Nine years is not a very long time. In the perspective of history, it’s a mere blink of an eye. But when the Progressive Artist’s Group was formed in 1947 by a bunch of young, idealistic artists such as KH Ara, SK Bakre, MF Husain, SH Raza, FN Souza and HA Gade, one wonders if they knew that their collective body of work will achieve that rare quality, the ability to transcend time. It’s unfortunate that the group was disbanded in 1956, bringing to an end one of the most fruitful creative associations in the history of art.
However, as you walk into the Dhoomimal Art Gallery, leaving behind the excesses of Connaught Place behind, you realise why pure, unadulterated art has that transcendental quality. HA Dave’s retrospective exhibition, which has been organised at the gallery in association with the India Art Fair, puts forward pieces that seem to be an almost childlike response to stimulus. Colours are visceral, strokes are deliberate and forms are simplistic. It’s almost as if a core of emotion runs through his painting and every other aspect arranges itself to suit that. Take his 1982 painting Darjeeling Sun for instance, jagged black strokes of the hills rise up to engulf the orange sky. A patch of bluish-green signifies a river at the corner of the frame. There is a definite recognition of the technicalities involved in art, but the primal thrust of the work is emotion, a mellow, resigned acknowledgement of nature. A fact that the deceased artist (he passed away in 2001) acknowledges in an undated write-up: “It was in 1942 during my B Ed studies that I stumbled upon a chapter in a book about educational experiments on ‘Children’s Responses to Colours’. This awakened in me a curiosity and colours acquired for me a new meaning as a vehicle of emotions both felt and also inherent in the colours juxtapose.”
One can clearly see the mathematical precision that Gade was famous for in some of his untitled works. Cubes and lines take centrestage in an undated, untitled abstract work. Here too colour is not an eye-popping, overwhelming presence (as it is in the works of most cubists), instead Gade makes his colours bleed into each other, making the work a subtle ode to melancholia, a medium to a greater, stronger emotion. But then Gade made no bones about this very fact. “My experiences have strengthened my conviction that pictorial truth is a self-contained phenomenon within the limits of the medium, and that visual imagery is only a means to arrive at this truth. I communicate only this truth in my paintings,” he says, in an undated write-up.