Saturday, 15 May 2010

A brush with Tagore

Not many people know Rabindranath Tagore as a painter. He is rather known to the world for his literary Renaissance — as a philosopher, poet, song composer, essayist and a playwright. His contributions were acknowledged worldwide when he was awarded with Nobel Prize for literature in 1913.

But he had a streak for brush and paint as well. He discovered it much later in his life, when he was well into 60 and continued painting until his death in 1941. The very subjects which earlier found their manifestations through his literary works later found another medium. His fascination for Nature, people and their surroundings were now also being expressed through colour strokes on canvas.

The sheer joy of creating something pictorial started catching on him. This is evident in a letter he wrote to Romain Rollan in 1930.

“Words are too conscious; lines are not. Ideas have their form and colour, which wait for their incarnation in pictorial art. Just now painting has become a mania with me. My morning began with songs and poems; now, in the evening of my life, my mind is filled with forms and colours.”

In the last 17 years of his life, Tagore made more than 3,000 paintings and drawings. He drew and sketched with ink and pen, painted with pastels on silk or paper canvas.

To shows his this side of creative genius, “The Master’s Strokes: Art of Rabindranath Tagore” exhibition is on at the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi. This is part of the celebrations which have begun to mark his 150th birth anniversary next year.

Among the displayed works, most of them show his fascination for faces either done with colour or with ink and pen. Graphic-like faces in ‘geometrical shapes, pointed triangles and protruding mouth and nose and even caricature look grotesque and serious.

According to some critics “his faces are said to bring out Tagore’s inner sense of discomfort against people whom he thought were tragic like authoritarians and hypocrites” reads a panel at the exhibition.

Some of his other displayed works formed landscapes, head studies and figures. His art was ‘versatile’ though he had had no training in it.

“Yet through his own efforts, he developed a highly imaginative and spontaneous visual vocabulary. His work displayed a superb sense of rhythm and vitality and his techniques matched his highly developed and refined creative expression,” said India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who inaugurated the exhibition on May 9.

While creating these works, Tagore was guided by a sense of rhythm which he had learnt about in his early days. According to Tagore, his understanding of rhythm of sound helped him to create lines and then forms and pictures.

In one of his letters to Rani Mahalanobis he wrote, “the only training which I had from my younger days was training in rhythm in thought, the rhythm in sound. I had come to know that rhythm gives reality to which is desultory, insignificant itself.”

To gauge a sense of his genius in finding beauty in ordinary things and to know how a person can be so versatile and yet grounded, visitors are trickling in to the gallery to catch a slice of his creativity.

Deepak Vadhera was one such curious visitor. He said more than the paintings he had especially come to discover the man who created them.

“I’m more interested in discovering the man he was. He was into writing poetry, dramas, prose, you name it. At the same time, he took part in Indian politics and freedom struggle. He travelled widely on five continents and couple of dozens countries. How and when he found time to do paintings? What a strength he must had had to do all with such great standards. Hats off to him,” said Vadhera.

He must had had had inner strength to do it all. But at the same time, he kept his strength and interest rolling with the excitement of discovering new phenomenon within himself.

“When I started painting I noticed a great change in myself. I started seeing in trees, branch and leaf images of strange creatures of various kinds. I had never seen them before; I had only seen that the spring is here, the flowers are breaking out on every branch, things of this sort. This wealth of vision is spread all around man. When you exclaim ‘ah’ on seeing a thing, it is not in response to its beauty but its sheer visual presence. That is why there is so much joy in seeing itself. It is this vision found in painting,” reads a panel using Tagore’s quote.

Parisians were the first ones to see his exhibition publicly in May 1930. After that, it traveled to other European cities before returning to his own city of Calcutta the next year.

But for the time being, it’s Delhiites who are enjoying a visual delight of Gurudev’s cultural legacy.
(Picture courtesy National Gallery of Modern Art)

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