Artists: Notes on Art Making

A century hence, it would not matter how many bales of jute or cotton crossed the Bay of Bengal, or how many seats were allocated in a Legislative Assembly to Mohamedans and how many to non-Mohamedans, but it would indeed matter, what records contemporary cultural life inscribed on the tablets of history. In any segment of a nation's history, the problem of bread and butter and the equable distribution of material resources have tremendous consequences on the standard of life and the quality of living. Yet no manner of pleas of poverty can wholly explain away the lack of impulses for cultural life and spiritual living. It is indeed the moral and spiritual degeneration that precedes a period of political subjection. And it is the return to the moral, cultural and spiritual ideals that can alone provide the panacea for political ills. And it is a fallacy to think that cultural emancipation can wait until one has achieved complete political independence, or attained absolute economic salvation. Where life is contaminated at the sources of spiritual energy-it is futile to expect success in any department of life. And in the delicate duty of nation-building-the part of a poet, of an artist, of a scientist is as much an essential as the leader of labour troubles or the voice of the politician. And when the time comes to write a true and balanced history of India's struggle for Swaraj, those who have toiled and battled for cultural autonomy will claim a large area of the canvas of that history. Indeed those who have fought with their brushes and their pen and pencil to protect the integrity and autonomy of India's cultural possessions and spiritual ideals from the domination of foreign aggressions, have not deserved less than those who have struggled for political powers, or economic freedom.

One such valiant and courageous soldier has passed away in the demise of Mr. Gogonendra Nath Tagore-the eldest brother and invaluable collaborator of Dr. Abanindra Nath Tagore-in the struggle for re-establishing the independence of India's National Art. It is very little known, what valuable service the elder brother rendered in building up the great movement of India's aesthetic autonomy-which from a small beginning has now swelled into a mighty current which has swept over the length and breadth of India, and has assembled the finest forces of national life under the banner of Indian National Art. It is Mr. G. N. Tagore, who with his indefatigable energy, built up the Indian Society of Oriental Art-the great and inspiring centre of a new national awakening in an understanding of the ideals and basic principles of Indian Art-which has now flowered out in exquisite blossoms in all parts of India. That India had a great past in her spiritual achievements in Art and has an - equally great destiny in the future-had to be demonstrated by actual contributions of the present. And this was the bold and inspiring programme that this leader of the modern movement in Indian Art set before him about 40 years ago. The banner that he helped his brother to unfurl reared up its head in Indian cultural firmament with a big query: Art in India, should it be Indian or should it not be so? It is a matter of great gratification that the challenge that the pioneer threw out decades ago was accepted and answered by numerous groups of Indian Artists who in different parts of India, have preached and practised the message of ‘Indianness in Indian Art.' The movement has indeed helped a self-forgetful nation to find itself and to recover its spiritual' soul.

To people outside Bengal, Mr. Gogonendra Nath Tagore has been known as a prolific and versatile artist,-of daring originality, and the products of his brush have prominently figured in all exhibitions of Indian Painting in and outside Bengal for over 24 years. Indeed, he was undoubtedly an artist of great eminence and a devoted practitioner of his craft in diverse materials and technique and the solid output of his works stands today as an invaluable and staple part of the contribution to the building of the New School of Indian Painting-the contemporary achievement of India's National Art. While his younger brother sought to study, to interpret, and to revive the lost threads of old artistic traditions-and to find new ways to make the ideals and technique of the Mughal and Rajput schools, Mr. G. N. Tagore, from the beginning of his career abjured the paths of old traditions. An Impressionist to his finger tip, he sought, for a time, inspiration from the Far Eastern ways of looking at nature. He found in the works of Japanese painters a cognate outlook. And his earliest studies were a series of daring brush drawings of Indian crows, a beautiful garland of memory drawings of exquisite charm and of novel and fascinating realism. These attracted the immediate appreciation of a group of European critics-and Mr. Tagore's artistic talent leapt into fame, as far back as 1911. In 1914, the famous Exhibition at Pavilion Marson in Paris, brought him another triumph in winning the hearts of the most exacting critics at the centre and vortex of European Art. The writer had an humble part to play in selecting and organizing the Indian Pictures for this European show which was opened by the President of the French Republique, and in making a rigorous selection-few artists could be represented by more than two examples. Mr. G. N. Tagore's pictures mounted up to six in number. The Collection crossed the English Channel and was shown in London, where also they won admiring appreciation from the best of critics. This European appreciation drew Mr. G. N. Tagore's attention to the Cubistic phases of modern European Art, and he started experiments in Indian Cubism with remarkable success in original contributions. It is very little known that Cubism in European Art came as an inspiration from Eastern sources,-from a study of Negro Sculpture and its emphatic delineation of the facets of forms. Mr. Tagore sought in the forgotten masterpieces of obscure Indian paintings the methods of his new forms of Cubism, which was not an imitation of the European experiments. Picasso, the earliest pioneer, in his so-called analytical attempts, began by breaking up the " Crystallization " of Form-and made his "facets " slip, and lose their places in the structure, leading to " deformations," particularly in his principles of " simultaneity "-that of simultaneous 'presentation of different facets of an object in the same picture-in a manner so abstract as to seem nearer to geometry than representation. Mr. Tagore never yielded to this temptation of breaking up Forms, but stuck to an original method of Synthetic Cubism in which the diverse facets of a subject were skilfully woven in intriguing and dynamic patterns. But the greatest contribution of Mr. Tagore's Cubism lay in his dynamic rendering of light by skilful manipulation of diversevalues of dark and white surfaces of cubes, from which emanated a forceful presentation of the phenomenon of light with an actuality and realism which has never been attempted by any Western artist, consciously, except occasionally by Braque. Tagore's dynamic presentation of light gives one a real feeling of light-its vibration and illumination, its pulsating power and its suggestion of heat together with a feeling for space without the formula of perspectives. His was indeed a valuable contribution to the principles of Cubism. His experiments in abstract methods, never seduced him from the paths of realism-a peculiar realism of the Impressionistic brand. For in numerous imaginative presentations of romantic and realistic scenes of processions of Royal pageants, or of "Coolie's Funeral", the "Casting of the Image" in the river,-in "Street Scenes" of Calcutta in rain or shine,-"Diwali Nights" or "Buckland Bridge,"-the artist never lost his grip on the actuality of life around him, which he incessantly wove into fascinating patterns of lights and shadows by the wizardry of his brush. His daring black and white sketches on gold back-grounds at times reached the heights of Ogata Korin. In spite of his romantic presentation of themes, he always remained a 'realist' in the most modern sense of the term and the most daringly modern of Indian painters. Indeed, when his pictures were exhibited in Berlin and in Hamburg in 1923, the German critics praised his modernistic outlooks, and some of them, admired the “expressionist” tendencies of his nature studies and his dynamic presentation of Space. And when in a group of 65 Indian paintings that the writer had the privilege of sending to the United States in 1927, for a circulating Exhibition through 68 cities, three of Mr. G. N. Tagore’s pictures were included and they easily scored over their companions by the quality of their original presentations of Indian scenes and subjects. In the India Society's Exhibition of Modern Indian Art, held at the New Burlington Galleries in London in 1934, Mr. G. N. Tagore's pictures, in the words of the Times critic (10th December, 1934) “excited the greatest interest.”

Yet Mr. Tagore’s achievements were not confined within the four corners of his little pictures. His artistic talent found diverse expressions and applications. As an original designer of Indian Furniture and the pioneer of modern Furniture-making, his contributions were unrivalled and the push that he has given to this much neglected aspect of life, has put into it a new and galvanic activity and has restored a truly Indian atmosphere to modern Indian life. All the furniture and appliances of the School of Indian Society of Oriental Art were designed by him and executed by a talented achary from Madras, named Dhanuskody Achary. His genius found congenial scope in numerous productions of Indian Dramas, principally inspired by the poet Rabindranath Tagore, and the, innovations that the artist introduced into stage-craft and dramatic productions have set the Indian stage on a new pedestal. His production of Tagore's Phalgooni in the Hall of ‘Vichitra’, in which he himself played the role of the King, was eulogized by Mrs. Annie Besant, who remarked that it surpassed anything that she had ever seen in Europe. In an obituary notice there is no room for an elaborate analysis of his life-work, but this impromptu sketch of his busy career will be incomplete if one omitted to pay a tribute to his magnetic personality and the part he took in the social life of the City of his birth and activity, to which he so richly contributed not only by his artistic gifts but by the more material resources of his bounty and magnanimity. For there was hardly an artist in Calcutta deserving of encouragement that he did not help with substantial gifts and material assistance. For the poor and the needy his purse-strings were always open. In spite of the rich contribution of his life, he deliberately avoided publicity of any manner or kind and has left to the world a volume of pictures from which to recover the lineaments of his personality. After all, the artist is best studied in his pictures. And the pictures that he has painted have rendered signal service to the cause of national progress and national life.

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