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Rear View

Richard Bartholomew’s writings provide an insight into Indian art from the ‘50s to the ‘70s.

Written by Vandana Kalra | Published: September 30, 2012 1:35:10 am

Richard Bartholomew’s writings provide an insight into Indian art from the ‘50s to the ‘70s

India of the ’50s was a place of numerous transitions,and that was the case in art as well. In the newly independent nation where artists were still trying to develop a language of their own,a young lad was documenting their growth. He was not chronicling it,but commenting on it — tracing its placement and evolution. Richard Bartholomew did not laud all,but had an opinion to share. As an artist-photographer,he was one of them,but he was also a critic.

Now,27 years after his demise,his son Pablo Bartholomew has published his select writings and photographs in a book called Richard Bartholomew – The Art Critic (Rs 3,000). “This book needs to be out… More importantly,to allow this man to breathe his words and as a toast to all those who have passed on and to the ones surviving; friends who have been waiting for these words,” says Pablo,flipping through the pages of the publication that takes forward the 2010 publication A Critic’s Eye.

Almost a decade in the making,the book provides an insight into Indian art from the ’50s to the ’70s,from Richard’s perspective. He urges for functional criticism and,among other things,observes how artists responded to the rise of the middle class. Amrita Sher-Gil was a “pioneer” and MF Husain’s Zameen was “a symphony in five movements”. If in an article in 1961,Richard noted that Satish Gujral’s paintings interpreted “the temper of the times”,in 1975-76,he observed that Ram Kumar’s “world picture has not changed since the ’50s,his imagery has undergone a process of synthesis,refinement and rarefication”. In 1959,Richard had predicted that Anjolie Ela Dev will “join the rank of our very best painters”.

For Richard himself,art seemed a natural course. Delhi became his home after he fled Burma in order to escape the Japanese invasion during World War II. This is where he found his love,Rati Batra,and his passion for the lens and the pen. Of the thousands of photographs he took,the publication comprises few — a 1968 print has an audience member holding the floodlight at Shridharani Art Gallery,as Husain paints live; in another one,VS Gaitonde is seen with Jatin Das and his wife Varsha and daughter Nandita. FN Souza is photographed with his then wife Barbara Zinkant; and GR Santosh and Shobha Broota and her daughter Sakshi are seated together in a train. Richard’s sons Pablo and Robin sit attentively as Jeram Patel puts his painting on fire at a time when he extensively worked on thick plywood with a blowtorch. Rati is seen talking to Tyeb Mehta in one frame,and she is seen with A Ramachandran and his wife Chameli in another.

Neatly divided into phases,the ’70s mark the end. This chronicles Richard’s stint as the secretary of the Lalit Kala Akademi. The man who had been most critical of the “orthodoxies” of new institutions of independent India,had surprised many with the decision. “Let us say that he felt the need to take up the task of public rectification; but let us also admit that in the later years,there may have been a personal need for authority and command,security and status — of a kind that journalistic art criticism,and odds and ends of curating,had ceased to provide,” notes Geeta Kapoor in an essay in the book.

In Richard’s writings,he seeks a change. Perhaps,this was his own change to bring about a change.

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