Art Reviews..

Art Reviews..

From the life-matrix

The retrospective exhibition of Ramkinkar Baij (1906-1980) at the National Gallery of Modern Art (June 17 to August 14) is a very rare and important opportunity to experience a vast number of works, sculptures, paintings, drawings and prints, by this early modernist, who along with Benodebehari Mukherjee, has been perhaps the most seminal inspiration locally for contemporary Indian artists.

In particular those handling three dimensions.

Curated by none other than his student at Santiniketan, sculptor K S Radhakrishnan, the show has several good aspects and drawbacks as well. The visitors can feel and appreciate the best of the images only after spending enough time at the venue through the partly insightful but often pedestrian, crowded and even uncomfortable display.

The aim of the exhibition seems to be predominantly didactic rather than being focussed or even enabling a heightened sensation. However, some such instances that are present do offer wonderful moments.

With patience and trust one can follow the curator’s stated objectives, of revealing through Baij’s works his life and times, contextualising them and providing the trajectory from the studio to the collections.

Nevertheless, one would have appreciated what is precious and unique in Baij – his humanism, spirit and identification with the labour and vibrancy of rural people and nature, where spontaneity blends with and helps awareness, while brutal frankness only reveals a great love for life.

That identification came within his acknowledged modest origin and left sympathies, together with immediate contact, which prevented the stylised gap of upper-class distance necessary for most other artists from Amrita Sher-Gil to the diverse Progressives associated with compassion for the underprivileged and the forming of the national image.

The same existential circumstances as well as conscious choices assured the innocence of Baij’s sincerity, openness and honesty thanks to which he avoided any calculation absorbing, rejecting and boldly re-shaping the essentials of the aesthetic sources from around him, admitting, maybe also embracing, some naivety and awkwardness until he reached completely individual and resonant images.
For instance, if certain oil portraits or famine descriptions disappoint, the “Bina” watercolour is masterly.

Thus, a careful spectator will trace the evidence of the sources beginning with Abanindranath Tagore’s romanticism and academic realist depiction to incorporate elements of Santiniketan’s, especially Nandakumar Bose’s, Far Eastern inspirations in brushing and calligraphic linearity, strongly of archaic indigenous statuary, Cezanne, Cubism abstraction and a bit of Socialist Realism.

Besides the clear power with which he involved himself in each case, one can recognise that what Baij appropriated from each was its specific capacity to channel and enhance his own concerns and passions. And so, knowing realistic anatomy served him well to heighten the sense of the raw and the basic in simplified, angular figures of resilient, dignified toiling and distorted yet roughly enchanting fertility.

Santiniketan motifs guided by abstracting and geometrisation let him bring out landscape and corporeal structure, animalistic energy and core dynamism together with the pervasive interdependence of volume, textured surface, depth and air, trails of colour and line too.

Such abilities can be appreciated fully in a few instances when the organisers assembled sufficient works connected with and leading to a major one, like the Yaksha-Yakshi plaster sculptures, the “Harvester” and “Mill Call” or when a great work speaks for itself, as the “Preeti Pandey” bronze bust does.

Unfortunately, the display hardly allows for a powerful sensation, some 350 works being mingled with photographs and videos with distinguished artists speaking about him.

The spectacular and touchingly wild images of Baij could have been shown separately or even outside.

Apart from the sculptures in transparent cases and those on pedestals touching pillars, the most mistaken are the large colour shots of his monumental sculptures mostly in concrete which on the walls become two-dimensional and light.

Printing them in black and white or eliminating the greenery and mounting in boxes away from the walls would have given  a better feel while respecting their free-standing plasticity.

Three conventions

The fanciful title of “Nostalgic Retrospectrum” afforded to the solo exhibition by Dr Nigappa M Angadi at the Rasa Art Gallery (July 8 to 14) hides variants of three rather unconnected conventions all proclaiming a surface-bound regard for local traditions and environment.

Highly mannered heads of ethnic types and lovers follow convoluted linear mannerisms contrasting with the hall full of cute design-based compositions with floral motifs and rectangular planar divisions and with another series of academic sceneries in water colours, their free execution not compensating the conventionality.

Marta Jakimowicz

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