Art review

Art review

Passionate innocence

It is fortunate that the NGMA has paid homage to Rumale Chennabasaviah, the now slightly forgotten but important modern artist of the city by marking his birth centenary with a retrospective exhibition “Varna Mythri” curated by K.S. Srinivasa Murthy (December  18 to January 31).

Considering his work, along with the work of some of his contemporaries, from the all India perspective of that time and from the current cutting-edge phenomena locally, one does realise how belated were the state’s beginnings towards the new. Nonetheless, the sheer passion and innocence of his effort, also his persistence in finding his own way amid the conditioning and inspirations, holds a sincere, precious and potent spirit.

Innocence, indeed, is a quality that strikes here both in its aspect of naivety and of purity or honesty to himself. It reflects equally in Rumale’s life story of idealism dedicated to the Freedom Movement, social activism and religion as a spiritual quest and in his art pursued in the manner of a true amateur who with empathy and respect immerses himself emotionally in the beauty of the immediate.

Rumale (1910-1988) can be called self-taught, since his education was provincially academic and his art discontinued for three decades to be individually resumed afresh only in the early ‘60s through a constant oscillation between different stylistic sources and a cogent, even touching personal language. Thus, the oldest idiomatic layer can be seen in the portraits depicting people dear to the painter whose realism has the literal accuracy and formal poses ingrained in the colonial-day school curriculum, this however occasionally lightening under sensitivity and moving.

More than the sporadic and not entirely resolved venture into portraiture influenced by early European Modernism, one tends to appreciate the partly awkward but quite expressive distortions of figures that seem to have occurred spontaneously under deep involvement, like in the images of Rumale’s guru in meditation and sacred ablution.

Rumale, yet, was above all a painter of landscapes and Bangalore’s lush, flowering trees.

His loving, intimate relationship with nature may be intuited through the personal and intense handling of the aesthetic precedents on which he based. The vast sceneries in aquarelle with undulating earth, cumulous sky, vegetation and hills or water may be composed in tune with academic paradigms and hues, but more frequently than not they release a free as well as tangible ethos of the artist’s embracing and uniting with the shapes, colours and rhythms of the organic world.

The best pieces exude a fine balance of spreading calm and forceful dynamism, as the painter, without leaving any parts of the paper uncovered, blends areas of hazy, continuous, dry vibrancy and elements of stronger movement accentuated by separate, superimposing  pigments. The apparent abstracting in the subdued, less detailed instances grasps the inherent permeability of structure and pulse.

The comparatively familiar oils with mighty trees in bloom may look fairly different while brushing in a similar way with strata of individual colours interacting vigorously, forming their own meaty volumes, rich textures and clear-mingling silhouettes, as even a mixed brush leaves individual-connected trails. A debt to Post-Impressionism, especially to Van Gogh, is sometimes too evident with a predilection to patterning or ornate squiggles and the delineation of adjacent buildings or statues obvious.

Still, the pouring of the artist’s soul into the joyful brightness of the animated greenery prevails, best evoked by the wholeness of dynamism and stability, plasticity, colours, surfaces, individual shapes and common matter in Rumale’s last work with dense bushes.

The array of rather wonderful pen drawings complements such images, their minimal, abbreviated strokes just hinting at the core of phenomena.

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