souvenir spoons are spoons, marketed at tourist places, with attractive designs of the place or the country’s popular monuments, flag or coats of arm. And shot glasses are mini versions of normal glasses with tourist symbols, and make for attractive souvenirs.

When did your interest in such collectibles take root?

Right from my childhood I had an inclination to collect items such as quality marbles and match-box labels. During high school days, the collection of stamps was prompted by my teachers, and through the help of family members and friends I could manage a handsome collection which was displayed at my school too. In 1974, I became a member of a philatelic society. With the enhancement of my interest and knowledge in philately I was attracted to numismatics. During my frequent overseas trips over the years, I have also collected souvenir spoons and shot glasses. I also joined the international platform of Post crossing in 2012.

Please tell us what Postcrossing is.

The platform of Postcrossing helps a registered member exchange handwritten picture postcards with people from around the world. How does it work? You get addresses from Postcrossing, and after a postcard you send is received by the person to whom you send it, you will get one postcard from another member. The cycle goes on thus.

How do you source such collectibles?

There are established dealers, and persons of similar interest with whom one can exchange items. New postage stamps can be purchased from the philatelic bureau at post offices across the country, and new coins and banknotes from the Reserve Bank of India. One can build one’s souvenir spoon and shot glass collection by getting such items during one’s travels, and through international contacts. I found nice spoons and shot glasses during my trips in India and overseas. And my family, and the many friends I have, contribute in widening my collection.

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Art and the bliss within

He gained early national and international recognition and appreciation; his work deals in a liberal, almost cheerful way with transcendental bearings, along with an intensive abstraction. Abandon and gaiety mark Hem Raj’s work style, which is reminiscent of Sufism. Colours are kept to the bare minimum, and different shades of the same colour have been used to the maximum effort.
TEXT: TEAM ART SOUL LIFE

A familiar name in Delhi’s art world, renowned artist Hem Raj who has experimented with a variety of mediums.has produced a remarkable body of oil paintings over the years. Top Indian art galleries have been dealing in his works and their assessment is that he is one of the most saleable Indian painters in the abstract vein. A graduate of Delhi College of Art, the 53-year-old artist, however, does not like to label his form with any fixed epithet because he thinks it leads to a sort of brink of closure. He chooses colour and its tone carefully and with intention; most of the time the major areas of his canvases are monotones. Hem Raj says to him all art is abstract irrespective of its general categories such as figurative, surrealistic or realistic. “Of course, my sense of ‘abstract’ art is a bit different from what is generally considered as abstract art. I use the term abstract in terms of essence and not at all mean what can generally be described as nonfigurative,” he explains. His work style is reminiscent of Sufism, the same abandon and gaiety in reference to the divine who is the lover and the teacher, the giver and the keeper. Colours are kept to the bare minimum, subdued shades – monochromatic colours – where different shades of the same colour have been used to the maximum effort. No stark colours for Hem Raj, which is where he perhaps differs from the tribal artists who have a penchant for using bright shades. Indigo blues, olive greens, dusty pinks, murky browns, rusty oranges, pale yellows – he is indeed different from them.” My art evokes a different feeling because it is close to nature. It tends to provide a view with the intention of evoking a feeling which one gets when one roams about in an inviting landscape. I can therefore say that I provide my audience a scape that is engaging enough to compel them to peep and survey, to implore and explore and then return to a stake of enlightened equilibrium,” says the artist. He explores the landscape feeling with one colour and its countless tones. Each of his paintings has its own rivers, hills, waterfalls, smell and vegetation and its own independent entity. In his paintings, melody, rhyme, rhythm and soul coalesce into a single whole. His artistic technique is as innovative and interesting as his works are. For instance, he adds layer and layer of paint while building up the essence of the work. The light and effervescent images that confront us are just like a piece of music. They have a beginning, a middle and an end and this process may be repeated over and over again as Hemraj takes off almost more paint than he applies. His is a technique of minimalism. He keeps reducing the colours, the lines and the forms until we are left with the bare essence, just enough to consume the work with the meditations and genius of the artist. During the recent years, Hem Raj has somewhat moved away from the stern, highly defined construction of his paintings. They are very colourful and gained more freedom in configuration. Very large, often radiating monochrome spaces are arranged in daring combination.

He says nobody in his family could think of sending him to an art college. Art – painting, music or dance – was not considered as a profession. But when he expressed his desire to enter College of Art (Delhi), instant support came from his father. Says the artist, “Because he alone knew how deeply involved I was with painting and could make a professional career out of it. However, the saving grace was, that nobody opposed such a course for myself. That open and silent support for my desire has been my strength all along.” Though Hem Raj remembers his first year at the College as “very unsatisfactory”, he went on to win the award for best student for both BFA and MFA courses. “In the College, some of the teachers appreciated my abstract renderings and some were indifferent. But, I respected all of them, unreservedly, though liking those who were encouraging in their behaviour more than others,” he recounts. “Over all, things went in my favour all along. This was really a big gain. I am still very thankful to the late Sidheshwar Dayal, who ran a gallery at Mandi House, New Delhi, for hosting my first solo show while I was still a student at College of Art. And I am still deeply thankful to the then College Principal, Sh. O.P. Sharma, who suggested my name to Mr. Dayal.” A National Award winner in 2000, he counts V Gaitonde and K. S Kulkarni among those who inspire him.