Some artists will always appreciate, irrespective of a country’s economic strength. Here’s a list of some such modern masters, as indicated by Kishore Singh, head, exhibition and publication, Delhi Art Gallery
The name MF Husain is synonymous with 20th-century Indian art. Beginning his career painting cinema hoardings, Husain went on to evolve a personal modernist language and soon became known for his association with the Progressive Artists’ Group in Bombay. Often considered the ‘rock star’ of Indian art, Husain was much celebrated and feted as an artist, notwithstanding the controversies his works sometimes courted.
SH Raza is among the few artists of the Progressive Artists’ Group who almost exclusively excluded the human figure in order to build up his aesthetics. Beginning with European-style abstractions in oil, he is known for his intense exploration of the concept of bindu. After living in France for over four decades, Raza returned to India in 2010 and continues to work here.
Often considered the ‘enfant terrible’ of Indian art, FN Souza is known for his distinctive voice and oeuvre, together with the rebellious streak that marked much of his career. Souza found his own blunt and extreme style by combining the expressionism of Rouault and Soutine with the spirit of cubism, and the sculptures of classical Indian tradition. He was known for his combination of fierce lines with cruel humour.
Krishen Khanna studied literature in pre-Partition Lahore and worked at a bank before moving to a full-time career as an artist in the 1960s. Largely self-taught, much of Khanna’s work bears the imprint of the socio-political chaos and trauma he witnessed at close quarters. One of the many Indian artists drawn to Christian themes, Khanna has repeatedly visited the Last Supper as a subject of his works.
The quintessential Renaissance man, Rabindranath Tagore was a well-established and awarded—even revered—writer, playwright and poet before he took to painting late in life in his 60s. Tagore’s works stand out for their haunting, intense quality seen in both the use of colours and forms, suffused, as many find, with a certain spiritual quality—his works are unique for being remarkably free of any trained school or style of art even though his own university, Santiniketan, was the seat of much change and revolution in Indian modern art.
Sunil Das emerged on the Indian art scene to early and high praise, from winning the Lalit Kala Akademi’s award at the age of 20 years to earning praise from no less than Souza himself. His images of bulls and horses that capture the speed, energy and power of the animals have been his signature works.
Prokash Karmakar learnt painting at his father, artist-teacher Prahlad Karmakar’s atelier till the socio-political turmoil of the 1940s and his father’s early death put an end to it. Karmakar’s art emerges from a contemplation of life and through the prism of personal traumatic experiences intermingled with dark moments in history. He was awarded by the Lalit Kala Akademi in 1968 and his works are part of several significant collections.
Jogen Chowdhury worked in a confident expressionistic style of figuration, his gallery of the grotesque made up of lewd men with sack-like bellies and women with loose, hanging breasts. Chowdhury interprets the human form as fragmented, reconfigured and rephrased. Placing them against a dark, vacant background, he does not appropriate the specifics of place or environment. Instead, he transfers feelings of anguish on to the solitary figure through his gestural mark-making.
Sold initially as religious tokens at Calcutta’s Kalighat temple and its surroundings, the Kalighat pats or pata chitras were paintings—made by anonymous traditional artists known as patuas—on cloth, and later paper, of religious iconography featuring divinities like Kali and Krishna. So popular did these soon grow among the Bengali middle class that their range of themes expanded to address social issues and local scandals, including mocking the pretentious bhadralok.
Another associate member of the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group, like Khanna, Padamsee is known for his deeply internalised and personal language of art-making that he arrived at around the 1970s. His works, which presented the distilled essence of his intended idea, gained the term ‘inscapes’.
Tyeb Mehta’s early works show strong influences of western modernist painters, and Francis Bacon remained a significant inspiration for the artist. Known for his long-term exploration of the Kali figure, the iconic status of his works can be located in their minimalistic, reductive interpretations of subject matter that often contain violent narratives, fragmented in their articulation.
By Kishore Singh