29 April 2010

Mahishasura........an artwork that exemplifies India!!!

One of India's most famous paintings & which has created records not as much for the acclaimed work than for its sale, is the painting 'Mahishasura' by the artist Tyeb Mehta (25/7/'25 - 2/7/'09)

According to Hindu mythology, Mahishasura was a demon who was granted the power of invincibility by God Brahma but then became so powerful that he had to be killed by the Goddess Durga.

Tyeb Mehta, a contemporary of Artist M.F.Hussain depicted this in his own way & this is not surprising, considering that he comes from a generation of artists, who were influenced by European masters but sought to forge their own path & use Indian themes to interpret their work.

The Mahishasura, done in 1996 is considered to be his most famous work done in karmic origami & depicts Goddess Durga slaying the demon Mahishasura. In this painting, the artist depicts Mahishasura as a sympathetic figure embracing the Goddess, thus showing the Goddess' mercy & the demon's transformation once he's united with the divine.

The technique used was very different from the artist's general style & involved a thick oblique line running through the painting often over the figures themselves. This line allowed a single figure to be expressed in different forms on each side, thus giving rise to an agnostic view of a subject. In the painting, the man & the bull were depicted as 2 halves of a single whole thus though the theme is violent, we also find underlined the dichotomies manifested in man's existence, the good & the bad, the divine & mortal, the man & the beast. In Mehta's view this disparity existed side by side & both the figures involved are fully aware that one of them will be vanquished.

The painting when done, did generate its share of controversy but given the artists penchant for mythological themes, it was widely accepted & appreciated. It was evantually sold at a Christie's auction in New York, 2005 for a price of $1.5 million, the first time that a contemporary Indian artwork had fetched that kind of amount! Though this fact alone might divert from its brilliance, the artist has managed to portray the work as a brilliant metaphor showing the spiritual transformation that takes place as a result of union between a mortal & the divine!!

24 April 2010

The Bengal school of art...........a revolutionary period in Indian art!!!

A very notable point of interest that has always intrigued me is the fact that there seems to be a lot of knowledge & data everwhere of the western school of art, which deserves a rightful place as a precursor to the mordern art movement. But what also cannot be ignored, especially in India is that there were & are art movements that have tried & succeeded in building their own path & contributing to art as a whole.

The most notable of these, is 'The Bengal Art movement' where the local art form of Bengal used since time immemorial in pottery & other sculptures of the region was adapted & used in paintings & other media. It was given a lot of importance & emphasis by Rabindranath Tagore, the noted poet & path breaking artist who created an art school at 'Shantiniketan' to encourage young artists, a fact not known to many people including me till a while ago!!!

In the early 20th century, artists were mostly following the western method of painting fully supported by the British who were the rulers at the time. But gradually, with the commencement of the nationalist movement, Indian sentiments & spiritual ideas, began to take precedence as a way to react against the prevailing academic styles. Incidentally, it was a British art teacher, Ernest Binfield Havel who encouraged Indian students at Kolkata's school of art to depict Mughal miniatures in their own way which led to a major controversy terming it a retrogressive move. But this did not deter Havel, who together with Abanindranath Tagore, nephew of Rabindranath Tagore painted numerous works inspired by Mughal art & so was born this movement bringing forth art, descriptive of India's spiritual essence, as opposed to the West's depiction of materialism.

The best known work of this art movement, is that of Tagore's 'Bharath Mata' depicting a Goddess like figure with four hands holding objects symbolic of India's national aspirations, a rather subjective reflection of the artist's viewpoint.

With time, there was a decline of this school's influence on art with the spread of mordernistic & newer concepts. However, the Bengal school's legacy still continues to leave its impact on art as a whole to this day, seen in the works of a large number of mordern Indian artist's like Jamini Roy, Nandalal Bose, Sunayani Devi amongst others!!!!

15 April 2010

Impressionism......a subjective form of art!!!!

An art movement that originated in the 19th century, Impressionism derives its name from a work by the artist Claude Monet called 'Impression, soleil levant' which provoked the art critic Louis Leroy to coin the term as a satirical review since according to him, it resembled an unfinished piece of work!!!

The art movement comprised of Parisian artists whose works were characterised by visible brush strokes, strong emphasis of light in different settings showing the passage of time & ordinary everyday subject matter depicted in unusual visual angles. Movement as a crucial element of human perception & experience was given much importance & basically it was the artists perspective, thus a very subjective point of view. It was also an attempt by the artists to focus more on colours rather than lines & bring art out of the studio thus creating works that were more visual rather than the focus on tiny details.

In impressionist art, the brush strokes were often broken & visible, not subtle & smoothly blended inorder to achieve the effect of intense colour vibration. Short, thick strokes of paint were applied to quickly capture the essence of the subject, rather than its details, a technique called as 'impasto'. The colours were not mixed together but applied side by side, letting the viewer mix them optically & lending more depth to the subject which consisted of scenes from everyday life.

As most often happens with any new movement, Impressionism gave rise to parallel movements in music & literature. Although it was strongly opposed initially as not being true to reality it was gradually accepted when artists like Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul C├ęzanne got together & persisted in producing such works. There was an element of spontaneity, colour & sunlight in them. Also other factors like photography which was then still in its nascent stage & Japanese art prints, called as 'Japonism' helped in contributing heavily to this movement.

Although it may now be difficult to find pure impressionist paintings, its versatility can still be felt & seen in the work of most artists of our times!!!

14 April 2010

Reverse graffiti......something we might be able to relate to!!!

An art revolution that is pretty new & innovative is one which is happening on the streets of San Francisco done by a group of local artists who aim to contribute their bit to the environment.

Called as 'reverse graffiti', the project uses guerrilla tactics of street-art on public walls, thus reversing the effects of pollution & actually turning the definition of graffiti on its head to produce wall art that is both unique & beautiful. It is a type of street art that instead of defacing public property, actually effaces it. Confused??

Well, to simplify it, the artists who practice this kind of art, actually remove filth/ dirt from public property like walls etc which acts like their canvas & in doing so, create imagery that is one of a kind. Thus the art created, is a mural that is both simple & expressive which goes to show that even without putting paint on a canvas, art can be expressed by removing something from it!!!!

The project was the brainchild of artist Paul Curtis, who together with other US artists created a clean, green 140 ft mural on the walls of San Francisco's Broadway tunnel by actually scrubbing away dirt & grime from the tunnel walls to reveal a stunning portrait of a flourishing forest of native plants, providing an inverse reflection of how the site may have looked 500 years ago. Since the tunnel sees a continuous rush of vehicles everyday, the soot & dirt caused by them had to be washed by high pressure water streams & eco-friendly cleaning agents to get it back to its former glory.

Maybe it is work such as this, that is ultimately needed to jolt people out of their complacency & make them realise that the world is a really dirty place & what is found outside, will in most certainty be found inside since we inhale the same thing!!!

Chikankari work.......at once simple & beautiful!!!!!

Chikan cloth is something most of us women folk, have either bought or have lusted after at some point of time or the other. While wondering why such material is so exorbiantly priced, I just spoke to some of the people who actually work on it & the embroidery process they described truly amazed me.

Chikankari work is a fine & intricate kind of mesh embroidery that originated & is traditionally done even now in Lucknow, thus also being known as 'Lucknowi work'. Its origins are unclear but it is believed to be  introduced by Nur Jehan, Mughal emperor Jahangir's wife who was inspired by Turkish embroidery.

It began as a form of embroidery done using white threads on semi-transparent muslin cloth (also called tanzeb) but is now done on a variety of fabrics in different colours. The exquisitness of Chikan fabric is enhanced when it is embroidered with different embellishments like sequins & beads making it an apt choice for grand occasions.

The making of the fabric usually involves block-printing a pattern on large pieces of fabric after which the embroiderer then stitches onto this pattern. The finished piece is then carefully washed to remove all traces of the printed pattern & the cloth material is ready to be used. Although this process might seem pretty simple, it is actually quite time consuming & inorder to make each piece different, the embroiderer usually makes use of different threads of varying thickness with different stitches ultimately resulting in a fabric that gives a very lacy effect (jali), which is the most striking feature of  the work The patterns used are flowing & includes tiny floral motifs & other designs covering just a part of the fabric or all of it.

Although the embroidered cloth might look very simple & beautiful, the intricacy involved & time taken, makes buying it extremely worthwhile enabling us to appreciate such a traditional dying craft which beats factory made, mass-produced goods anytime!!!!

10 April 2010

Jazz...a musical genre born out of rebellion!!!!

Not many of us know about Jazz & its origins. That such a beautiful musical genre was actually born out of rebellion did take me by surprise. As I began to read about it, I realised that it had a very long history. This intrigued me enough to write a bit about where & what might have prompted its conception.

Jazz is actually a music genre that originated in the US as a form of confrontation by the blacks who were forced to listen & learn European music. The music has a special relationship to time, called as 'swing' & requires one to constantly improvise, be able to accept & be open to different kinds of music, thus developing ones own individuality. Thus we find that a skilled performer can interpret a tune in many different ways, never playing the same composition exactly the same way twice. This may be the reason why we find different variations of the same song!!!!

The early singers of jazz were the African American slaves who after being freed, came to make their own music, combining their tribal music traditions with mordern European instruments like the violin as a form of entertainment. Musicians like Buddy Bolden (called the first man of jazz), Louis Armstrong & Bessie Smith can be largely credited to giving this genre the impetus it needed in establishing itself.

This music genre has also given rise to its own dance form, called 'swing', the steps of which were used in our very own old hindi movies. Although at first Jazz was mainly played by the African american community, due to the fall of aparthied, other European singers too began to sing in the style thus making its usage more widespread. It can single-handedly be credited with giving rise to other musical genres like European Jazz, Dixieland music, Bebop music, Latin Jazz, soul, funk, punk, smooth & acid jazz etc which was mostly done by mixing jazz with various other musical forms.

Among the more recent singers, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra & Johnny Hartman are ones we might have heard of who have kept this genre alive & am sure that no matter what happens, this musical genre will continue to live on & adapt thus increasing its versatility!!!

08 April 2010

ANDREA Air Filter ..........an eco-friendly & cost-effective design concept!!!!

If one just attempts to use his imagination, anything can be made possible!!!! This is amply demonstrated in the ANDREA Air Filter which is not only an amazing design concept but is also eco-friendly....

The ANDREA Air Filter which is currently sold in the US, uses household plants as natural indoor air cleaners thus ridding air of toxins & pollutants. It was invented by the French designer, Mathieu Lehanneur in collaboration with Harvard professor David Edward.

The Air filter is 40 times more effecient than activated carbon filters & requires no filter changes. It works on a very simple procedure, purifying air by forcefully drawing it into a noiseless fan to propel it through the roots & leaves of plants, then out through water & once it is soil filtered, the air is sent back to the atmosphere. The process uses the plant's natural metabolic activity to transform the waste biochemically, thus eliminating pollution. Also any household plants like Alo Vera, spider plant etc can be used for their ability to absorb & metabolise toxins.

In our quest for growth, we seem to have ignored the side & after-effects of human intervention & have to contend with various accompanying hazards. Lets hope, products like the above help reduce our carbon footprint to some extent atleast!!!!

Amrita Shergill............an artist who made a significant contribution to Indian art!!!!

Amrita Shergill (01/'13 - 12/'41), a woman whose works are considered as among the most expensive in India, was an eminent painter whose legacy & works can be compared to those of the Masters of Bengali art.

Known as India's 'Frida Kahlo', she managed to carve a niche for herself in Indian art thus becoming one of the Nine great Masters whose works were declared as national treasures by the Government of India.

Born in Hungary to an Indian father & Hungarian mother, she was brought up in Shimla learning music & enacting plays along with her younger sister. She formerly started painting at the age of 8 yrs & travelled around Europe & Italy to learn art from European painters like Cezanne & Gauguin, mostly being influenced by their western style. Her first work, 'Three girls' in 1935, got her elected to the highest art salon in Paris making her the youngest Asian to have done so. All of this was'nt enough to satisfy her emotionally though, leaving her with an intense longing to return to India!!!

In India, she worked prolifically, influenced by both Mughal & Pahari schools of paintings as well as depictions of life in South India. Her paintings are intense & portray Indian life with all their nuances & ethos. She was a non-confirmist & this was reflected in the bohemian way she lived & also in her art, wherein she actually painted herself nude, being one amongst the earliest woman artists to have done so.

The work of Amrita Shergill attains all the more significance when we realise that she dwelt during the time of Bengali greats like Rabindranath Tagore & Jamini Roy who were well known, yet she managed to carve her own niche among them. 'The Progressive Artist's Group' consisting of other greats like F.N.Souza, S.H Raza, M.F Hussain was also in its infancy at the time & were greatly influenced by her works.

Leaving behind her huge body of work, Amrita died prematurely just before the opening of her first major show in Lahore & although she was deprived of seeing the heights to which she could have gone, she would have been happy to have known that her works continue to be a source of inspiration for artists like me!!!!

Freddie Mercury......the man that just ccould not be stopped!!!!

As children, we often heard songs like "Bohemian Rhapsody", "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" & "We Are the Champions" sung by the band Queen. Infact, I also knew a bit about the lead singer, Freddie Mercury. Later though, my interest in him was piqued when I came to know that he was an Indian, a Gujarati Parsi whose original name was 'Farrokh Balsara'.  This was definitely something to be proud of, considering the fact that the great UK music sensation was from our very own country, a fact that was unknown to me & many other people till quite some time into the artist's illustrious career!!!!

Freddie Mercury (09/'46 - 09/'91), considered as one of the greatest singers in the history of popular music & one of the most influential Asian artists of our times, was a man with very humble beginnings. He was born in Tanzania & brought up in India, completing his education in Mumbai. Due to the revolution in Tanzania, his family shifted to the UK where he studied art. He played in quite a few local bands, later forming the band , 'Queen' which he named himself despite having gay connotations especially in those conservative days.

As a child, Mercury was influenced by Indian music, especially Lata Mangeshkar but he also followed & incorporated other styles of music into his work, primarily 'The rolling stones', Jimi Hendrix & 'The Beatles'. He wrote most of the group's songs without even being able to read music, but by making use of a variety of different key signatures. His songs were so intricate that they comprised of dozens of chords & merged totally different music genres.

His live performances were often on a large scale, very theatrical & most often delivered to packed audiences, being able to whip them up into a frenzy. He had a solo career as well although not as sucessful as the band. He frequently collaborated with other artists, even doing a couple of songs with Michael Jackson which were never released.

His premature death from AIDS, put an end to the illustrious career of a man who though depicting a larger than life persona on stage, was a very shy & introverted person off it. It was a pity that his personal life over-shadowed his musical genius, but as happens with most legends, the worth of his work can only be felt & realised now, when he is no more.

05 April 2010

Kantha embroidery....the simplest of stitch used to create the most complex of designs!!!!

In sewing, the first thing that we learn from our elders, is the 'running stitch' used when we have to darn or mend clothes. It is a common form of embroidery in Bangladesh & India in every household. Although I have been using this stitch for years to sew clothes, I was'nt aware that the very plain & insipid running stitch could be used to create such beautiful patterns, called as Kantha embroidery. Just goes to show my ignorance but one I am more than happy to admit!!!!

Any cloth/ garment can be embellished with kantha stitch/ embroidery since it is the most simplest of stitches in the language of embroidery. The way in which the stitch is filled inside a design in different arrangements, forms the complex vocabulary of kantha. It can enhance the most simplest of sarees or cloth materials.

It is said to have originated in the early 1800's & is derived from the Sanskrit word 'kontha' meaning rags probably originating from the legend of Lord Buddha & his disciples who used hand stitched, discarded rags to cover themselves!!!  The traditional seat of kantha embroidery was Bengal (Shantiniketan) where Bengali housewives used the colourful saree threads from the borders to mend old clothes. Gradually with experimentation, they began to hand embroider sarees & use the cloth material as a canvas to try out different patterns as a means of self expression. The patterns can also be machine stitched but the beauty of it is in its imperfections that can only be revealed by hand stitching the cloth.

Different motifs of sceneries, geometrical patterns & designs can be created with this stitch. It is also used with sequins & beads to create applique work & different accessories, thereby increasing the variety of its application. There are about 7 known types of kantha work & although it is a time consuming process, it is an immensely creative & satisfying activity!!!

03 April 2010

Rangoli.....the painted prayers of India!!!

A must see traditional art form in every Indian home especially at the time of festivals, is the Rangoli which is a form of sandpainting i.e decoration done on the ground or walls using finely ground white & coloured powders or even flowers.
Also called the painted prayers, the term rangoli is derived from the words rang (colour) and aavalli ('coloured creepers'). It is known with different names in different parts of India, Kolam in Kerala, Alpana in Bengal, Madana in Rajasthan etc.

The art of Rangoli is said to have its origins in a legend recorded in the Chitralakshana, the earliest Nepalese treatise on painting wherein the Hindu God Brahma is said to have painted the likeness of a boy to breathe life into him. Due to its religious origins, rangoli is considered as a spiritual ode & is mostly done on auspicious occasions like festivals (Diwali) & weddings. Hindus also do it daily either infront of their homes or on the walls.

Rangoli designs are created by sprinkling coloured powder (uni-dimensional effect) or foodgrains (3-D effect) mixed with a base (i.e sand/ marble dust) by hand on the ground. These intricate designs & motifs are either symbolic & include geometric patterns with lines & dots or they can be landscapes or figures. Generally no part of the picture is left blank because it is believed that it can be tainted with an evil eye.

The designs are beautiful to behold & just reflect the fact that every person is born with an artistic bent of mind!!!