Kanika Pruthi delves into the world of paper works in anticipation of Saffronart’s upcoming auction of Works on Paper
New York: March is a bustling time for us at Saffronart as we gear towards two auctions this month. Our upcoming Works on Paper sale will feature a collection of artworks on paper by modern and contemporary Indian artists. The focus on paper works enables connoisseurs and collectors to view a group of works in multiple contexts, which may otherwise elude their attention or take a back seat given the simplicity of the medium.
The use of paper in the arts of India has a long documented history. Paper came to India from China via the famed Silk Route. Indian miniature tradition is the only available surviving evidence of the widespread use of this material in the arts from the sub-continent. The humble medium went on to become an integral part of the genesis and development of the modern and contemporary Indian art movement. Raja Ravi Varma, considered by many as the first Indian modern painter, developed an artistic style which has come to be associated with beginning of the modernist art movement. His grand canvases adorned with mythological themes and royal portraits played a vital role in shaping early modern Indian visuality. The assimilation of his iconic images in the popular culture of India was possible through the dissemination of his works to a wider audience. This was made possible through the intervention of printing press which reproduced his works as oleographs for mass circulation. The medium of paper made it possible for ordinary people to partake in the modern art movement in an unprecedented manner.
The early 20th century gave rise to the Bengal School of Art, the first revivalist nationalist art movement of India. The artistic enquiry and fervor at the turn of the century gave momentum to other art movements and independent artist initiatives over the proceeding decades, which have come to form the canon of modern Indian art. Art works on paper from different movements and artists abound and provide rich documentation of the trajectory of Indian art. Works in this sale cover the oeuvre of some of the seminal artists and artistic movement of the 20th century in India.
The continued use of paper as a medium of choice can be attributed to its ready availability, ease of usage and adaptability to different techniques and other mediums. As the group of paper works in the upcoming auction demonstrates, paper has lent its surface to ink, tempera, gouache, watercolor, pencil, acrylic, oil, pastel etc. In many cases it is indispensible to the technique employed by the artist, like in the case of lithographs, photography and select mixed media works.
Other than their usage, paper works have often time lent themselves to narrate untold stories and unknown episodes. From the 1950s onwards, many modernist painters travelled to Europe to enhance and expand their practice. Paper works produced during their travels give us a glimpse of their experiences and its impact on their art practice. At other times paper works inform us about the development of certain iconography and themes associated with artists- for example the many erotic drawings, nudes and portraits of F.N. Souza or the fissured bodies of Jogen Chowdhury- both of which are featured in the sale. In many cases the image on paper presents a fragment of a bigger work or a series undertaken by the artist- giving the viewer a chance to closely look at the elements of a work at closer proximity and in isolation from the larger narrative. Lot 85, a work by M.F. Husain brings together a collection of small jottings which bring to mind many of the iconic images that have graced his canvases.
Contemporary artists in recent years have used paper to produce large scale works as well. It is worth noting how the medium is adapted to their particular technique and artistic discourse.One of the larger works in the upcoming auction is Baiju Parthan’s Caput Motum -7, a work teeming with visual tropes, drawing the viewer deeper, eyes wandering in an attempt to decipher the artist’s intention.
Our recent evening sale saw S.H. Raza’s “Haut De Cagnes” setting a record price for a work on paper by an Indian artist. Traditionally seen as a lesser form in the hierarchy of artworks, paper as a genre is claiming its rightful place. Our upcoming sale of Works on Paper further reinforces the significance of this medium and its marked position as an independent collecting category.