Literature sparked his interest in art

Literature sparked his interest in art

I started my career as a civil servant, and I resigned after two and a half years. It was not for me,” says Brijinder Nath Goswamy, a celebrated art historian and critic. Goswamy recently gave a talk at the National Gallery of Modern Art on ‘Vishnusahasranama: A Thousand Names – The Indian Painters’ vision of Vishnu’, hosted by the Mahua Art Foundation. Metrolife caught up with the Padma Bhushan laureate for a candid conversation.

About your inclination towards art...

I won’t say the art that I write about these days but essentially in literature and history. I was a student of history, and I wanted to do something in that area. My friends presented me with this book and a particular chapter -the religious background of the paintings attracted me. I started to dig deeper into the subject; on social background and other areas, and that’s how I got committed to art.

What is the idea behind ‘Vishnusahasranama’?

It is not really the Vishnusaharanama per se. The God’s various aspects and qualities are explored, and it is interesting to see how a painter could handle such a theme. It is a visual and intellectual challenge.

Do you also follow modern art?

I am aware of it. I have also written a few essays; not an illiterate in it. But I am mostly concerned with the traditional pre-modern art of India and that because it is undervalued. It is a rich and layered art which most of us don’t see. I am anxious to see the honour due to traditional art is given to it.

Is appreciation for traditional art declining?

It is now catching up. There is a thought process; it is not just a visual. I know a number of contemporary art-collectors who want to learn about it. And there are also some artists turning to this form of art.

What are you working on, currently?

Sitting in Bengaluru, it is nice for me to say I am working on a South Indian manuscript from Mysore. It is about the Bhagavata Purana, produced under a Wadiyar ruler in the second-quarter of the 19th century. It is painted magnificently. It is in the San Diego museum. I always had an eye on that manuscript and wanted them to publish it. I have just finished writing on those and it is going to be a book, which will be out early next year.

Have you tried your hand at painting?

No, I haven’t. I recognise my limits.

Your advice to those who want to pursue art.

Whichever area you enter, seize it; occupy it. Identify the area that draws you to itself. No cursory superficial interest will help you grow.

Other interests

Goswamy’s interests include Urdu poetry and classical music. Singer Kumar Gandharva is his favourite musician. If not art history, he would have pursued literature.

First book

‘Nainukh of Guler: Great Indian Painter from a Small Hill-State’ by Goswamy in 1997 is the first book written on an individual painter of the past. He also wrote another book on a painter, titled ‘Manaku of Guler:The Life and Work of Another Great Indian Painter from a Small Hill State’. He wants to break the anonymity of Indian painters.

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