"Mehta calls on our quest to examine existence"
With one of the richest cultures in the world, India has a lot of famous paintings that are celebrated globally.
From Rabindranath Tagore to Tyeb Mehta, the country has produced some of the most well-known artists ever.
Whilst their pieces are creative and display a wide array of skills, they’re also thought-provoking, telling stories of India’s history.
The paintings also serve as unique insights into the emotions and feelings of communities, most specifically men.
But if you’re unaware of such pieces, we look at the paintings in more detail.
One of the most recognised pieces of art is from the Nobel laureate, Rabindranath Tagore.
His self-portrait showcases a lot of the elements that Tagore was known for which were simplicity and facial depiction.
This black and white portrait makes use of striking pencil lines where Tagore imagines himself as an old bearded man with wisdom and knowledge.
The fact that the artist was in his late 60s when he took up painting is remarkable as many would consider him past his prime.
However, it shows the level of craft and imagination he had to create such identifiable works.
The raw contour, scribbles and sans colour and background help make this one of the most celebrated paintings in modern and contemporary Indian art.
‘Bapuji’ by Nandalal Bose illustrates just how symbolic Indian art is when representing the history of the nation.
This painting is yet another showcase of the Indian struggle for independence and depicts Mahatma Gandhi as the unmistakable muse.
Bose was fascinated with Gandhi and the impact he had with his non-violent actions.
Speaking on the inspiration behind the painting and why he chose to acknowledge the Father of the Nation, Bose expressed:
“What a miracle took place when yearning for India’s freedom Gandhiji went on the Dandi march!
“The entire country was roused with confidence in some unique strength.”
“Glory filled my heart. I felt blessed and life became meaningful.”
The blackened canvas contrasts the crisp white strokes that illuminate Gandhi’s footsteps.
As the lonesome figure, the piece emphasises so many emotions – longing, despair, strength, unity and freedom.
Amrita Sher-Gil is no stranger to the art industry and her paintings are still widely showcased.
One of her many pieces that many scholars believe to be her best work is ‘Brahmacharis’.
The masterpiece is a result of Sher-Gil’s temporary stay in South India in 1937.
Influenced by the warmth and togetherness of rural communities, this piece highlights the visual language that the artist used throughout her work.
Whilst the men seem disinterested or plain-faced, they actually seem to be listening to the figure in the middle.
It’s important to note that the artist used a wide landscape to show a group of five men sitting together. This goes against the traditional boxed canvas that paintings normally have.
‘Brahmacharis’ shows the tight-knit bond between villages and tribes, and how teachings were carried out for the next generation to pass on.
Days of Glory
From Satish Gujral comes this extraordinary piece that shows the displacement caused by the 1947 Partition.
This topic was frequently visited by Gujral in his work due to his time in both Pakistan and India, and also the displacement he felt during this period.
‘Days of Glory’ is a state of helplessness, showing two men restrained by their emotions.
This is cleverly done as the viewers don’t get to see their faces, so it’s left open to interpretation. But, their compactness shows solidarity and speaks to the lived experiences of many survivors.
Gujral believed that this masterpiece was more of a rendition of his suffering rather than a portrayal of the Partition.
But, that’s not to say that this touching piece doesn’t engulf the mind of the viewer and make them think of such a painful history.
Tyeb Mehta is widely considered as one of India’s finest contemporary artists.
Perhaps his most recongised painting is this colourful piece, titled ‘Mahishasura’, which showss a towering figure battling with good and evil.
The piece has multiple renditions but the complexity of it makes it that much more appealing.
The geometric shapes, cultural elements such as the headwear and distinct colours leave you wondering what Mehta is trying to achieve.
But, Indian poet Ranjit Hoskote perfectly sums ‘Mahishasura’ up, stating:
“Mehta calls on our quest to examine existence and life’s struggles to create the perfect balance between good and evil.
“What ensues is an inherent tension through the multiplicity of intersections between society, its processes and man’s inner psyche.
“In doing so, the ancient myth thus becomes an eternal battle, suspended in time and space, a perennial performance into which the viewer is enticed.”
The painting is ambiguous yet shows a clear battle between forces that the eye won’t catch upon first look.
Like the greatest paintings, viewers will find themselves getting lost in this to try and interpret the message and meaning.
These paintings do truly show how Indian art is considered so important to the artistic world.
The men depicted in these pieces illustrate different moments in history, as well as showcase the culture and beliefs of different individuals.
The expression, colours, and skill used to create such vivid portrayals of life are magnificent and should be appreciated by everyone.