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Ganesh Haloi  

Calcutta , as the nerve center of Britain 's Indian `empire', became also the central hub of artistic activity in modernizing India . It was to this city inevitably that urban artists migrated, when the courtly ateliers of the Northern states were gradually disbanded. Migrant rural artists also came in and learnt the new techniques for painting in oils. And groups of rural artisans drifted in, in search of employment. Those of them having skills to contribute to the new 'industry' of printing designs and images were hired by survey offices. There was space for all.

Kalighat Pat
The most significant body of paintings and drawings that evolved at this time, in the first half of the 19th Century, was the `Kalighat Pat'. These works were made by 'patuas' - closely knit migrant communities of narrative scroll painters - who are thought to have settled around the area where the Kalighat Temple is located. The `art' of the `Kalighat Pat' is proof of the inherent strength and adaptability of Bengal 's vital folk art tradition. It demonstrates the manner in which these folk artists responded to the challenges of change precipitated by colonialism, and adjusted their work culture to a radically changing environment, to create a new and vibrant art form. That it finally languished was due to the competitive onslaught of the newiy emerging printing processes -lithography, oleography and block printed Bazaar pictures; and to the fact that folk art - as a "supra-individual" artistic convention - could not survive the era of the individual artist.


Kalighat Pat(1890)
‘Cat with fish in its mouth'


These `pats' were episodic paintings and drawings, distinguished by their typical style in the tradition of the Bengal folk `pat', having the same bright colors, strong lines and simplified forms, animated with the same rhythm - but touched inevitably with western influences. Western influences emerge not only in the modification of traditional techniques, but also in the urban perspective of the content.

For instance, the newly introduced brush-applied water color replaced natural pigments, and this enabled some shading in the western manner to create volume. The background too was left uncharacteristically unornamented, which saved time, but also allowed the image to stand out. Content acquired a greater, more immediate social significance; diversifying into subjects as secular and various as the iifestyles of the Europeans in the city, hunting scenes, the lives of the Bengali nouveau riche and other characteristics and appurtenances of contemporary urban culture. Often they were sardonic comments on the contemporary scene - particularly in their caustic but witty assessments of the Bengali `baboo's' lifestyle.


Kalighat Pat(1870)
‘Bengali Baboo'


Next to enter the arena were the art college trained `gentlemen artists' schooled in the formal `mimetic' traditions of European academism. Whatever the subject matter - even images asserting cultural nationalism - it was expressed in the various formalities of 'genre' and media arbitrated by British art tradition, often resulting in lifeless, occasionally pompous representation.

It was this learnt technology, alien to the Indian ethos that was rejected by Abanindranath's Bengal School , of which we have already spoken.

Three other Bengal artists of that period stand apart on that moving territory between Indian tradition and Westem 'modemism'.

The first of these was Rabindranath Tagore, better known for his groundbreaking literary works. He was in the vivid individuality of his conception and creative style - though he postulated no artistic credo - India 's first `modem' painter. In art, as in literature, Tagore's `world view' rejects confinement within narrow definitions. K.G. Subramanyan refers to his ‘spontaneity and personal authenticity' which 'gave us our individuality ...and a new sense of freedom.'


Rabindranath Tagore
(Figure / “Untitled')


Outside the Bengal School , there was Jamini Ranjan Roy, a celebrated name in Indian art, who rejected the Bengal School 's self-identification with an elitist past, and found his inspiration in village Bengal and the urbanized folk styles of the `Kalighat Pat' and the Bat-taia prints of 19 th Century Calcutta . His work however is not - despite its traditional roots - folk art. His style is immediately identifiable, by its 'modemist' emphasis on personalized representation of traditional folk themes, and its concern with the plastic elements of form and pure color.


Jamini Roy


The third artist, Ramkinkar Baij, though trained at Shantiniketan by the Bengal School 's celebrated Nandalal Bose, stood outside any 'movement'. His modernism was defined by his emotional, highly personal response to his rugged rural environment. The components of his pictorial style - containing the first elements of true abstraction in Indian art, and a sense of living movement at variance with the static presentation of traditional art forms - more closely resemble the personalized manipulation of plastic elements in modern Western art.


Ramkinkar Baij ‘Maternity' (1940)
oil on canvas


Finally, when in 1905 the Jubilee Art Academy was established by Ranada Prasad Gupta, a student of the Govt. Art College disenchanted by efforts to indianize the curriculum, a rival art camp was formed. This small circle of artists comprising Hemen Majumdar, Atul Bose, Satish Sinha Roy and others, espoused and continued to follow the discarded academic traditions of Western art. Though derided by their contemporaries, their works are much esteemed today_ Hemen Majumdar's 'wet sari' semi-nudes for instance radiate a warm sensuousness that gives them an appeal transcending the formality of mechanical representation.


Hemen Majumdar


The most cohesively radical change in the art scene of Bengal started to take place however in the early forties of the last century, when all of India was ravaged by violent social upheavals - war, famine and widespread political and sectarian violence. The wounds of this period were incisively etched in the drawings of Zainul Abedin, the linocuts of Chittaprasad and most obsessively in the woodcuts and all the following works of Somenath Hore. !n various media. and with continuously renewing experimentation, Hore continued in a truly modern manner to give fresh expression to his experiential vision.


Somenath Hore Wood cut


The same socio-cultural factors led to the birth of 'the Calcutta Group' - formed in 1943 with founder artists like Rathin Maitra, Paritosh Sen , Sunil Madhav Sen, Gopal Ghosh, Subho Tagore, Nirode Majumdar and Prodosh Dasgupta in their number. The next decade was in fact dominated by the vitality and variety of the artists of the Calcutta Group, who started evolving their own distinctive idioms, styles and perspectives.

The `Calcutta Painters' emerged later, with dynamic young talents like Nikhil Biswas , Bijon Chowdhury and Prakash Karmakar as three of its founder members. Their works reflect in their distortion of lines and visualization, their profound involvement in the social and psychological tensions of the time. Among the Calcutta Painters the works of Jogen Chowdhury , Rabin Mandal, Gopal Sanyal and others also reflect the artist's deep emotional engagement with his environmental reality.


Rabin Mandal


Then in 1960, the `Society of Contemporary Artists' was formed in Calcutta . The luminous names of the following two decades, Amitabh Banerjee, Bikash Bhattacharjee, Dharmanarayan Dasgupta, Ganesh Haloi, Ganesh Pyne, Lalu Prasad Shaw, Manu Parekh, Sanat Kar , Somenath Hore, Sunil Das , Suhas Roy, Shyamal Dutta Ray, and others who formed or became later a part of this group, produced works which were their own deeply personalized interpretations of contemporary reality. The form of their self expression crystallized in a diversity of themes, techniques and idioms. In art they avoided sorting out problems by emulating any stylistic brands whether western or indigenous, contemporary or traditional, just as in life they found no easy way out by embracing a single track political ideology . Their urge for a contemporary mode of self expression came primarily from a compulsive need to say in art what affected them most in the contemporary realities of their immediate perception.


Dharmanarayan Dasgupta


The period also saw a gradual distancing of art from an assertive Indian identity. Moreover artists pursued their vocation with more meticulous attention to craft, experimentation and technical perfection. Yet there was virtually no market for art in Calcutta. No single artist, and this was particularly true for the young talents, had the monetary resources to hold solo exhibitions in Calcutta, let alone travel to the better organized art markets of Bombay or Delhi. However difficult their personal circumstances, they nevertheless improvised ways to survive. The proliferation of art groups at this time was one such way, enabling artists to pool resources to show their work. Another interesting feature of this time was the tendency of some artists to paint on both sides of the canvas to save on material.

Some artists traveled abroad to absorb the Western art influences. A few Bengal artists like Arun Bose and Shakti Burman even chose to settle in Paris and New York while retaining their connection to the Bengal art scene through regular shows.


K.G Subramanyan


Apart from this there is the legendary senior artist from Shantiniketan, K.G. Subramanyan – who was in the early faculty of the Baroda School as well - whose highly expressive and personalized figurative imagery in paintings and glass paintings have evolved from his dynamically creative juxtaposition of contemporary urban perceptions with popular and folk traditions.

Ramananda Bandhopadhay, whose work is a vibrant interpretation of the Bengal School ethos; and from the 70's onwards there has been the vigorous socially conscious expressionism of artists like Sajal Roy and Shuvaprasanna


Sajal Roy


The eighties onwards has seen an artistic renascence, and the emergence of an increasing number of powerful styles and statements, from artists whose works continue to exhibit a growing diversity of expression and content. Many such as Aditya Basak, Ashok Bhowmick, Ashok Mullick, Manoj Dutta , Manoj Mitra. Pradip Maitra, Ramlal Dhar, Sadhan Chakrabarty, Shekhar Roy and Tilok Mondol among others tend towards figurative imagery which may embody their personal, social or philosophical perception. To this category also belong Atin Basak, Chandra Bhattacharya, Rajarshi Biswas, Sanatan Dinda, and Sk. Sahajahan of the late nineties and early 21st Century.


Sk. Sahajahan
‘Universal Rules (2005)


Others, such as Chitravanu Majumdar, Sudhangsu Bandopadhyaya, the Kabasi brothers, Chhatrapati Dutta and Arindam Chatterjee, have with creative variations, mixed figurative with abstract art.

A large number are creating figurative images that make no statement other than conveying a profoundly personal mood, whose `meaning` is internalized within the vocabulary of line, space, colour, design and texture. Representing this trend. are artists such as Paresh Maity , Jaya Ganguly, Gautam Basu , Chanchal Mukherjee, Jayashree 8urman and Jayashree Chakravorty.
Still others have evolved and continue to evolve, from one perception into another. This restless search for ever newer possibilities of personal and artistic growth is what ultimately defines the perspective of an original artist.

In other sections we shall trace briefly the evolution of innovative trends and concepts as they developed and transformed in the work of representative contemporary Indian artists. While Bengal will remain our focus, we shall also give brief sketches of eminent artists and art trends in other areas of the country.


Contemporary Indian Art: Historical Overview
Contemporary Art Movements in India
Contemporary Indian Art Prints
Contemporary Art in Calcutta & Bengal


Divider line - Online art gallery and art exhibitions of works
Anindita Saha
Anup Giri
Anusuya Majumder
Arjun Bhattacharya
Arunangshu Roy
Bhaskar Bhattacharjee
Chhatrapati Datta
Debashis Chakraborty
Debabrata Chakrabarti
Debabrata Sarkar
Dibyangshu Dasgupta
Dipti Chakrabarti
Gautam Basu
Gora Chand Bera
Jogen Chowdhury
Joydip Bannerjee
Malay Chandan Saha
Malay Saha
Manash Biswas
Manoj Dutta
Mona Ghosh
Munindra Rajbongshi
Nikhil Biswas
Parag Adhikari
Paresh Maity
Paritosh Sen
Pradip Bhowmick
Pradip Das
Partha Pratim Ghosh
Pradip Rakshit
Prokash Karmakar
Ranadip Mukherjee
Reba Hore
Sajal Roy
Sanat Kar
Shipra Bhattacharya
Sipra Dattagupta
Sk. Sahajahan
Sovon Das
Subhra Chatterjee
Sunil Das
Sunil Madhav Sen
Surajit Chakraborty
Swapan Kumar Das
Swapan Palley
Wasim Kapoor
ContemporaryArt India
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