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Friday, July 20, 2018

A Brush with Indian Art: Book covers vast landscape of history of Indian art

'A Brush with Indian Art' showcases exquisite full-colour photographs and illustrations of some of the most celebrated Indian artworks. From cave to contemporary paintings, it's like a walk through the history of Indian art.

By: PTI | New Delhi | Published: April 16, 2018 5:39:39 pm
The book, published by Puffin, has interesting anecdotes and colourful trivia. One of these is related to the Ajanta Caves. (Source: File Photo)

Children’s writer Mamta Nainy profiles Indian Art by covering a millennia of artistic expression in her new book as it time-travels chronologically through the many art schools and artistic periods. Billed as the first comprehensive guide for art enthusiasts – young and old, “A Brush with Indian Art” showcases exquisite full-colour photographs and illustrations of some of the most celebrated Indian artworks. From cave to contemporary paintings, it’s like a walk through the history of Indian art.

According to Nainy, the book is about stories, which have been plucked from the many art traditions in India.
The book, published by Puffin, has interesting anecdotes and colourful trivia. One of these is related to the Ajanta Caves. “The tale goes that anyone who tries to deface the paintings in any way or reproduce them is struck by bad luck. Mysteriously many attempts to make copies of these paintings and then exhibit them in museums have been highly unsuccessful,” Nainy writes. “In most of these cases, either the museums at which they were to be exhibited caught fire and the canvasses were destroyed, or the curator went insane!” she says.

The extravagant Mughal miniature paintings provided inspiration to many future artists and schools, and they continue to inspire even today, the author says. “If it hadn’t been for the Mughal rulers, such extraordinary art wouldn’t have emerged or been developed in India. It seems that the Mughals were as passionate about art and architecture as they were about warfare and expanding their territories,” the book says. The British, says Nainy, had different aesthetics with regard to art, and the Indian artists knew that if they were to survive, they’d have to start understanding and painting from the British point of view.

“Hence, the artists moved to a more realistic sort of painting style, which meant that they tried to draw exactly what they saw, for these paintings were as much for documentation purposes as they were for artistic ones,” she says.
“They tried adapting to the ways of the British, and what came out of that was a mix of Indian and European art styles. Not surprisingly, the painters used familiar techniques from the Mughal paintings and then joined them with the features of a Western style of painting.” In the late 19th century, with the arrival of the European painters and with Indian painters being exposed to and adapting to European styles of painting, came about a major swing in public taste.

Lifelike paintings done in an extremely realistic fashion suddenly became very popular. And to promote the European style of painting further, the British opened several art schools in India, like Government School of Art in Calcutta and Sir J J School of Art in Bombay. Here they admitted Indian students from educated, well-to-do backgrounds and trained them in fine art. They taught their students how to paint objects realistically and schooled them in new mediums, such as oil paints. This is how a whole new generation of Indian painters was born, trained in this novel style of realism that was learnt from the British in Bombay and Calcutta. Some of these artists were Pestonjee Bomanjee, M.F. Pithawalla, Hemendranath Majumdar and Antonio Xavier Trindade.

The author says the works of the artists of the Bengal school of art remain invaluable and have endured time.
“This was perhaps the first school representing an art movement in modern India and is, therefore, an important milestone in Indian art history. From the paintings of Ajanta to Mughal miniatures to scenes of humble village life – the artists of the Bengal school always sought inspiration from Indian history and from the reality they saw around them,” she writes.

She also talks of modern artists, such as F N Souza, S H Raza, M F Husain and their companions at the Progressive Artists’ Group, as they created masterpieces; and finally, understood the intricacies of contemporary Indian art that explores different mediums and modes of expression like performance art, videos, and installations.

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