A Roy on your wall

Updated: Aug 22, 2019, 22:21 IST | Shunashir Sen

Mumbaikars can now buy paintings from the most comprehensive exhibition of Jamini Roy's works that the city has seen in 49 years

Jamini Roy and his works Sita Agnipariksha
Jamini Roy and his works Sita Agnipariksha

The Kalighat Temple in Kolkata is the epicentre of the city's obsession with the goddess, Kali. It's a sprawling compound with a crematorium right next door, behind which a little rivulet of the Hooghly is littered with religious by-products that are part and parcel of a person's death. But things were a lot more sanitised back in the 1920s. That's when a young man, educated at the Government College of Art, was walking past the temple when he came across some paintings that adhered to the traditional patachitra style, in which mythological stories are depicted on a piece of cloth that you scroll down to reveal different panels. His name was Jamini Roy. Till then, the artist had dealt mainly with the western impressionist form that his teacher, the revered Abanindranath Tagore, had taught him. Of late, however, he'd been feeling a creative vacuum. But seeing the colourful pata paintings on display at Kalighat stirred a revelation in Roy. He decided to shift his focus to this folk art form from Bengal, and with that, the course of Indian art history underwent a seismic shift.

Jamini Roy 

The reason is that Roy was one of the first to go against the grain and apply his academic upbringing to an art form that, till then, was the preserve of the untrained eye from rural regions. An exhibition in a SoBo gallery will now showcase some of the paintings that depict this change in direction. It's the first time in 49 years that such a comprehensive body of Roy's works will be on display in the city. Nicholai Sachdev, curator and owner of the gallery concerned, tells us that's because it isn't an easy task to gather a substantial amount of both, Roy's early impressionistic works and his later pata-inspired pieces. He says, "I think the biggest problem is putting up a comprehensive body of Jamini's with immaculate documentation and provenance. He's formed parts of different shows. But to find a whole body that attempts to cover all his series — his oriental portraiture from the pre-1910s, to the landscapes from the 1920s, and then his Santhal figures, all the way to his Ramayana paintings — is a hard thing to do."

Ganesh Janani

Sachdev adds that all the works at his exhibition have come from collectors who bought them directly from Roy's family. "So there's a trail from the family to the collectors, with documentation. And if someone were to buy a piece, they would get a certificate from the painter's descendants. That's what I was talking about when I mentioned provenance, which I think is imperative," he says.

Nicholai Sachdev

That means that people who make a purchase at the exhibition will go back home with a certified piece of treasure that can be preserved for posterity. In fact, Roy himself was so particular about the way his paintings were maintained that if he found that a certain buyer wasn't keeping a work of his in proper conditions, he would buy it back from the person. The painter also largely shunned the use of traditional canvases in the later stages of his career. Instead, he would use whatever was available to paint on, such as a mat or a piece of wood. Sachdev says that Roy would even starch his own clothes to make them taut enough to paint on. This gave his works a certain texture that was otherwise impossible to replicate. And that fact, combined with the inspiration he gained from the revelatory visit to the Kalighat Temple, makes the man a pioneer who painted a new direction for the way in which Indian art is perceived.

FROM August 24 to October 23, 10.30 am to 7 pm.
AT Gallery 7, Oricon House, Rampart Row, K Dubash Marg, Kala Ghoda.
CALL 9820067124

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