Coffee table art books grow by the dozen

March 25th, 2008 - 12:34 pm ICT by admin  

New Delhi, March 25 (IANS) Collectors of coffee table books on Indian art are spoilt for choice. The market is overflowing with glossy tomes on Indian masters and their lives, chronicling artistic legacy for posterity. The latest entrant is the twin-volume “The Myriad Minded Artist”, dedicated to Bengal master Lalu Prasad Shaw. The books, one on the veteran artist’s paintings and the other on his black-and-white graphics and prints, were released by Karan Singh at the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi Monday.

Compiled by eminent Kolkata-based art historian Sovon Som, dean of visual arts at the Rabindra Bharati University, the books spans 50 years of the artist’s career through photographic versions of his graphics and paintings; and an accompanying commentary on his life.

“It took me six months to complete the book,” said Som, who had earlier chronicled veteran artist Ganesh Pyne in his volume, “The Private World of Ganesh Pyne”.

“What attracted me to Shaw’s work was the structural Kolkata, the architectural geometry of an upcoming Kolkata during his years in the city as a teacher of painting at the Government College of Art and Craft. That was during the seventies. You could see the city growing vertically in straight lines in his prints and graphics which he treated like an engraver’s tool. Every stroke was etched in vertical lines, unbending. There was an element of abstraction in his graphics,” the historian said.

Shaw was a peculiar artist, Som told IANS. “When he was in Kolkata teaching western-style painting to students, he was making graphics and geometrical prints as an artist. But the moment, he moved to Santiniketan, he began to paint, drawing inspiration from the natural splendour and idyllic lifestyle of the university town.”

Som said Shaw used the language of tools in his works. As a result, his compositions were straight, simplistic and uncluttered, deeply rooted in the figurative genre of the 20th century Bengal classicists.

“What I like about Shaw’s paintings are his diverse subjects and the touch of humour. He painted whatever he saw around him - humans, birds, nature, gods and goddesses. He was influenced by the Company Drawings (of the East India Company) and the simplistic Kalighat pots, mostly satirical portrayals of the 19th century ‘babu’ culture of Kolkata. He also picked up from his peers like Nandalal Bose in Santiniketan.

“The sheer pliability of his strokes struck me, and the fact that both his genres - graphics and paintings, several of them in the tempera (thick water colours on a base of white paint so that each shade looks solid) tradition - were complimentary.

“The language of his myriad tools did not clash, though he tried out all possible artistic techniques. And perhaps the biggest draw of Shaw’s work is its ability of communicate instantly with viewers. The small-format frames are excellent as decorative drawing room art,” the art historian said.

The artist is grounded. He never lets go of his humble roots. “I came from a humble background and could hardly afford to buy art material. The scholarship I was awarded helped me survive, but there was little left for anything else. At the art college, we were discouraged from attempting any creative experimentation … Then one of my brothers offered me financial support and I could buy oil colours,” reminisces Shaw in the book.

When asked about early influences on him, Shaw says: “I used to live in Suri in the Birbhum district of Bengal as a child. This region was known for ‘pots’ and ‘chal-chitra’, traditional Bengal figurative drawing painted on earthenware pots and bowls with natural colours. The themes were the local folklores and the artists were known as ‘patuas’. I learnt my earliest skills from them,” the artist told IANS.

Shaw is passionate about figures. “I am over 72 and I don’t see any possibility of deviating from figure drawings at this stage, unless I am too ill to draw. Then I will play with colours, do away with form and that will be abstraction for me,” Shaw said.

Several more decorative coffee-table volumes on Indian art are in the pipeline. A book on artist Paresh Maity’s Kerala sojourn, “Enchanted Journey” will be unveiled in the capital March 26.

Sovon Som is working on two new volumes - one on artist Abani Sen and another on Rabindranath Tagore’s manuscript erasure art.

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