Artists: Notes on Art Making

The Gandhi Memorial Monument at Gowalia Tank, site of the Quit India resolution, is a' reminder of the aesthetic vacuum which exists in the country. That intuitive sense of form and colour which is expressed not only in our handicrafts and fabrics but also in ordinary village mud walls and utility objects is totally absent from con-temporary urban India. Proportion no longer means anything, no all space relationships are chaotic and the environment becomes visually lifeless. As a. people, we are cut off from our own heritage, and poorly acquainted with the artistic revolutions of the West which we think of as fashionable and fri-volous games. The Gowalia Tank Maidan is not the maidan it was when the historic 1942 Congress session was held there. It is fragmented and poorly tended, resembling a dirty and disorderly little area between slums more than the dignified city square it could have been. The new monument, 15 metres high, and built at a cost of Rs. 64,000, occupies the north-cast corner of these desolate grounds. It is on, related in any way to its setting and considered in isolation is wholly uninteresting. The so-called red lotus shape at the top is neither realistic nor abstract and is much too small to make any impression from that height. It looks like a suburban garden pot purchased from the kind of emporia which sell Greek statuettes and. vases on ornate pedestals. The column holding up this lotus so vacuously is divided into five parts in no specific tension, one to another. The square block at the base is needlessly repeated on a smaller scale in the upper half, which unbalances the whole. The hexagon and the star pattern are merely distracting besides being quite undistinguished as forms in themselves. There is no continuity between one form and another. -1 he three red sandstone platforms fail to create an ascending effect. The marble, as marble contributes nothing to the general feeling of the monument, which is one of blandness. I visited it early one morning when the light was soft and the air was cold. It looked vacant, old and worn out, radiating no sense of peace and harmony. On the following day I walked around the Martyrs' Memorial at Flora Fountain, viewing it from a' number of vantage points. In addition to ruining the old-fashioned but authentic delicacy of the Fountain and the area around it, the Memorial is an incompetent exercise in strident sculptural rhetoric. The two rugged torch-bearing figures stand for progress, certainly - in ugliness, and make one think of the Gandhi Monument almost the gratitude.

A painter who made his beginnings thirty years ago claims to use paints and brushes now “only when commissioned”. Why? He has discovered a new medium. He says he was “struck by the forms obtaining in things normally neglected - dried up bark, wood shavings, bits and pieces of fuel wood, etc.” the artist, and the artists in all of us is rightly excited by such discoveries. What to make of them is another matter.

V D Chinchalkar makes conventional pictures with his wood shavings and thinks he is “in quest of form”. Not at all. Used in place of colour, a wood shaving inevitably decreases the value of a pictorial surface. Eliminating depth and tone, the artist becomes a minor craftsmen. All one can appreciate in his work is the ingenuity of an arrangement, which is a far cry from the expression of an idea or emotion which is called art.

Prabha Rao, who exhibited at Gallery Rampart, wastes her obvious talents in another false direction. She imitates the classic Chinese manner in painting, which is surely no more respectable, artistically, than imitating Ajanta. The viewer is bound to ask himself why he should not go to the original instead of contemplating images directly derived from it. A living artist need not practise in a style of the past, however great, except as part of his training. Genuine inspiration from Chinese landscapes or flower studies should lead to a fresh look at landscapes and flowers.

The pot of plants at the Rampart, placed in corner for decorative purposes, blazed away greenly in mute challenge to the smooth illustrative exercises on the walls. The subjects of a true artist are always near at hand, not remote, an intuitive conviction of which the moral equivalent is that we trust the man whose god is within himself and in his neighbour, not in the sky.

If four students of an Applied Art institute decide to hold an exhibition, should they select the greeting card as a medium? I think not. That kind of easy commercialism may come later, with a family to support and the urge to “make it” soon, in publicity if not in reality. Students should be more idealistic. Is there nothing less trivial to take up for design experiment than the greeting card? Virtually every object in our daily lives which has a form and a function calls out agonisingly for redesigning while we expend our creative energies on whimsies and sentimentalities.

This group of artists name itself “The Adventures”. Let it live up to its name. Mountain climbers don’t take up an apprenticeship in climbing staircases, and underwater explorers are not enamoured of swimming pools.

At the annual show of the Art Society of India, a high standard need not be expected. This does not mean that a low standard should be condoned. What is a low standard? Plagiarism, for example, blatant or sub-conscious, lowers the standard. Third-rate work submitted by second-order artists, confident of inclusion because of their reputation, lowers the standard. Modish “experiments” and routine work safely embedded in one convention or other, lower the standard.

Sincerity, even when the gifts that accompany it are modest, helps to create public faith in the artistic community. If it appears that this community is deceiving itself and the public, it will eventually receive the kind of cynical acceptance that is at present given to politicians and educationists.

Should an abstract painter title his works or is it enough to number them? If he titles them, he must do so with discretion and a sense of responsibility. Anand Dev, who exhibited at the Taj, offers such titles as Kiss in the Bosom, and Melodious Whoop. These may be ignored and the abstractions considered as such but a jarring element remains to affect our judgement of the artist and his intentions.

Published in The Times of India, November 15, 1970, page 6.
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