4 “Blue” Chip Works of Art

In our forthcoming Evening Sale, four renowned Modernists explore the potential of the colour blue—each envisioning an imagined, real or metaphorical landscape—in their own unique way.

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Retracing Ribeiro

Guest contributor Ananya Mukhopadhyay reviews Indian modernist Lancelot Ribeiro’s London exhibition

An exhibition at the Burgh House & Hampstead Museum in London marks the beginning of a year-long programme of events to explore and celebrate the work of the late Indian painter Lancelot Ribeiro. As part of the 2017 UK-India Year of Culture, Retracing Ribeiro is a Heritage Lottery-funded project which will examine the artist’s vibrant and often understudied oeuvre through a series of exhibitions and talks.

Having first travelled to the UK in 1950 to study accounting, Ribeiro quickly became disenchanted with both the London weather and his chosen vocation. While living in London Ribeiro acted as studio assistant to his half-brother, Francis Newton Souza, and also started to create his own works. He eventually abandoned his accountancy course and enrolled in St. Martin’s School of Art. Shortly after his graduation however, the artist was required to leave London for his National Service in the Royal Air Force, somewhat interrupting his artistic development. Following his discharge, Ribeiro returned to India and held several successful solo exhibitions before returning to England in mid-1962.

untitled-blue-and-green-landscape-1961Untitled (Blue and Green Landscape), 1961
Image courtesy Grosvenor Gallery

Renowned gallerist Nicholas Treadwell was to be a great champion of the Indian artists who had settled in post-war London, selling their work door-to-door from his furniture van-cum-gallery space. As part of Asian Art in London 2016, Treadwell gave a talk at the British Museum recalling his dealings with Ribeiro and contemporaries Bakre and Souza as he trundled up and down the country in his mobile gallery. All three artists featured in Grosvenor Gallery’s show Indian Modernist Landscapes 1950-1970: Bakre, Ribeiro, Souza, on view 3 – 12 November at 32 St. James’s Street, London.

rib-untitled-white-landscape-1964Untitled (Red Landscape with Dome), 1966
Image courtesy Grosvenor Gallery

Retracing Ribeiro is a chance to experience the extraordinary range of painterly styles practiced by the late modernist, from rare, naturalistic watercolours of Hampstead Heath, to expressionistic Goan landscapes punctuated with the spires and domes of his childhood. The artist’s pioneering use of PVA mixed with fabric dyes in the early 1960s presaged the widespread uptake of acrylic paints in the years that followed, a feat with which Ribeiro is rarely credited. His careful oil compositions have equally received little attention, in spite of their enduring vibrancy and strength of expression.

The Retracing Ribeiro exhibition will be on view at Burgh House & Hampstead Museum until 19 March 2017, while a heritage display from the Ribeiro archive will be on show at the Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre from 6 February 2017 – 31 March 2017. Forthcoming events include talks by David Buckman, author of Lancelot Ribeiro: An Artist in India and Europe, and an evening of lectures and music at the Victoria & Albert Museum early next year. For more information and a full calendar of events, visit www.lanceribeiro.co.uk/news.htm.

In Memoriam: S H Raza

raza

S H Raza (1922 – 2016)

“My attempt is to create an art which goes beyond time and place.”
—Syed Haider Raza (22 February 1922 – 23 July 2016)

S H Raza, one of India’s leading Modernists, passed away on 23 July 2016 at the age of 94.

Raza was, like his beloved Bindu, a vibrant and essential part of modern art in India. A founding member of the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group, he redefined the notion of Modernism with his deeply spiritual and intellectual quest for artistic expression.

Haut de Cagnes 1951

S H Raza, Haut De Cagnes, 1951

Le Village 1956

S H Raza, Le Village, 1956

In his formative years, Raza painted landscapes and cityscapes, influenced by his time in France. Frequent visits to India drew him to the vibrant colours of Rajasthan and the forests of his childhood in Madhya Pradesh, both of which he transformed onto his canvases in the form of gestural abstraction.

Untitled 1971

S H Raza, Untitled, 1971

Oasis 1975

S H Raza, Oasis, 1975

In the 1970s, Raza changed direction to focus on purely geometric forms, symbolizing myriad aspects of Hindu philosophy. Crucial to these metaphysical paintings was the recurring Bindu – the seed from which all life forms emerge. For Raza, the act of painting itself was a meditative experience, and spirituality was always the core of his art.

Encountre 1985

S H Raza, Encountre, 1985

Surya Namaskar 1993

S H Raza, Surya-Namaskar, 1993

Saffronart joins the extended art community in mourning the loss of the master. For more tributes, please see:

Bose Krishnamachari, Times of India: “He understood colour, darkness, light, line, thinness and thickness of layers. He was friends with poets, writers and youngsters and admired by everyone. He led a life of precision.”

Krishen Khanna, Hindustan Times: “One cannot pedal on one pedal for your entire life… Raza always kept reinventing. Every painting he created was a breath of fresh air.”

Ashok Vajpeyi, ET Panache: “Along with his contemporaries, Raza created an alternative spiritual modernism, not built of dissonance or tension but consonance and harmony… In the end, for Raza, the distance between life and work had disappeared. He lived to paint and he painted so he could live on.”

Horizon 1979

S H Raza, Horizon, 1979

An Evening with Krishen Khanna

Vidhita Raina reports on Krishen Khanna’s lecture on “The Progressives” at London’s Courtauld Institute

Krishen Khanna (centre), Prof. Deborah Swallow (right) and Zehra Jumabhoy (left). Credits: Grosvenor Gallery, London.

Krishen Khanna (centre), Prof. Deborah Swallow (right) and Zehra Jumabhoy (left). Credits: Grosvenor Gallery, London.

“Is the artist only interested in being a unique individual? If I had considered my work to be unique, then I would have continued trying to be unique… and that is not what art is about,” said Krishen Khanna at a talk held at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London on June 8, 2015. This sagacious insight into his artistic motivations was one of the many gemstones that Khanna—a leading Indian Modernist painter—showered upon a rapt audience, eager in attendance to witness one of the stalwarts of Indian art reminiscing about its heydays.

With Deborah Swallow and Zehra Jumabhoy from the Courtauld Institute, and Conor Macklin from Grosvenor Gallery also on the panel, this debate was conducted as part of the “Contemporaneity in South Asian Art” seminar series.

The symposium was full of anecdotes as Khanna brought out his personal archive of letters exchanged between him and his many associates. Khanna’s nostalgic stories about his Bombay Progressive peers were unequivocally the highlights; particularly those involving his erstwhile roommate and one of the most celebrated Indian artists, the late Maqbool Fida Husain. It is common knowledge that Husain introduced Khanna into the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group (or “PAG”, as they were generally called). But the evening revealed one more nugget of information—Husain, during one of his visits to Khanna’s then home in Churchgate, Mumbai, borrowed his copy of the English art critic Clive Bell’s 1914 seminal text Art, only to eventually lose it. This incident, according to Khanna, was a result of “certain forces which operate at the right time”.

Khanna’s association with the PAG, which was formed right on the heels of India’s independence in 1947, led to several accomplishments in his trajectory as an artist. He held major exhibitions in Mumbai and New Delhi in the late ’50s. The Tata Institute of Fundamental Research showed great interest in his work, and its founding director—the esteemed nuclear physicist Dr. Homi Bhabha—bought his very first painting. In 1960, Khanna had his first solo show with Leicester Galleries of London. Here Khanna drew upon a letter written by renowned British art historian, Sir Kenneth Clark, gloriously calling one of his major abstract artworks a “masterpiece”.

Khanna spoke at length about Francis Newton Souza’s role as the driving force behind the PAG, including calling the group as “Progressives”. However, the term was subsequently dropped as many of its members—which also included artists like S.H. Raza, Akbar Padamsee, Tyeb Mehta, V.S. Gaitonde, Ram Kumar, K.H. Ara, among others—felt that it had political connotations. It was a suggestion that rankled with Khanna, as the PAG never saw itself as a political group.

But even as the PAG was beginning to emerge as a new wave of artists in post-independent India unfettered by their political climate—and dissociating themselves from the nationalist spirit of the preceding Bengal School artists in the process—their art, Khanna’s in particular, couldn’t avoid resonating with social, economic and political undertones of a changing nation state.

Born in the city of Lyallpur (now Faisalabad of modern day Pakistan) in 1925, Khanna was, and is, no stranger to political turmoil. Following the Partition of India in 1947, his family moved to Shimla in northern India. Khanna himself accepted a job at Grindlays Bank in Bombay, a position he would hold for 14 years, before finally resigning to focus on his art completely.

Krishen Khanna on the 'Progressives' at the Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre, The Courtauld Institute of Art. Credits: Grosvenor Gallery, London.

Krishen Khanna on the ‘Progressives’ at the Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre, The Courtauld Institute of Art. Credits: Grosvenor Gallery, London.

A self-taught artist, Khanna created works that showed a strong preoccupation with the historical background of his time. For him, the humanistic element in a painting was a paramount. Khanna was deeply concerned with the condition of the individual. It’s an artistic anxiety highly evident in his paintings of tired workers piled in trucks, dhaba owners in twilight moments, and the uniformed “bandwallas”—the last vestiges of long-dead British imperial legacy. In her biography Krishen Khanna: The Embrace of Love, critic Gayatri Sinha has said: “the paintings constitute a powerful psychological engagement, one that also serves as a document of the passage of time in modern India.”

Another aspect of the debate, raised by Conor Macklin and Zehra Jumabhoy, was India’s relationship with Britain, and the impact of the European Avant-garde Movement on the PAG. Just as the modern art of Europe rose from the trenches of the World War I, the trauma resulting from the Partition of India also stimulated a new language of art production in its wake. In an effort to locate a new identity and language for Indian art, many of the modern artists such as Souza, Raza, and Padamsee—having studied or spent time in Paris—inevitably found themselves looking towards Western styles of art.

Khanna himself was a well-travelled and worldly artist: he was the first Indian painter to be awarded the Rockefeller Fellowship by New York’s prestigious Rockefeller Foundation in1962. As part of this fellowship, Khanna spent time in Japan where he found inspiration in the Sumi-e (Suibokuga) calligraphic style of paintings, practiced by Zen Buddhists during the 14th century. This led to a number of experiments in abstraction during the ’60s and ’70s, which Khanna reflected upon as “a series of events which formulate or assist in formulating the kind of action you have to take”. In the following year, he was invited as the artist-in-residence at the American University, Washington D.C., and exhibited at various museums and galleries throughout the United States.

Besides being a riveting trip down memory lane, the symposium was mainly a precursor to Krishen Khanna’s ongoing retrospective at the Grosvenor Gallery titled “when the band began to play he packed up his troubles and marched away”. A certain homage was paid to the presence of the seminar being held at the Kenneth Clark lecture theatre, named after the eponymous art historian and an old associate of the artist.

Khanna’s talk was one for the history books—significant moments during the early Indian Modernist phase were brought up, including when artist Bal Chhabda opened Gallery 59. It was Mumbai’s first, short-lived art gallery to showcase artworks by the PAG members in 1959. The group may be long gone, but they left an undeniable legacy for India and the world to treasure.

On Art, Design and more…A tête-à-tête with Meera Sethi

Josheen Oberoi chats with Meera Sethi about identities, processes and her forthcoming projects

New York:  Meera Sethi is a Toronto based artist of Indian origin. With a graphics design background and an artist’s curiosity.  Meera’s art straddles many worlds; fine art and design, Indian and diaspora. Her work has been featured widely in publications like Vogue India, CNNgo and MTV Desi. Some of her works are now available  on StoryLTD.

Her recent work has tackled complex questions about identity and migration with pictorially vivid imagery. She makes these questions accessible through her visual images in ways that allow us viewers to engage and celebrate them. As an admirer of her work, I was very happy to have an opportunity to learn more about her art. In our conversation below, Meera Sethi will trace the contours of her life as an artist and tell us how she creates her vibrant body of work.

Meera Sethi

Meera Sethi

Q: Meera, let’s start with the question of how your engagement with art began.

A: Although art was always my favourite subject growing up, I never planned to be an artist. I entered university interested in cultural studies, anti-colonial and feminist studies. I followed this through by completing a BFA in Art Theory and a Master’s in Interdisciplinary (Cultural) Studies. However, during my entire academic education, I was quietly working away as a self-taught graphic designer, accepting occasional freelance design projects.

Little did I realize at the time that it was the making of imagery, as opposed to its study, that would emerge as my passion. After graduate school, I went from working as an arts researcher, to being employed as a graphic designer, to eventually working full-time for myself as a freelance designer and now a visual artist. My life as a professional artist began unexpectedly after I spontaneously embarked on what was to become my first and most influential series – Firangi Rang Barangi – in the evenings after returning home from my 9-5 day job. What I saw surprised me: I had a natural inclination to combine colour with form.

Q: Where do you feel you are, as an artist, and what has brought you here?  

Meera Sethi in the studio

Meera Sethi in the studio

A: It’s certainly been a journey. Now, when I look back at some of my earliest drawings and sketches, I see an interest in portraiture and depicting clothing. In fact, the only surviving artwork I have from when I was a child is a self-portrait done at age 5, in which I have attempted with much detail to convey the texture, colour and pattern of my plaid dress. When I rediscovered this drawing, I was shocked to see the similarity in my choice of subject 30 years on! Today, I find myself drawn to the cultural, political and spiritual lives of diasporic South Asians and the hybridity of our identities as expressed

 

Meera Sethi, Self-Portrait, Age 5

Meera Sethi, Self-Portrait, Age 5

Q: That is an interesting point because your work appears to function at the intersections of art and design to a great extent. Could you tell us about your approach and process?

A: I tend to look at things through the lens of design. What I mean by this is that I look at work for its aesthetic appeal and function before I enter the deeper meaning it conveys. I tend to use this approach in the making of my own work where I am as much concerned with the beauty and the function as I am with the story it is telling. I think this comes from my long history as a graphic designer who never fully fit into the art world. Not to discredit the important conversations happening within artistic communities, but I would still rather pick up a Creative Review or Eye than an ArtReview or Frieze. At the same time, I make art, not design. My work is not solving a problem or responding to a client brief. There is of course sometimes a fine line between the two disciplines. I am most comfortable on this edge. My research for new projects increasingly involves a combination of reading popular and academic articles, looking at art, design and craft sources, and meditating.

"Intersections" in progress

“Intersections” in progress

Q: You have also worked with large scale formats like murals. Please tell us about the work.

A: In late 2013, I completed my first large-scale public outdoor mural. It is a massive 44 feet x 39 feet wall-painting called “Intersections” that commemorates the cultural, social and political intersections made by LGBTQ South Asian communities in Canada. It’s a giant celebration of our organizing and partying, our identities, diversity and presence. The mural itself references Rabari mirrorwork from Rajasthan as a symbol of the unifying power of incredibly diverse South Asian textile traditions.

"Intersections" in progress

“Intersections” in progress

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Intersections, Church Street Mural

Intersections, Church Street Mural

Studio

Studio

Q: Along with the large scale format, you actively work with prints and creating two different scales of the same visual images. Could you speak to that choice a little bit?

A: Much of my work is quite large in format, making the work difficult to transport and higher in cost. At the same time, the quality of line, colour and form in my work is quite even and sharp, so it translates well into a print medium. I like to make high quality, limited edition small-size prints available of some pieces as a matter of accessibility. In my mind, a simple but important intention is to have my work inspire the hearts and lives of others. To have my art seen by multiple people in daily life is one way to do this. Perhaps, indebted again to design, before making work, I often imagine it in someone’s home, where it makes a small but consistent impact on everyday life decisions by inviting a sense of beauty and joy.

Q: Tell us what comes next. Are you working on new projects?

A: I am in the process of working on three different projects. The most immediate is a new series of acrylic paintings on canvas called “On the Margins of the Divine” that look to Mughal miniature albums as a starting point. Next, is an international, collaborative performance art piece called “Unstitched” that takes a sari and creates a line of community and continuity among 108 people. And lastly, a two-part photography and mixed-media painting project called “Upping the Aunty” that celebrates our elders and their fabulousness!

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