When Radhi Parekh,founder director of Artisans,chose Krishna as a subject for the new exhibition at her gallery,what drew her most was the blue gods all-pervasive presence in popular Indian indigenous art for centuries. You find him in calendars at shops,in temples,community halls and havelis, says Parekh. The cherubic Bal Gopal is the ideal baby for Indian mothers; while playing the flute he is the ideal lover; whereas in the pages of Mahabharata,he is the ideal leader, she adds. The exhibition,therefore,brings together a collection of chromolithographs,oleographs and their offsets from the last 100 years created by a number of artists,including Raja Ravi Varma and Vasudeo H Pandya.
The subtle distinction in each school of art is as knowledgeable as it is amusing. Ramanujans works,for example,have a distinctively chubby Krishna,with the dome of his throne embellished with a Yali (lion),a motif typical of South Indian architecture. The Bengal School boasts of Krishna with big eyes and lighter colour tones because of the influence of Santiniketan Schools wash technique art.
All of this is explained with simplicity by Manish Sharma,an avid collector by virtue of his antique shop business in Mumbai. Parekhs partner in the exhibition,he takes a Mulgaonkar work and explains the parallels with the artists background in film poster-painting,pointing at the heroic features of his Krishna. Similarly,he shows the lithographs,printed in Germany,on which the Krishnas appearance is almost Victorian,with sharper features.
Another exciting prospect is a group of work that shows Krishna modelling for products such as Woodwards Gripe Water,Sunlight soap and cotton. The British used them with cleverness to sell their products; the common people couldnt throw the advertisements away,and as a result,they were preserved for long, explains Parekh.
With his ability to spot immediate value in calendar and bazaar art of this sort,Sharma has handpicked the entire collection after travelling across havelis,temples and villages in the country. The search for more work on Krishna had started after Parekh and Sharma decided to collaborate on this show. The art is affordable from Rs 4,000 to Rs 20,000.
The idea,says Parekh,is to celebrate the art of the masses that are often dismissed as kitsch. Its an opportunity to celebrate the creativity arising from faith,and a fresh chance to look at these images that hold such power over popular imagination, says Parekh.