Wednesday 28 March 2012

Feeling the Presence in Absence! Remembering Prabhakar Barwe - by Pankaja JK

Prabhakar Barwe (1936 – 1995)
“When all the paths in all the directions are closed, the only path left is that of painting and by God's grace it is always open”.- Prabhakar Barwe

The above quotation is from his book 'Kora Canvas', written in Marathi. True to his words, he lived and died as a painter. For him painting was the source of life. Indian Contemporary Art is incomplete without the mention of Prabhakar Barwe. He was an heir of artistic fervor. His granduncle V.P.Karmarkar was a famous sculptor and his father was an artist in Bombay studio. He carried forward the family tradition. To enhance his torrid artistic zeal he joined J.J.School of Art in Mumbai. During his formative years as a student, along with the formal education he got an opportunity to work in Weavers Service Centre where fine artists worked for the development of modern Indian textile design. Here he worked along with fine artists like Ambadas, Gautam Waghela and Subramanyan.

After his graduation in 1959, he experimented on canvas by placing every kind of material that could be held on canvas to vent his feelings. It was a search for individual identity as a painter. This search for self was important to discover that untrodden path which he wanted to explore in visual art.

From 1961 to 1965 he stayed and worked in Varanasi, the city rich with Hindu tradition and culture. Here he came across the tantric symbolism which grabbed his attention and inspired him. He painted skulls, bones, stones, graphs the basic objects associated with it. He thus developed Tantric style of painting. Though a firm believer in present and not worried about past or future, reading horoscope became his hobby. The pieces of writing containing astrologer's calculations and predictions, the shapes of horoscopes, the restricted lines, the scattered numbers in blocks along with sun, moon and planets, the luck and ill luck that they brought along, their transition from one block to another and beliefs of human beings in alteration of their lives depending on positioning of these elements found place on Barwe's canvas.

He belonged to the twentieth century, an era when the world was moving at the speed of light towards modernism and technological developments and where natural was replaced by material. Every vice and virtue was calculated in commercial value. He amalgamated concrete and the abstract and made us realize the co-relation of the two. He tried to give emotional touch to the impassive surrounding and developed a metaphysical dimension in his art. Barwe's experiment with glossy enamel paint diluted in turpentine enhanced the metaphysical dimension of his art. His poetic sensibility vibrated in his works. His work clearly represents ordinary objects having emotional, mystical associations. Their dictionary meaning looses its hold. The conventional definition of mundane thing gets lost. The painting becomes subjective rather than objective. To illustrate, 'the leaf', that he painted in its fresh and dried forms in various paintings, does not have limitation of being a part of plant or a tree, but represents life, the living and the dead. The 'Blue Cloud', which gained him National prize at Lalit Kala Academy's exhibition at Delhi, had a lonely cloud floating across the sky on a cloudy rainy day. This cloud can be symbolically interpreted as a cloud in William Wordsworth's famous poem Daffodis, where poet says '... I wandered lonely as a cloud…' and discovers the crowd of golden daffodils. Similarly, this lonely cloud on a cloudy day seems to be in search of something or maybe it moves around without any goal. The sentiments can be associated to the movements of a lonely person. It can be funny or sad at the same time. The perception of cloud thus is the imagination, the vision of the beholder rather than any fastidious meaning by Barwe. His proficiency in painting was with viewer's vision. He had subtle relation of concrete form with abstraction. It gave the space to the observer to perceive his paintings subjectively. He employed the conceptual devices of Surrealism, placed simple objects and ephemeral shapes presenting an unusual piece of art.

Sure of the development that would take place in art, he was open to new technologies; but always favoured  guarding individuality and freedom as an artist and never falling prey to mechanization. This is evident from the fact that in 1991 the first ever Computer- based Art was to be held in India, and the nine well- known artists M.F.Hussain, Navjot Altaf, Akbar Padamsee, Manjit Bawa, Prabhakar Barwe, Laxman Shreshtha, Manu Parekh and S.H. Raza were invited for thirty days training course on computer to develop their artwork for a show. When the show traveled to Delhi in February 1993 and held at NGMA, there was an informal discussion with critic Kamla Kapoor. The conversation reflected the views and experiences of Barwe on use of computer technology in art. He welcomed the advancement in art which gave larger scope to artists to express themselves. Reckoning its pros and cons, he alerted artists that it should not be used at the cost of their creative freedom. Barwe expressed his apprehension of being dragged and lost in the vast world of colors, texture and image manipulation that computer offered. So talking about himself he said that he was apprehensive of losing his creative freedom so he decided to restrict himself to two dimensional and graphic possibilities. Due to these technological liberties and scope the Pop Art Movement launched the banal objects of our everyday lives into the realm of fine art. Prabakhar Barwe showed his skill in creating intimacy between these objects and life.

Evidently, his interest in astrological calculation and speculations reflected in his last creations. The possibilities are strong as we take into consideration his last exhibition when he was hospitalized. The exhibition was held at Chemould Art Gallery in the year 1995. It was a group show called 'A Broder Spectrum-II', which had Barwe's five water color paintings painted a few months before he was hospitalized. The images were that of garland of dried leaves, a wrist watch, human skull, envelopes, and a scale were suggestive of his nearing death and projected his sentience of death.

As a painter he won an award instituted by the Japanese newspaper Yoshihari Shimbun. In 1976 he won an award at the annual exhibition of the Lalit Kala Akademi. Towards the end of his life he wrote a book in Marathi called 'Kora (Blank) Canvas', which is the documentation of his feelings, expressions, struggles and satisfaction as an artist.

Truly, a great artist who taught us to be sensitive, to perceive beyond physical appearance, put breath in inanimate things and made us think beyond set meanings.

153 Years Old yet Young at Heart: Mumbai's Sir JJ School of Art

The trance aura at another corner, the liveliness and argumentative atmosphere at one corner and faces that are lost in their own world of creativity hurrying to put their thoughts on canvas, sculpt it or express it through various means like installations or other medias.

Sir JJ School of Art bustles with liveliness and youthful enthusiasm day in and day out. It has miraculous effect and it charms you so much that you get attracted to its buzzing activities in one corner

One of the oldest institutions, Sir JJ School of Art is located in city of Mumbai. It was founded in March 1857 named after Sir Jamsatjee Jeejeboy who donated 100, 000 rupees for its endowment. It is beautiful with vast campus full of foliage, age old trees and neo -gothic architecture, heritage buildings standing strong with the modern architecture, and the grand interiors with artistic setup at every nook and corner. Other than this treasure it has the tradition of having the best Indian creative minds who have stirred the world with their creations. 

The legacy of legends trained at this institute continues till date with modern contemporary artists graduating from this institute. Many contemporary artists have experienced living under the British colonial rule as well as living in the post colonial period. Charles Gerard the Director of Sir JJ School of Art introduced modernistic concept in academics and thus these artists were influenced by western art. Alumni of JJ School of Art include Akbar Padamsee, Jatin Das, MF Husain, SH Raza, VS Gaitonde, FN Souza, Tyeb Mehta, Krishna Hebbar, Satish Gujral, Jehangir Sabavala and many more. 

VS Gaitonde

The legends have a very interesting creative journey. It is a matter of fact that every artist is affected by the prevailing social, economic and political conditions of the period that he lives in, so was the case with these artists. During the British period these artists, then the students were academically exposed to western art. But the nationalist fervor was ignited in them when FN Souza established Bombay Progressive Artists' group immediately after Independence. This group had short life but was successful in giving new direction to expression of visual art. The prominent artists of this group included MF Husain, SH Raza, Manishi Dey were the early members later SK Bakre, Akbar Padamsee, Tyeb Mehta associated with the group. Later VS Gaitonde, Krishen Khanna and Mohan Samant joined the group. The Progressive Artists' Group combined Indian subject matter with Post-Impressionist colors, Cubist forms and brusque, Expressionistic styles. 

Mumbai is fortunate to have some of the living legends staying here who experienced colonial atmosphere or were students of this institute in early years of Independence. To name the few who live and work in Mumbai are Akbar Padamsee, Jehangir Sabaval, Dilip Ranade, Prabhakar Kolte. A star who has a strong hold over his passion of art and is a master in expressing his creativity through various mediums is Akbar Padamsee. His work ranges from the figurative to the non- figurative. Right from painting on canvas he has adopted technology of photography and digital painting. He has diversified his skill in different branches like film making, being an art critique and as a sculpture artist. His metascapes, mirror- images and sculptures are magnetic. Like other senior artists, he too, was a part of two different phases in India ie before and after Independence. Whether it is a sketch on paper or a sculpture, human head and human figure and expression of human instincts is his preferred subject. He portrays common man and his reaction to the surrounding aura. His metascapes which are basically landscapes. In his metascapes the landscapes are devoid of any natural elements and they are just metaphysical experiences of time and space. The computer graphics that he worked on is the further extension of the same effect. His colonial and post- colonial experiences were exhibited in recent years in the exhibitions held in India and abroad. 

His recent group exhibitions include 'Progressive to Altermodern: 62 Years of Indian Modern Art' at Grosvenor Gallery, London, in 2009; 'Faces' at Tao Art Gallery, Mumbai, and 'Freedom 2008 Sixty Years of Indian Independence' at the Centre for International Modern Art (CIMA), Kolkata in 2008. He is meticulous, ever energetic and enthusiastic thinker. Mumbai also takes pride is having a Padma Shri awarded great artist who lives in Mumbai and he is Jehangir Sabavala. His work has most features of city; though not necessarily Mumbai, it includes landscapes, cityscapes and seascapes. His modernistic and classical unity in his paintings has been a challenge even to the artists born in modern age. He prefers disguised images to loud and flashy projections. His mastery over light, color and texture is the result of his vision. He attributes his style of painting to his academic training and it is an amalgamation of Cubism and Impressionism. 

( Sir Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy)

There is a kind of serene and tranquil feeling when we look at his paintings. There is intensity and universal feeling exhibited in his works which is thus devoid of any territorial boundaries. Dilip Ranade focuses on static form of life when he presents fossilized sculptures. He focuses on human instincts which includes struggle between good and evil and man's survival instincts. His non-human forms of life such as animals, plants and other living organisms are representation of human characters. Ironically his paintings are pleasing yet thought stirring. Prabhakar Kolte was a student and also taught there for about two decades. He is much influenced by VS Gaitonde and Paul Klee. His paintings have formless sensation and are without any symbolism or pre defined boundaries. For him his paintings are just rush of feelings that just gets its color and form on canvas. It is simply the action and not the reaction. 

To sum up, it is a matter of great pride that all these great artists of JJ School of Art are renowned and have become icons of how to cope with prevailing conditions, developing their own styles, being perfectionists, and adopting advanced practices in art thereby spreading the fame of Indian contemporary art around the world.

- By Pankaja JK

(above Images for illustrative purposes only, we have no copyright)

Stimulating Thoughts Pankaja JK in conversation with Chintan Upadhyay - interview.

Pankaja JK in conversation with Chintan Upadhyay 
(Artist :Chithan Upadhaya)

Disturbing Chintan Upadhyay in his busy schedule and ultimately getting an interview was a kind of annexing a difficult citadel. But here it was not my efforts but his kindness and friendly gesture helped me to get his interview for “Art : News & Views” magazine. This short and precise conversation shows his stronghold over his beliefs and sensitivity towards everything that he confronts in his life, be it human relation, technology or nature. The following conversation highlights it: 

PK: As your name goes 'Chintan' you are really so concerned with the social causes. Are you 'an artist for social cause'? 

CU: I would say that directly or indirectly every artist is in one way or the other related to social cause. They are concerned with the social issues. And even I feel sensitivity towards some issues and express my feelings against them in my art. 

PK: Your creations, or say, installations are based on practical aspects of life rather than just giving an artistic pleasure. Do you enjoy this status of being a thoughtful artist and not purely an artist portraying romanticism with life? 

CU: I am a thoughtful artist. People cannot say that an art is created purely for artistic pleasure. Art is not a creation in isolation, it has got some stimuli, some subject. So it extends beyond just artistic pleasure. 

PK: Your 'Alec Babies' created wonder and stir in art world. How did this idea strike you and was there any particular reason to paint them with miniature paintings? 

CU: If you look at these babies you will find them homogeneous. So they represent homogeneous concerns. But the only thing that differentiates them is the Indian miniature paintings on them. Without these paintings they would be nowhere. In fact these paintings are their identity. I have chosen it deliberately. If we look at the modern trend of the world, we find everywhere in the world people are developing similar tastes in terms of clothing, food and lifestyle. There is a development of mall culture, famous brands which are widely available, so there is a kind of analogous behaviour throughout the world. So when one tries to move out of this identical zone, he searches for ethnicity. This ethnicity is an attraction. Alec babies portray this ethnicity, they stand out as Indian and therefore they stand out from others. 

PK: Your installations have been developed as factory products and also developed with the use of native skill. Do you find any difference between the use of technology and handcrafted installations? 

CU: Technology works as a tool for me. I use it as a medium to develop my images. Traditional knowledge that I amalgamate provides me with information. They give me new ideas. But it is not always necessary that I adopt these ideas and work upon my original thoughts. But at times I do think over them. 

PK: Were you always inclined to be an artist? Has any artist influenced you? 

CU: No, I never wanted to be an artist. In fact, I wanted to be an architect. But I think being in any of these fields involves creativity. So my creative urges are satisfied as an artist. Speaking about influences, I have many. I cannot name anyone in particular. My influences range from people of art world to a layman. My thinking process is influenced by the situation around, the nature, the technology and almost everything. 

PK: How do you analyse it? 

CU: You see, everything around you is changing. Take an example of Bollywood; the outfits and the dance have got under western influence. After the Chinese product have taken hold over our market we find even a common man has started believing and getting attracted towards Feng Shui along with the Vastu Shastra. And all these things do influence my creative process. A man has to be thoughtful and when we start thinking, we start creating. Now we all know about Obama's visit to India, its purpose and its outcome. Still, as an artist I think over it. My thinking may be different from others, and in the same way hundred minds may think in hundred different ways. That's good for progress. And it is personally good for me as an artist, for it acts indirectly or unknowingly as a metaphor in my work. 

PK:  Can we have a peep in the lighter mood of Chintan Upadhyay? Do you remember any humorous moment in relation to your artistic progression which has made a mark on you? 

CU: I love partying! I hail from Rajasthan which is a very colourful city, and so I love colors. The thing that I find very humorous is when people ask me to stop making 'babies'. People always look out for sensation and they have a kind of consumer mentality where they constantly look for 'latest' or change. They develop boredom when they see same thing for longer time. They expect me to give them some thing different from these Alec babies and that makes me laugh and feel sad towards their way of thinking. These Alec babies are not just products; they are the thoughts, expression and feelings. Don't have a surface view, understand the depth of it. Of course, I don't want to force anybody to admire it. But when they ask me to stop producing these babies I feel sorry for them. They seem to ironically conflict their own thought process. I doubt their admiration for art. Basically I am a provocative artist. I like to provoke people. If they show mediocre attitude and feel dejected if I do not stop producing these babies, then I think I have provoked them and by repeatedly boosting on stopping to produce them, they are provoking me. But my art is not based on someone's guidance about what I should be doing. It's totally my world and my creation…whether you like it or not… 

PK: Your artistic journey is filled with social causes, awareness and rebellion against male chauvinism. Do you intend to write an autobiography in future? 

CU: Oh! I am not a biography material. I cannot write about myself. Though I like to read autobiographies, I might not do justice while penning my life (smiles…signs off).