Akbar Padamsee, one of the great founders of the Progressive Group, is also a sculptor and an art critic. He has over the years, found what he is looking for – it is the search for the linkage between space and time and colour. And also form it seems, and volume.
Hence his absorption with great landscapes and the ‘metascapes' that emerged from them. They are grand, lyrical pieces, rolling in vast dreamlike spaces, blending time within them. There is much poignancy as well as lyricism in them.
But here we have figures; heads, material bodies that we should be able to touch, to feel, except of course that we cannot. That is because there is an ephemeral quality about them, a lacking of solidity, just a hint of what they might actually be. They are almost dream-like in their portrayal. You see no lines, no definition, except in what is there in light and shade, there is high-lighting and muting, and through it all, there is an exquisite tremor of life and feeling. There is a tingling of the skin, our nerve ends are touched and excited.
Bikash Bhattacharjee is often thought of as the great faithful portrayer of the human form, most particularly of woman. He takes that form, and to it he adds luminescence, a glowing aura. His use of light and shade, of textural construction of form, takes him out of the realm of just good draughtsmanship and into a world of fantasy clad in drama. The woman he paints, sometimes eyeless is desirable, but that is most of all because of her mysteriousness. The eroticism is inherent, but not thrust on the viewer. We sense the layers that have to unfold for her to show her true inner self. The background often lends itself to heighten dramatically, this effect.
But he is much more as well. His great craftsmanship can be seen, not only on the human form but also in his work outside that genre. The layered use of paint which imbues all his work can be sensed in the grain of wood or the peeling of plaster from a wall. You can almost feel the texture of his objects. His great abilities have led him to be considered one of the leading artists of Bengal.
Ganesh Haloi, born in 1936, is one of our great abstractionists. To view his works, one must try to follow the philosophical bent of his mind. Pain and nature and finally isolation seem to be the themes of his life. From the earliest memories of calamity and destruction, he has slowly withdrawn. The landscapes, which were sources of his initial absorption have internalised, they have dimmed and in their place there is an ‘innerscape'.
He views the world from a great distance, almost from another planet. There is no scurrying of human figures going about their petty ways – in fact there is no apparent movement. Vast areas of human settlement are miniscule, huge tracts of land and their undulations become flat and silent. There is, in the distancing, a philosophical discernment of the futility of conflict and as its natural corollary, the solace and tranquillity to be found in isolation.
He seems a man, contented in a peace he has worked hard to cocoon himself in.
Jogen Chowdhury has come through the pain and tumult of a highly political Bengal. And as he emerged from it, his work also took on a more personalised, more inward looking bent.
From a special interest in figuration and a particular gift in draughtsmanship, his art has changed into a simpler line and a more complex thought process. He has asserted his own ideas on the object of his works. As his lines grew more minimalistic, his figures changed, became distorted, exaggerated. Particular areas of figures were magnified. No angles are seen, instead the line seems to snake about, creating figures both grotesque and fascinating. And in this, we sense the leftovers of his earlier, darker days.
So outwardly simple seems to be his works that we forget the draughtsmanship and detail of his finishing of each of them. In him one sees the interlacing of the traditional roots with a more western exposition of the statements he makes.
Vibrant colours, exciting imaginative use of space, stylistic confidence and love for every one of his depictions, are the most evident parts of K.G. Subramanyan's works. That he has worked on them, thought about them, hungered and laughed and even wept with them, is also there in the devotion he invests in his art.
He, with his strong sense of belonging – separating himself from his it only when he needs distance to depict with strong lines and highlights the characters of his narrative – seems so much part of his earth and of its philosophy and history, that, to some he could be considered its personification. And yet in the depiction, like light and shade, he is there with his creation and yet not there. Perhaps he, like a spirit, surrounds his work with his personality and presence.
This man with his philosophy of art and its commingling with history and life, combined with the teacher so strongly prevalent in him, is one of the Colossuses of Bengal and its art tradition.
Paritosh Sen has been associated with art in Calcutta almost throughout his artistic life. He moved away from the ethos of his middle class background and devoted himself fulltime as an artist.
His works are influenced by the Cubist movement in the West, but like all thoughtful painters, he has used it to his own ends. His figurative works use this method to create planes and angles that caricature but also strengthen his subject matter. His self-portrait is a case in point.
Then there is the use of colour; bold positive ‘brush work' illustrate the confidence of his work. And with it is the assurance of a thinking, cerebral person; he has been part of the Calcutta Group which he helped found in the 1940s. In the exploration of new trends, in seeking for meanings, in helping put verbal expression to sometimes instinctive work, he has come to be known as an “Artists' Artist”.
Ramananda Bandyopadhya, a true disciple of Nandalal Bose is pure Bengal School. His works, whether of ordinary folk or of their Gods and Goddesses are set in a rustic setting, suggesting not a lack of sophistication, but an idea, even a yearning towards simplicity and innocence. To do so, he has to love his subjects, short rounded – or perhaps, cherubic sums it up better.
Because his paintings suggest tranquillity and rural charm, does not mean that they lack artistic worth. He has created and then developed his style over the years. His works are typically his own, no matter from where they spring. His play is on simplicity in the idyllic state, which has been the inspiration for a lot of old Indian writing. It has suggestions of a surrender of the dross in city living, a shedding of the artificial and a creation instead of humanity, kindness, a gentler and more natural, undemanding way of life.
Satish Gujral was born in 1925 in Lahore. His search for his own artistic identity led him up many roads and lanes and by-lanes. He needed an expression of his inner passion, as presentation to the world of what he himself was. Ultimately, in Mexico he found what he was looking for. Not only was it the style of his work, but the textures that he would use. It is now a technique, developed and refined by him over the years, from what was originally an idea of a pitted mud wall. There is now a stippled effect as a background for his works which is uniquely his.
Looking today at the long journey he has travelled, and indeed continues to travel, watching his talent flower in directions other than paint – into graphics, sculptures, murals, architecture – one cannot but wonder at the strength of character, mingled as it is with overwhelming talent, that has helped him explode from within the confines of his inner world.
Look at the kaleidoscopic use of colour and light. Feel the tension in his figures. The body is still, but the hands, the feet, the tilt of the head, convey a vibrancy that transforms the outward stillness of the picture. We can feel, not just the confidence of the draughtsmanship, but also a sense of certainty emanating from a man in full season.
Suhas Roy's great series of ‘Radha', his elemental woman has won him much acclaim. Interlacing them are his iconic ‘Christs' and ‘Buddhas.'
Looking at his Radhas we are in the presence of an image, created in Suhas's head and presented in different, beautifully elaborated milieux. Always central to the work is the woman, beautiful, endowed with grace, possessor of all the traditional female qualities; but most strong is her modesty. She does not meet your eye, and if she does, it is a look aslant, veiled.
Since his visit to Ajanta however, he now presents a more assured, still modest, yet certainly today's Woman, juxtaposed with the background of the highly stylized ‘Ajanta' figures.In his iconic works, you see the subtlety of his hand in the creation of a sense of peace mingling with the latent energy that we know is present in his protagonists. For Jesus and Buddha are the recurrent themes. You find inner grace as well as strength as also compassion in the figures. You hold your breath as if you were in a place of worship.