Considered the Father of Modern Indian Art, Raja Ravi Varma is often credited for adapting western techniques and realism and appropriating them in his compositions. Having carefully studied and admired the works of the pioneer, Delhi-based artist Roy Thomas was always curious to bring together his work alongside Western masters who were his inspiration. “I would always wonder what was Raja Ravi Varma thinking when he took inspiration from the West to produce these painting with Indian themes,” says Thomas.
The desire gave impetus to the exhibition “Near the Confluence”. Currently on view at Arushi Arts, the canvases are a direct amalgamation of Varma’s compositions with popular works of the Western masters, including French post-Impressionist Paul Gauguin, French modernist Edouard Manet and Dutch Post Impressionist Vincent van Gogh. “These are artists working in the West who were close contemporaries of Raja Ravi Varma. I attempt to understand what is the difference between Raja Ravi Varma’s sensibility and theirs,” says Thomas. The postgraduate from College of Art, Delhi, adds, “The juxtaposed images in my canvas speak about time frames and ideas that shaped my artistic oeuvre in contemporary times. Through these depictions, I intend to bridge the continental gap of the East and the West. It’s an appropriation, I have deliberately not copied each detail.”
Known for addressing sociopolitical concerns through his work — taking up issues of child labour and Mumbai’s uprooted bar girls among others — the imagery in the ongoing exhibition marks a shift from the previous engagements of the artist but Thomas points out that there are commonalities. “I have been painting based on news reports related to different aspects, this is an extension of that. Here I am looking at art as the platform,” says Thomas.
So in one canvas we see Varma’s Shakuntala in Manet’s famous 1877 oil Nana, that depicted a scene from a boudoir. In Roy’s appropriation, both the ladies are joined by a deer peeping from behind a pillar in the corner. Varma’s Hamsa Damayanti comes together with Edgar Degas’ The Dance Studio, and Vasantasena stands in front of Pablo Picasso’s composition Les Demoiselles . In Varma’s Usha’s Dream, Roy sees influences of Manet’s Olympia. In Vincentvan Gogh’s Bedroom in Arles — a reproduction of the artist’s beloved room in Arles — Roy has Varma’s Malabar Beauty. Gogh’s Wheat Fields has Varma’s Draupadi and Simhika entrapped in the brush strokes.
“Each work has a message of shaping up a new imagination. The juxtaposed images are thus both, a new avenue of viewing the platforms of artistic practices and a methodology of looking at what the great masters of art intended to convey,” says Thomas.
The exhibition is on at Arushi Arts, W-23, Greater Kailash, Part II, till February 10