Pooja Savansukha looks at the double role taken on by four leading Indian artists of their time
For many of us, Father’s Day is opportune to express our love and gratitude to our respective fathers. They’re always going out of the way to make us happy. But how about men whose roles have extended beyond their immediate familial duties? We’ve all got fathers who are lawyers, engineers, writers, teachers…the list goes on, and at some level they do assume a double role where their professions seep into their personal lives. Here, I’ve picked four highly influential Indian artists of their time who have expressed their love for their children through art:
Raja Ravi Varma as an expressive father
Most of us would immediately associate Raja Ravi Varma with the birth of a modern visual culture in India. His works reflect a colonial influence of realism, while portraying distinctly Indian subjects. He was the first Indian artist known to use oil paints, to portray mythological characters in human forms and to become famous and influential. Although his beginnings are traced to Kerala, his fame spread far and wide through the oleographs he printed in his own press in Bombay. Some of his most famous works include depictions of scenes from the mythic stories of Nala and Damayanti, and Dushyanta and Shakuntala. Though we recognise Ravi Varma as the Father of Modern art in India, his fatherhood is also literally displayed in his graceful portrayal of his first daughter Mahaprabha Thampuratti, and grand-daughter in his painting, ‘There Comes Papa’. The painting also reveals Ravi Varma’s depiction of his personal life—an aspect that is not often associated with the subjects of his works. Ravi Varma was the father of five children: two sons and three daughters.
Nandalal Bose as his descendants’ student
Nandalal Bose is a renowned artist known for his participation in the Bengal School of Art that arose as an Avant Garde and Nationalist movement in response to the prevailing British Art schools in India. His work is predominantly influenced by nationalist themes, Indian rural life, and Hindu mythology. Most of his paintings are considered to be national treasures and his influence has extended beyond his own time.Along with his paintings, he was also famed for his prints, such as his black and white lino cut of Gandhi during the Dandi March. However, many may not know that his lino cut, and other printmaking techniques were skills that he honed through his own son, Biswarup Bose, who taught print-making at the Kala Bhavan in Santiniketan. Nandalal Bose as a father had not only encouraged his son to pursue art by sending him to study in Japan, but also actively learnt from him. Nandalal Bose also inspired and drew inspiration from his grandson, architect, Supratik Bose. As for Supratik, he once said in an interview: “There’s one funny thing: He had trouble drawing a bicycle rickshaw. He couldn’t figure out how the structure holds the seat on two wheels. I had to draw and show him the triangular structure. So, in a sort of mechanical sense, he wasn’t as good as I was!”
M.F. Husain and his doting nature
Maqbool Fida Husain is one of the most acclaimed Indian artists. He began to earn recognition upon his active participation in the Bombay Progressives Movement that rejected the nationalist traditions of the Bengal Art School. He is known for portraying subjects such as Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, as well as characters from Hindu mythology and symbols from Indian life. His style displays an inspiration from both Indian and Western traditions (particularly Cubism). One of the most distinguishing factors of his artistic achievements is that he is a self-taught artist. Having extremely humble beginnings, he began his career by painting for film hoardings, and later on working at a toy manufacturing factory. As he is more famously known for his paintings, few among you may know that his hand-crafted wooden toys are not only unique and rare to his oeuvre, but they also have a very personal relevance to his life. As theorist Ram Chatterjee expressed, “Making toys has really been an aesthetic adventure for Husain, inspired by the arrival of his first daughter he sat down to create a few things which would please and perhaps amuse her. Fond sentiments of the father combine with the vision of the artist in him to offer the little one a rare reception…” Toy-making that was inspired by his impending fatherhood became yet another testament to Husain’s unique creative process.
Atul Dodiya and his fatherly concerns
Contemporary artist Atul Dodiya is known for creating works that explicitly negotiate between his own personal life, and issues that surround his immediate context, in Mumbai. His 1997 painting ‘Lamentation’ was created in light of the violence in his otherwise peaceful neighbourhood, Ghatkopar in Mumbai, following the demolition of the Babri Masjid. In his painting, one would immediately recognise the figure of Gandhi walking away into the distance that is depicted on one half of the painting. In the other half of the painting, Dodiya portrays an autobiographical element by appropriating an image of his own daughter (who was four at the time) in Picasso’s Cubist style, as if to express his inner-conflict regarding how to raise a child in such a violent setting.
It goes without saying that every father finds a unique way of expressing his love for his child(ren). Perhaps you could relate to some of these sentiments, either as a father or as someone’s child. Love may be expressed differently by everyone, but on some level, the feeling is universal.