I have been more intensely engaged in drawing since 1987, when I left Delhi and came down to settle in Santiniketan. It was a matter of compulsion then, to be traced back to personal and family factors. I have not been able to realize all that I had conceived, but in the last three years I have accumulated a fairly large stock of drawings in ink and brush and pastel. As I came to think of organizing them into an exhibition, I could read a whole history of drawing behind them - right from life studies in college and immediately after, the sketches of refugees in the Sealdah station I had made in the mid-fifties, and my Paris drawings from the second half of the sixties.
People tend to draw a distinction of major and minor between paintings and drawings from the fact that the medium of drawing has often been used as the base or the starting point of a painting or as part of academic lessons for mastery of the human form or of objects or nature, and hence seems to be easy to handle.
But once one looks into the creative process itself, one recognizes at once that a simple drawing in black and white with just a few lines in all can often make a greater impact than a painting that fails to become a work of art in spite of its accumulation of complex techniques or impasto of colours. Personally, I have always been fond of drawings, in pastel or in ink, and enjoyed doing them myself. In fact my personal form - painting in mixed media - is something I developed from and based on drawing. Drawings have become for me a mode of expression, independent and unique. I am convinced that whether as artist or as viewer, one really starts appreciating a work of art only when one is able to appreciate it in its simplest form of expression, as a drawing; for a real work of art has to be a work of art before it can be a drawing or a painting or a sculpture or whatever else it purports to be.
When I joined the Government College of Art in Calcutta in 1955, I had a lot of enthusiasm about art, but almost no practice or basic accomplishment even. It all began in college. I still retain my first sketch book which I now sometimes show to students in the lowest classes of Kala Bhavan, and particularly to the weakest and least competent of them, to encourage them and give them hope!
The training approach at the Government College of Art, especially in drawing, was extremely academic, and that is how it still is. There were teachers who brought in some originality as part of their individual styles. There was a lot of emphasis on antique studies and model studies, and the development of skill, perfect drawing, and the sense of light and shade. A lot of time was allotted for making sketches, in pencil, pastel and water colour. Every day we went out to make sketches in the New Market or Sealdah Station, where I made large sketches of the refugees who lived on the platforms. There were occasions when I 'accompanied Sunil Das, my classmate, to the stables, where he drew horses.
We could not afford good paper at the time, and often used newsprint for our sketches. An exhibition of Kathe Kollwitz’s lithographs proved to be an inspiring event. It was only later that I came to realize that her use of strong lines had left its mark on my work from this period. But simultaneously my more personal involvements and likes were registering themselves quite sharply in my drawings. Of the great artists I could study in the albums in the college library, Degas was one who fascinated me with the way he distributed weight in some of his drawings, deliberately leaving portions unfinished.
I made numerous sketches and drawings in the five years I was in art college. Some of these drawings, which appear in this exhibition, are essentially academic and naturalistic, but already feature some of my characteristic signs which I could identify as skill, attention to detail, a warm expression of human feelings and human character; and above everything else, the tendency to leave a work unfinished at the very point the artist finds it formally satisfying, to leave it uncluttered and unburdened technically - call it a tendency to stop at just what is adequate!
I was in art college from 1955 to 1960 and continued with drawing exercises in the evenings at the Studio of the Academy of Fine Arts till 1964. It was in these early sixties that I began drawing independently from my spontaneous, natural urges moderated by the exercise of intelligence and reason. I began working in pen and ink, and playing with criss-cross patterns; this is when I began using pastels too. This is the time that my drawings and paintings tor the first time captured the dramatic element, the postures and the light touch of the decorative that came to characterize my work later. Soon they came to show two more signs, viz. expressionist rhythmicality and perceptible distortion, particularly in the tendency to break and bend and twist and turn the human torso with all its weight. These latter features, that in a way reflected the state of my mind at the time, have returned to my work again and again at critical junctures.
There has been no turning back since then. I would continue from this point to draw and paint from my mind, beginning with overgrown men and women, horses, or ... I was already being torn and tossed from within with the basic questions: What can I paint, and how? I had begun negotiating with issues like my milieu, my society, and Indianness.
In my Paris years (1965-67), a different artistic setting affected my painting and drawing. But it was more a state of disturbance from the restlessness, differences and surprises of the European way of life and the sheer variety of the artistic experience. I did a fair number of pastel drawings in my two years in Paris and about six months in London - centering on the human body, with its density and sensuality. These were large pieces, and drawn with teal involvement. With these works, I came to find a close attachment to the line, even as I could sense deep within myself that this could not be the end of the road, it was just a fresh beginning.
In 1968, I returned to the country, and to my job at the Weavers' Service Centre in Madras. My first two Madras years were generally uncreative. I was grappling helplessly and desperately with a host of doubts and confusions that loomed large over me as I sought to reconcile my exposure to the great works of art abroad arid the demands inherent in the Indian tradition, and the questions - Why should I draw or paint? What should I draw or paint? How should. I draw or paint? - seemed to be unanswerable. I had to start fromscratch, and I came back to drawing once again, using pen and ink and pastel to draw the simple, the unostentatious, the familiar, the mundane - only those pieces of experience that I knew intimately and those with which I was closely related. I drew fishes, flowers, creepers, leaves, teacups, drapery, human beings, human hands, breasts, snakes, apples and so on. I also drew the loom and woven fabric, all those things that constituted my daily working life as art designer at the Weavers' Service Centre at the Handloom Board - and of course a few imaginary subjects. I had already started moving away from what I had drawn and painted at Paris. My paintings and drawings were now gentler and more intimate. I had started to become aware of the inherent character and function of the line.
In the succeeding twenty years (1970-90) I have done numerous drawings, some in pen and ink, with pastel strokes on them, others in pastel and brush. My subjects changed in my Delhi years (1972-87), when I reached beyond more personal concerns to the environment, society, political leaders, men and women, domesticity, life styles, flowers - almost everything. The same subjects appeared in my paintings and drawings.
More recently, what has become a matter of concern with me is the question of how a drawing can become a work of art; in other words, how a few black strokes in ink on a white ground can become significant around a simple enough subject, like a flower or a creeper or leaves or a vase of flowers - or occasionally a human being, or the face of a human being. The subject in this instance is not important; or maybe not quite unimportant, for they have been gathered from the surroundings that have been only too close to us, simple objects that lend to the treatment of drawing. I have done these drawings in a fullness of joy. From a sense of just loving to do it. I am convinced that through the precision of a few strokes in black ink we are able to reach the point that we otherwise have to approach through a. long arduous journey negotiating with colours, lines, and virtuosity all the way. In the drawing, we touch an art that is simple, quick, and yet profound. At least that is how I evaluate the art of drawing. I can now use the same flowing lines that I had once used to portray the human body, to express creepers and leaves, in a state of free movement.
At the, same time I would readily admit that in these drawings of mine I have not been able to 'say' all that I seek to put across in art. That is an incompleteness that has to be addressed, and left to be filled in future. These simple and bold drawings can come to have a role and place in some new project in the future.
Santiniketan, 8 January 1994.
In some of my recent drawings, I have drawn creepers and leaves and flowers and flower vases; in some cases, a fish in the flower vase. When I have drawn these, I have drawn them in the characteristic forms in which I feel and imagine them. It is true at the same time that the unrest, perils and contradictions of our environment and our more recent life experiences have affected the natural features of these creepers, leaves and flowers, their graceful, symmetrical beauty, and drawn in elements of violence, threat or aggression. It is the vitality of nature that has touched and moulded my perception of nature. I find a vitality running through all trees, flowers, creepers, and leaves, and feel it acutely. All of mankind, all animal life, and nature in the form of plant life are all bound to the rhythm of universal nature. This is a notion that has its validation in science. But it is a notion that surfaced for the first time in the conception of universal nature in the Upanishads, and reached us in simple terms in the songs and writings of Rabindranath. When he addresses the champa and karabi and says, 'Your branches burst into unrest, O champa, O karabi,' the champa and karabi trees seem to take on human physicality. Hence when I look at nature, at its trees, flowers, creepers and leaves, I find them all full of vitality, full of life, like human beings. Indistinguishable. This is the notion that persists when I draw. That is how the drawings become physical, sometimes sensuous. Like human beings they show signs of growing, and movement, rhythmic at times, restless at other times. The other element that affects me particularly when I draw is the sheer diversity of the shapes and forms of flowers, creepers and leaves, triggering off a passion for creating forms. God has created both the giraffe and the butterfly. He creates the banyan tree, and the arum too, and the kalmi shak. This wild, arbitrary creativity gives me the courage to take liberties with the shapes and contours of flowers, creepers and leaves, recasting them freely at the dictates of my will. But into this there has erupted - in some of the drawings - shades of intensity, alienation, aggression or panic, a kind of violence rising from the perils, the unrest, the tensions and the contradictions of our times. These features have naturally left their mark more boldly on drawings of human beings.
While some of the drawings of creepers and leaves seem to be aggressive and physical, they are at once cut off from one another and rhythmically bound. In a small drawing in black ink, the girl is panic-stricken. She is just one girl in many, part of this society. The flower serves her for an association. Something that should have been an object of love for her has proved to be the contrary. In yet another drawing, everything is in pieces, torn apart from one another. Like the life we live today. In some of the drawings however, I am still striving to build up to a state of stability, a symmetry, with the presence of the fish symbolizing it - though it has its mouth turned downwards. These images certainly reflect my present artistic preoccupations and creative search, but these are best left unspoken. The joy that I have experienced while drawing these pictures takes precedence over all other considerations.
Santiniketan, 17 January 1994.