Thursday, October 20, 2016

Suhas Roy and his mystical compositions

Artist Suhas Roy who passed away in Kolkatta earlier this month, at the age of 80, was known in the last few years primarily for his Radha series. Though Radha Rani has been worshipped as a goddess, a Devi, the most powerful association in our minds is of Radha as an embodiment of pure love and devotion to Shri Krishna.

Radha, Mixed media, 10 by 12 in.

The word Radha is said to have come from Aradha (worship or homage) and Aradhana (paying homage). The love of Radha for Krishna is eternal, spontaneous, and like Bhakti (or devotion). Suhas Roy's paintings of Radha try to capture this devotion, longing and Bhakti, and bring a mix of youth, innocence and a dream like quality, in the figures.

Dry pastel, 48 by 36 cm.

Suhas Roy studied at the Indian College of Arts and Draughtsmanship, Kolkatta, and also at the Ecole Superior des Beaux Arts, Paris. He had been the Head of Department of Painting, at Kala Bhavan, Shantiniketan, till he retired.

Christ - 1, Conte on board, 20 by 30 in.

Suhas Roy travelled extensively in Europe, US and Japan, and was hugely impressed by the Great Masters, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael. Particularly the Pieta influenced Suhas Roy so much, that for several years, he sketched and painted his own versions of The Lamentation.

What is not known widely is that one of his paintings from his series at the time, "Through the Gospel", forms a part of the collection of The Vatican. Suhas Roy published a book of his paintings created during that period of personal journey called: "A Solitary Quest".

Christ, Oil on canvas, 56 by 41 cm.

Suhas Roy was born in Dhaka, and like many artists of his generation hit by partition of India, the loss stayed with him all his life. Several of his early compositions in water colours are inspired by the Bangladesh countryside.

A water colour

Suhas Roy will be remembered and missed for his mystical imagery, the wide range of textures and materials used, and for the simplicity of his compositions.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Durga Pooja art works

Why is the Durga Pooja like an exciting, cultural immersion and not confined to quiet prayers? Well, mostly because Ma Durga has so many incarnations and is an embodiment of so many things: she is the goddess of power or Shakti, and the cause of all past, present and future occurrences.

Ma Durga is the mother of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity; the mother of Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom, knowledge, learning, music and arts; the mother of Karthikeya, the god of war; and she is the mother of Ganesha, the remover of obstacles for all auspicious events.

"The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection." - Michelangelo

Temporary places called Pandals are set up to welcome and venerate the goddess and to make arrangements for devotees. The entrance to the Pandal or the gateway, the panels at the sides, the ceilings, and the floors are all composed and decorated to honour the divine. All of them serve as opportunities to artists to pay homage to Ma Durga.
A gateway

Atop the entrance to a Pandal

In a Pooja, we make offerings of all that is good and nourishing and beautiful in our lives: fruits and vegetables, grains, flowers, art and music and dance. The goddess is also showered with gifts of sarees and sweets.

Ceiling of a Pandal
In the Pandal, the idol or Protima of Ma Durga is accompanied by her children, their Vahans or vehicles and the Kala-Bou, a banana plant depicting the mother nature part of Durga.

The Owl, Vahana of Lakshmi, symbolizes observation and perception. The divine Swan, Vahana of Saraswati symbolizes purity and realization of knowledge. The Peacock, Vahana of Kartikeya, symbolizes beauty. The Mouse, Vahana of Ganesha symbolizes the Vighna or obstacles our mind create very much like the fickle and darting movements of a mouse, that have to be controlled by the mind.

A panel at the Pooja Pandal

Ma Durga herself being powerful, beautiful and radiant has the Lion as her Vahana. During Durga Puja, she is shown in her Avatar of Mahishasura or slayer of the half-buffalo, half-Asura or demon.

The devotees of Ma Durga come from all communities, but do take care to deck themselves in their best clothes and jewellery. Devotees go to the Pandal every morning for Pushpanjali, or offerings of flowers and leaves for the goddess. They go for the evening Arati, or lighting of lamps. 

The last day of Pooja is the Sindur Khela, when the goddess is bid farewell, till the next year with vermillion and sweets.

Over the years, Pooja Pandals have got more organized. Each locality has tried to differentiate itself. Some of them have themes for the Pooja, or take up causes. One New Delhi Pooja for example, wanted to draw attention to the dying jute industry. They got specially commissioned a Ma Durga idol made of jute, in addition to the normal clay one. 

While the clay idol was immersed in water in the usual ritual fashion called Bisarjan, the jute idol is being preserved. The organizers of this Pandal want the jute idol to have a place in a museum or an educational institution.


Pooja Pandal resembling the PAlais Garnier

Another New Delhi Pooja Pandal paid homage to the victims of the terrorist attacks in Paris. The entire Pandal was designed and put together over two months to resemble the Palais Garnier, or the National Opera House. 


A Kolkatta Pandal paid homage to the once ubiquitous black and yellow Hindustan Motors Ambassador taxis. The Pandal artists bought 15 taxis, 200 silencer pipes and 300 car doors for the purpose.  

The taxis were deconstructed and put together in art installations all around the Pandal.


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Face to face with Yusuf Arakkal

Bangalore based artist Yusuf Arakkal was always interested in the human figure and human faces. He decided recently, to do a collection of portraits of fellow artists.

Portrait of Thota Vaikuntam

Here is one of his drawings: of the artist Thota Vaikuntam, captured at work.

Portraits are rare nowadays. The theme of fellow artists was also an unusual one.

All the portraits by Arakkal were pen and ink drawings using lines, and dots - no colours and no shading. They were drawn on reversed canvas, and executed in a 'framed-box' approach. Generally, it was all black ink, and single-tone backgrounds.

Portrait of Syed Haider Raza

The collection of 135 portraits were on show at an exhibition called "Faces of Creativity", at Chennai, last month. Arakkal desired that the entire collection should be sold to a single collector or to an institution, to be available for viewing in its entirety.

The timing of the project was remarkable, given the news of his untimely demise today morning. It almost seems to be like a farewell gift from Arakkal to his fellow artists.

Yusuf Arakkal was born in Kerala. His mother belonged to a royal family, said to be the only Muslim family, descended from the royal family of Chirakkal. His father belonged to the Muslim business family Keyees, famous in Calicut and Thalassery.

Young Arakkal was looked after well at his family home, but ran away as a teenager to Bangalore, driven by a desire to live life on his own terms, in the streets and alleys of the city, and to learn painting.

Young Arakkal studied at the Chitrakala Parishath, Bangalore. The linework was always strong, as in this portrait. He was fond of drawing, and he knew the strength of lines.

It was probably due to the influence of his early years', that several of his works showed the urban poor, the social outcasts and the alienated.

Hope, Screenprint by Yusuf Arakkal

There was an air of despondency hanging in the air, even in the fine art-print he called 'Hope'. This print was created for the project 'Break the silence' by Art-for-humanity, an HIV-AIDS initiative.

An untitled oil-on-canvas by Arakkal

Like the surroundings of his teenage areas, the walls and backgrounds in Arakkal's paintings often reminded us of peeling plaster, dirty cracking walls, and old, often dirty, make shift belongings.

They told a story.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

The face of war

Andre Breton was one of the original group of Surrealists who introduced the ideas of automatism and intuitive art making. He championed the cause of "found objects", mixed media, collages and chace associations. He also championed the use of art as anti-war statements.

The Surrealist movement gave rise to several pieces of work like Salvador Dali's 'Retrospective bust of a woman' (1933). A baguette crowns the head of the woman. Cobs of corn dangle on both sides of her face. Ants swarm along her face, as if gathering the crumbs.
On top of all, is balanced an ink-well with a praying couple.

The movement also gave rise to the use of non-conventional materials in art and sculpture, like the wax sculpture by Edgar Degas, 'Little dancer of fourteen years' (1881), dressed in a real tutu skirt, a bodice, a wig of real hair, and with real ballet slippers. 28 bronze repetitions of the sculpture have been made since then by major museums around the world, for exhibition purposes.

A recent sculpture using 'found objects', by 33 year old artist, entitled "The face of war" has captured the imagination of critics, fellow artists and art lovers around the world.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is the face of war in the 2-metre high portrait created by Ukrainian artist Daria Marchenko. The portrait has been made using 5000 bullet cartridges brought in from the frontline in eastern Ukraine. The first few shells were sent to Daria by her boyfriend, a member of the Euromaidan movement that worked against the corrupt and unpopular government of Viktor Yanukovych.

Now many of Daria's friends fighting across Ukraine send her bombs, grenades, shells and other war materials that they find, for use in her future compositions.

For Daria, each shell is the face of war, symbolising some one wounded or killed. She uses a hand-held light to cast interesting, elongated shadows across the portrait. Sometimes the shadows throw deep shadows around Putin's eyes, making them more sinister; at times, they make the face angular, more energetic and aggressive; and sometimes the shadows make the mouth more cruel.

The portrait has eight kinds of cartridges, some corroded and copper coloured, some quite new and glistening gold. As people look at the changing expressions of Putin's portrait in the moving light- sometimes proud, at times contemplative, they have their own thoughts about the nearly 7,000 people killed so far in the Ukraine conflict.

The portrait is a dominating presence in Daria's studio.

"Sleeping in the same room with him was a bit scary at first," said Daria in a recent interview, "But I got used to it."