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Thursday, April 09, 2020

The Root Cause

A retrospective of Jamini Roy at NGMA reveals an artist who created art from the 'common man's laboratory'

Written by Pallavi Pundir | New Delhi | Published: June 26, 2013 3:31:51 am

At the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA),there’s a “common man’s laboratory” where doe-eyed figures in pastel shades of white and yellow stare silently as you walk by. There are women,men at work or rigid godly figures,even a few beasts and birds of the wilderness,set against idyllic settings that are reminiscent of a simpler village environment.

Many will associate the lashes of bold strokes,block colours and folk style with one of the prominent contributors to Modernism in India in the 20th century,Jamini Roy. NGMA is celebrating his 125th birth anniversary — which was in 2012 — with an exhibition titled “Jamini Roy (1887 – 1972): Journey to the Roots” that explores his oeuvre — from early Western impressionistic to folk,calligraphic,and abstract sculptures.

“When you think of Jamini Roy,you think of doe-eyed imagery. But when I saw the NGMA collection,I saw the diversity of his work. I suggested that this be exhibited,especially for the young generation of art lovers and students,” says art critic and curator Ella Datta.

Exploring six decades of Roy’s

career,the exhibition’s 200 works set the stage for a curiously interesting career,a new language and expression that he created after he rejected his academic training in the early ’20s. “What you see is the way he

rejected the European style and moved towards a traditionally rooted style of expression,” says Datta.

Sourced from NGMA’s collection,apart from contributions by art collector Abhishek Poddar and painter A Ramachandran,the exhibition is divided into 13 themes — from copies of European Masters to paintings of Santhali women and episodes from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata among others.

Roy creates a familiar yet strong imagery around his “Mother and Child”,a series of paintings of women or women holding a child. “This is his connect with women,or perhaps his paintings of the ideal woman,” says Datta. Another section,“Santhal Suite”,“is his first step towards rejecting the European academic style”,according to Datta. This came about in the first few years of ’20s when Roy made use of the “flat technique”. “He had said that,like the Chinese landscape,he discarded non-essential background details,” reads the curator’s description,about figures of lithe women against bland backgrounds.

Roy’s interest also veered towards sculptures,and some of his abstract ones are on display. “He started working with sculptures in the ’40s,” says Datta. An addition to the show is a letter that Roy had written to a US collector. “I am getting worried how to keep these things after me,” says the letter about his paintings.

Despite rejecting the academic and traditional,Roy was never wholly “rooted” in his endeavours,says Datta. “He dug into tradition for a new language,which was not purely traditionally but influenced by various forces.”

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