Born in 1937, Arpita studied art at the Delhi Polytechnic – a city to which she migrated as a child. But she retained her own Bengali identity, which is not that of a mild mannered housewife. Instead, she clearly defines herself as a woman – not a ‘feminist' –she has no statement to make on that score, painting from a woman's point of view, her protagonist generally a woman surrounded by objects familiar to her, placed not haphazardly as one might be tempted to believe, but in an order that fills her canvas – gives it balance as well as a wry and very private smile. But, as a woman she is always aware of the dangerous surrounds, fast growing in our society. ‘Don't cross Central Park at Night,' says one of her paintings, echoing Octavio Paz. So, you may see aeroplanes or guns alongside household articles in her paintings. There is an air of vulnerability, a sense of foreboding perhaps, certainly a vibration in the air, thick with a feeling of impending disaster.
In her paintings there is often graffiti in the background of sometimes just numbers; often a replaying of a theme from an earlier work, or perhaps, work that you will see recreated later. And generally this will be within a framework within the frame. No longer is the framework always a rectangle. It can be broken as she says, to let the outer world invade as it inevitably will. But her colouring is always bold, her figures dominating, her statements subtle but strong.
In this series, you find figures, middle aged and older, becalmed, or should one say swamped by the stampeding traffic - a convoluted railway station, the hustle and bustle of life, overwhelming humanity. A woman flowing down the river of life, being enticed is she, into different routes by different boatmen. So see if you will, humanity's little fears trying somehow to cope with today's great impersonal world.
Gulammohammed Sheikh was born in Gujarat in 1937. He studied at the MS University in Baroda and the Royal College of Art in London. He has been a Professor of Art in Baroda as also an exponent of Art History, in which subject he has mapped ‘The Contemporary Art of Baroda' after a decade long study, research and documentation.
But these are just the bare bones. To try to begin to understand the work of this artist, we have to grasp an understanding of the man himself. For not only is he a painter, but also a writer, a poet. To him therefore, art as a narrative form is inevitable. To separate the two he says, ‘…when you see you should shut your ears, when you hear you should shut your eyes. You don't you can't…' So, along with Bhupen Khakhar he pioneered the Baroda School of Narrative Painting. His modernism however, made him search for a ‘linguistic/ theoretical bedrock' on which he could rest an Indian theme so as to prevent it from becoming almost self-devouring in its insularity.
In poetry first, then in art, his childhood memories of tales, mythical or real, have found expression. Kabir, poet/saint – personifying the syncretic culture of India , has been his inspiration over the years. ‘The Alphabet' series represents his very personal relationship with that amazing man.
His exhibits in this series include Kashmir , its problems and sorrows, and show the depth of his feelings for the region and its people. Its depiction – an island, hijacked as it were by a demon, or isolated on an ark by itself, cut off from the world, make their own comment. But the heart of the matter is that whilst they, the paintings, are making their own immediate statement, Gulam is at the same time, but separately, expressing, the torture he feels for all people who have fallen prey to others greed and desire, who have suffered unjustly, who are the disinherited. And then there is ‘Ayodhya' – a fortress now, not only just Ram's birthplace – is that not ironical?
Krishen Khanna, a self taught artist, abandoned the safety of a bank job to follow his true passion and his real profession – that of an artist.
Whilst still a banker, Krishen was involved with the great names of the Progressive Art Group in Bombay – Raza, Tyeb, Hussain, Padamsee, Gaitonde and Ram Kumar. His was not the Indian / Indigenized way of the Bengal School . Instead, it was the forward looking, the outward looking to which his mind led him. It was this group that encouraged him to exhibit and finally to abandon his bank for his brush. This philosophic discourse within him – Indian versus International – a discourse that found its way into the group as well, has never been abandoned – it never can be abandoned – as both schools of thought have great believers with strong opinions. But out of it has emerged a vigour, an aliveness that has pushed the artists beyond their material works into a world of philosophy, of a search for themselves and their souls, which joins them together anyway, in bonds of artistic expression.
For Krishen, look at his deep obsession with Jesus and the events leading to his death and thereafter. Find if you will, how close Jesus and his followers are to the disenfranchised of the world, the minorities, the weak. See in ‘Nocturnes' the milling throngs, the chaotic commingling of limbs and torsos and feel the sympathetic touch of his brush. Look at his ‘Bandwallas' – comic and yet pathetic – lost in the new world with their garish uniforms, yet gallant in the pursuit of their vocation. Feel the hold the Mahabharat has on him – the great gambling, Arjun and the teaching of the Gita. And arguments, whether in a dhaba, or at ‘The Last Supper' or amongst his fellow artists -it is all there in the works of this doyen of Indian art.
In this exhibition, you see Krishen smile. His ‘Drunken Poet with his Acolyte' and his ‘Reciter of a Tale' are old friends revisited and touched with a loving brush. ‘The Short Prayer' and ‘Dancing Dervish' are moving pieces clearly showing his masterful figurative touch. Listen to the narratives he paints - for that is the heart of Krishen.
Born in 1945, Nilima Sheikh studied at the MS University in Baroda , but her true teacher, certainly her mentor, was K. G. Subramanyan. From him, she inherited an ability to first understand and be concerned with the essential, traditional art forms and then to encompass new techniques not just for their own sake, but to use them to tell her personal stories, her own poetry – because she is that as well, a poet.
In the narrative she creates, we sense the lyricism within her, depicted by her sense of colour and then sublimated as if by a veil drawn over it. Out of this haziness, a dream-like sequence begins to emerge, broken by areas of sharp detail.
This detail perhaps emerges from her engagement with the Indian miniature tradition, as also her interest in, and development of, the Chinese art form. Being an intrinsic part of Nilima's work, it blends with the soft colours and gentle washes that characterize her art.
But it is the subject of her art that is of particular interest. The feminine subjectivity which is so strong in her, is apparent for instance in the series, ‘When Champa Grew Up ,' depicting marriage, torture and immolation at the hands of the girl's in-laws. It is the treatment – folio pictures to be turned over and read laterally and then for each separate painting, songs from the Gujarati oral tradition as text for the work which is so innovative as well as moving.
Nilima, in her entirety is multi-lingual, not in the sense of a skill with different languages, but in the different skill she uses to express herself and her feelings. All the senses are touched, all senses are used, her feminism, never handled like a mallet, is always hovering over or crouching within the themes of her works. So, to really enjoy her work, look close, read between her lines, feel the intimacy of her painted word, sub luminous, ephemeral and yet, for all these opposite adjectives, eternal in their theme and poignant in their description.