Published in Lalit Kala Contemporary, Issue 31, 1981, pp. 34-37.
Most urban art activity being exhibition oriented, its appeal remains exclusive to a small social milieu that frequent the exhibitions with the result that a vast majority of people remain completely uninformed about what happens on the art scene. The potential ground for exhibition and sale being centred in a couple of metropolitan cities - namely Bombay and Delhi - most artists prefer to show their work there rather than in their local towns because of lack of patronage, appreciation and adequate exhibition facilities. While painting and sculpture pose problems of damage in transit because of their size, weight and uniqueness, prints due to their easy portability, greater availability and moderate price may serve as a happy solution to break the vicious circle of the centralisation o art activity.
Printmakers at Baroda are not an exception to the situation mentioned above; however, they have made efforts to create a better appreciation of art at a local level. The annual Fine Arts Fair at the Faculty of Fine Arts displays along with paintings, sculpture and objects d’art, original prints in the form of calendars and greeting cards as well as children’s books printed by the silkscreen process and lino blocks. Though this may not be considered a great achievement, it has nonetheless created a certain amount of interest in printmaking. Some local schools have employed ex-students of the Faculty at whose initiative they have introduced printmaking in their teaching programme and even acquired hand presses for children to make lino-prints. One often comes across lively linocuts by children in the brochures and souvenirs in the annual programmes of these schools instead pf photographs of functions and local celebrities.
The printmaking activity in Baroda is centred around the Graphic Arts Department of the Faculty of Fine Arts, although some artists now possess their own etching presses. This is due to the fact that most of the artists are either on the staff or are students of the Faculty and the department offers facilities in various printmaking media besides etching. On an average, etching and silkscreen seem to be more popular media amongst serious artists, though some of them also try their hand at lithography and offset. Woodcut and linocut are sadly neglected. The popularity of etching and silkscreen may be due to the fact that many printmakers who are also painters would like to experiment with various methods to create effects similar to those achieved in painting. As a result, artists use the combined methods like relief with intaglio in etching and photography and drawing in silkscreen.
As screen printing has become popular commercially, most of the raw materials are now available except for a fine medium for transparent overprinting. Etching, on the other hand, poses serious problems because of the rise in prices and the extreme scarcity of metal plates. It may be recalled that some years ago, some Delhi artists tried the use of paper plates against such odds, but it remains to be seen whether the Baroda artists will follow suit or resort to other media. Some of them are exploring the possibilities of acquiring thin copper or brass sheets that are used in making utensils and which are available in the open market by weight. But this material has its own hazards. The thin metal would not allow deep intaglio, and the warped and unpolished surface may require extensive treatment before it can be used for printing.
Among the prominent printmakers, Jyoti Bhatt and K.G. Subramanyan continue to work and experiment with new methods and materials. Their work and guidance has been the chief source of inspiration for many a student over the years. Their younger colleagues, Vinod Ray Patel and V.S. Patel, who have of late taken to silkscreen, also contribute their share in guiding and encouraging young aspirants.
Vinod Ray Patel has tried out various printmaking media and also designed a children’s book with illustrations printed with silkscreen. Before making his black on black silkscreens (Kale pe kala and Kala Luna exhibited in the last National Exhibition) he had experimented with lino-prints by hand and on the letter press to explore effects created by variations of a single tint (black) printed over several times. One of these prints exhibited in the annual show of group 8, a couple years ago, showed his interest in varying grades of shiny and matt surfaces in minimal geometric forms. Following that, he has used miscellaneous details of illustrations and photographs from popular western magazines which he combines with hand drawing and careful calligraphy, to make a Pop-ish collage characterised by an irrational playfulness. These are not unlike his paintings of the same time. His interest in the choice of image is generally minimal or arbitrary and his drawing dispassionate which lends his work a peculiar impersonal look reminiscent of the reproductions and illustrations - the source from which he derives much of his inspiration. His black on black prints have a certain cool charm and the hard edge severity of minimal abstractions.
Purushottam Dhumal is most notable among the younger generation of printmakers, who show promise and potential. His work, though eclectic and still groping, is marked by his restless desire to seek a personal image. He has a sharp acumen and tenacity to try out various methods and media to their fullest. In his etchings he has used combinations of intaglio and relief with competence and skill. His often heavily erotic imagery has surrealistic overtones: for example curious phallus-lizards charging on or hovering around vaginal crevices of mountains and beasts, or often a horse, set against a bare landscape with sparsely mushrooming trees which holds a rather curious, rectangular frame in the middle. Sprinkles with a touch of ennui and the macabre or erotic drama his prints show vitally potential directions. It seems that Dhumal likes to interweave motifs of design with that of passion, at once animalistic, almost orgiastic and yet controlled at the same time, striking a balance between intuitive image and its conscious, often deliberately ordered execution. Unlike many of his contemporaries who are either lost in the vagaries of exotic motifs or surface variations of the plate by its over-erosion in acid, Dhumal has the making of a printmaker who is as much concerned with technical bravura as with its integration with the content of the print.
Amongst the other young printmakers Prayag Jha, Jaidev Thakore, Chanda Joglekar and Anjan Mehra are now working independently on Bombay and Delhi after their study in Baroda. Prayag Jha’s etchings are remarkable for their unusual content. She has an obsession for discarded objects and a world of ants and insects which she renders with tender care and love. Against a greyskyoccasionallyactivatedbybold, gestural brush marks, a deep ground harbours hollow coconut shells, stray plants and bushes, while tiny insects run in and out of these or climb over them to proclaim their presence, all rendered in a rather unambitious, ‘conventional’ chiaroscuro achieved by various grades of aquatint. In her best prints her intuitive response to the content of her choice is integral, which reveals her unassuming, poetic sensibility, but when she repeats the same theme, it displays the built-in dangers of such a preoccupation, a lapse into sentimentality and stereotype illustration. Jaidev Thakore in his offset and mix-media prints shows his zany ideas with a combination of the playful and grotesque, which gives them a slightly sadistic tinge, He seems to treat his human figures as playmates of animals, and his animals seem to have landed straight out of the forest of his fancy. The real and the unreal - often the child-like and the whimsical intermingle, creating a somewhat clumsy menagerie, which at least succeeds in giving the onlooker a taste or a ‘kick’ of a curious brew or sometimes of a practical, often sadistic joke. His drawing is often uneven and his technique usually at odds with him, makes him resolve his problems through multi-media methods. When he is successful, his images gain the poetic relevance of the absurd, when not, they remain psychic jottings or personal memorabilia.
Chanda Joglekar and Anjana Mehra during their stay for a year made many aquatints. However prolific and conscientious, their work has yet to achieve a maturity of vision and expression. Chanda occasionally comes out with a lively juxtaposition of black and white in her prints dealing with themes of interiors of urban middle class homes where a figure or two lie or droop lazily, evoking a brooding, nostalgic mood. Anjana’s child-like science fiction bubbles seem pointless in spite of her rather skilful aquatint effects.
Rini Dasgupta, yet another young printmaker who has studied painting in Baroda, has made some lively lithographs during her brief visit to Santiniketan and after. Like her paintings her approach is a kind of gesticulated calligraphy (reminiscent of Willem de Kooning) and activated surface manipulations (like Subramanyan’s recent phase of painting). Her bold abstract-expressionist inclination seems to suit the rather nervous, restless rendering of fragile, limpid figures moving, turning, growing and disintegrating by themselves.
Jayant Parikh and Bhupen Khakhar who are not directly connected with the Faculty have also tried their hand at printmaking. While Jayant Parikh who is usually prolific, has been making blind prints on aluminium sheets to be painted with black japan to simulate effects similar to his paintings. Bhupen Khakhar occasionally takes to etching. Unlike Jayant Parikh, Bhupen has no inclination for textural effects or technical bravura so dear to many contemporary printmakers. Bhupen’s cunning, wry humour and his mixed attitude of sympathy and detachment towards his figures, makes them curious ‘types’ to look at, not unlike some of the pictures of the British period which were illustrative (topical, historical) and exotic (remote) at the same time. There is a precarious balance between his extremely naïve rendering and often absurd inaccuracies of space which he usually maintains by his shrewd juxtapositions of the two. This quaintness, it seems is more suitable to his straight, spontaneous renderings than a deliberate, prolonged working on the plate. Compared to the rather belaboured plate he started at the Smithsonian workshop in Delhi, the simple line-etchings he did for his own short story were delightfully fresh and sensitive like some of David Hockney’s.
A unique experiment was carried out last October-November at the Faculty under the auspices of the Amrita Sher-Gil Committee to popularise printmaking by making a large edition of prints to be sold at reduced rate. Twenty-two artists participated in the workshop which included well-known and young printmakers from various parts of the country who made fifty editions of their prints. The experiment proved to be a success as its Bombay exhibition has shown and is expected to travel to a number of cities in India.
While the work of other artists who participated in the workshop, has been discussed elsewhere and above. I would like to make brief comments on the work of two relatively ‘new’ artists, D.L.N. Reddy from Hyderabad and Ira Roy from Calcutta. Reddy’s Lonely Butterfly made for the workshop shows his poetic sensibility as well as a skilful use of aquatint. Ira Roy’s powerful etching is in sharp contrast to Reddy’s tranquil poetry, which shows the image of a woman mounted by a colossal (male) bird amidst whirls of feathers, ferns and hair. The highly charged image of brutality, horror and revulsion is unique in its dramatic impact. In spite of its literal message and the rather academic rendering of the figure the image’s baroque passion and extravagance of detail opens a direction in the portrayal of violence rarely attempted by Indian artists.
Published in Lalit Kala Contemporary, Issue 31, 1981, pp. 34-37.