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   Bat-tala Print Anupam Sud Paramjit Singh
CONTEMPORARY INDIAN ART PRINTS

No historical overview of the Bengal art scene would be complete without mentioning the region's pioneering role in the evolution of Indian art prints.

Early Indian Prints and engravings in Bengal have no spiritual connection to modern Indian art prints. Nevertheless we shall touch briefly on the subject for its unique historical, topical and cultural interest.

Printing of pictures from blocks began in India at the same time as the printing of books on paper, after the printing press was introduced from the West. The printing press reached Calcutta towards the latter part of the 18 th centurry. But art-in-print or fine prints as a self-expressive art form developed much later.

   
 

Daniells Print                              Solvyns Print

 
     

Several peripatetic professional European artists had settled in Calcutta at this time - including engravers scouting for prospects. Calcutta thus became the center for the publication of the first famous books of prints - few though these numbered. They included Thomas and William Daniell's 'Twelve Views of Calcutta', William Baillie's 'Twelve Views of Calcutta & Fort William', Robert Mabon's `Twenty Sketches Illustrative of Oriental Manners and Customs' and Frans Baltasar Solvyn's `A Collection of 250 Colored Etchings descriptive of “Manners, Customs and Dresses of the Hindoos'. Local artisans must have collaborated in the processes of engraving and printing – though some print makers disclaimed this; otherwise printing presses could not have multiplied as swiftly as they did in the `Black Town' where the `natives' lived.

The early relief printed pictures by Indians in the first half of the 19th Century were all textual illustrations, made mainly with wood or metal engravings or sometimes lithographs. The printing, stocking and selling of these publishing outfits being located in the 'Bat-tala' area of North Calcutta , these prints came to be known as ‘Bat-tala' prints. They were low-priced, cheaply produced books printed in bulk on coarse paper. From this eventually evolved the famous Battala wood block print in the second half of the 19th century.

Innovations first evolved in theme and design. The Bat-tala engravers started handling other assignments such as the cutting of large letters for billboards and posters, designs for advertisements, labels for various commodities, etc, with a wide range of flourishes and thematic variations – even including, in a cosmopolitan spirit, portraits of Nelson and Napolean on biri' packets.

   
 

Kalighat               Battala

 
     

The woodblock prints that developed from this are in a sense a variation of the Kalighat paintings -belonging technologically to the age of printing, but spiritually to the style of the Kalighat Pat, in subject, imagery and other elements.They were triggered by economics.

The enormous pressure faced by the traditional ‘patuas', who themselves took very occasional recourse to lithography to cope with increasing demand. The woodblock prints developed in ‘Bat-tala' – in a competitive spirit – therefore had an excellent market. Unashamed copying of Kalighat's secular pictures, satirical pointers, and comtemporary themes gave these prints a distinctively modern feel, and ensured their wide circulation. The difference was that while the Kalighat ‘patuas' can be classified in the category of the ‘true artist', the ‘Bat-tala' engravers were craftsmen.

Another genre of print also developed from this area. Ramdhan Swarnakar's “Shri Shri Bindubasini” and other similar themes conceptualize the deities innovatively, with Europeanised images of winged angels, unicorns, armed sepoys, etc, in a more sophisticated, contemporary allegorical context.

Both the Bat-tala and later Kalighat died later a natural death in a market burgeoning with newer, more competitive technologies and marketing processes. None of the various schools and styles of print that flooded markets in Calcutta and elsewhere thereafter, left any impress on the map of Fine Arts in India , though “calender art” and the popular “Ravi Varma” style of litho prints that developed after Calcutta , in the Bombay-Poona region of Western India, daily beseige the shelves of our popular culture.

Contemporary Indian Art Prints originated in the efforts of 20th Century Indian artists to develop and refine print-making into an independent medium of artistic expression. The father of modern lndian prints is generally acknowledged to be Bengal artist Somenath Hore, who worked and experimented widely with the medium after receiving preliminary guidance from another reputed artist, Krishna Reddy – who had in turn been initiated into the basic processes while working in the studio of master print-maker William Hayter.

   
 

Somenath Hore engraving

 
     

The Indian art market is far less open to Graphics as an art form than more discerning Western markets. Yet, there are textures and visuals that can be produced through different processes like lithographs, etchings, monoprints and woodcuts, which would not be possible in paintings or drawings.

Veteran Bengal artist Paritosh Sen says, "You cannot be a good print maker if you are not a good ­painter." And many in fact of today's famous Indian painters are also eminently creative printmakers who are responsible for the proliferation of print-making into diverse techniques mediums and technologies, and the growing demand for prints in the current market.

These include, senior masters like Amitabha Banerjee, Lalu Prasad Shaw, Laxma Gaud, Paramjit Singh, Sanat Kar; and more recent artist-print-masters like Swapan Kr. Das, Anupam Sud, Shukla Sen Poddar and Anita Chakravarty.

Each has added an additional dimension to the art. Sanat Kar for instance pioneered wood intaglio, cardboard intaglio and sun mica engravings. And Swapan Das leads the international coterie of print-makers in the multiplicity of colour gradations that can be introduced into a single linocut – upto 130 in his case.

   
 

Swapan Das Linocut                               Sanat Kar print

 
     

Few people though know the difference between a commercial and an original print. Though prints are cheaper than paintings, they are exclusive art forms in their own right, made in limited editions and bearing the artist's signature. Printmakers must abide by the rules passed by the international convention of printmakers, by which the number of editions made from each plate is limited, and the matrix is thereafter broken or cancelled by slashing through with a diagonal line. In fact, most artists take a proof of the cancelled palte to establish their adherence to the rules.

And making prints by any process is an arduous descipline. In India , unlike the West, there are no professional printers who ‘finish' an etching; the entire process is executed by the artist himself. Acid fumes and physically stressful work conditions often cause older printmakers to opt out.

To sum up, every genre of the non-performing visual arts – whether painting, sculpture, or print – in modern India , is gradually and confidently coming of age. The point of departure for the original artist in any medium is no longer the subject matter. The concern is to create abstract values and an art object which is “an addition to reality, or is itself a new reality”.

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

 

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Arunangshu Roy
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Debashis Chakraborty
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Dipti Chakrabarti
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Joydip Bannerjee
Malay Chandan Saha
Malay Saha
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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
Shuvaprasanna
Sipra Dattagupta
Sk. Sahajahan
Sovon Das
Subhra Chatterjee
Sunil Das
Sunil Madhav Sen
Surajit Chakraborty
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Swapan Palley
Wasim Kapoor
 
 
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