Wednesday, March 05, 2008
Born in 1887 in an obscure Bengali village of the Bankura district in West Bengal, an area especially rich with a folk art tradition, Jamini Roy arrived in Calcutta in 1903 to enroll in the Govt. School of Art. He was the most famous pupil of Abanindranath Tagore, whose contribution to the emergence of modern art in India remains unquestionable.
After the academic training in the Calcutta School of Art in the early 1920s, some of his works bore residues of the Bengal School mannerisms. He made some brilliant forays into a Post-Impressionist genre of landscapes and portraits, yet Roy’s early career was calamitous. He endured extreme poverty and his work was lack-lustre and banal.
Disheartened, Roy began a wrenched journey to discover his own true style, undertaking odd jobs to survive. Roy discovered the answer to his predicament right in rural Bengal, in Kalighat paintings, the popular bazaar paintings sold outside the Kalighat temple in Calcutta.
In 1925, he began experimenting along the lines of the Kalighat idiom, and by the early 1930s he had made a complete switch to indigenous materials. His fascination with the indigenous art of Kalighat painting and the terracotta's of the Vishnupur temple, grew unabated. Quietly, yet firmly, the bold simplicity, linear flow began to suffuse his work. In his mid-thirties, he abandoned his tame and conventional art practice. He abandoned the canvas and made his own painting surfaces out of cloth, wood, even mats coated with lime, and painted using earth and vegetable colours. The 1930's saw the beginning of his scintillating career, which spanned well into the 60's.
Roy enacted a complete retreat from the middle class congruity of art-school trained modernity and withdrew into the nostalgic lyricism of the true Bengali folk painters. This marked a new phase in the history of Indian Modern Art, with a strategic denial of its 'modern' traces. Though his own amazing style took off and matured from there, he never forgot his debt to the Bengali village and especially to Kalighat paintings.
However, Jamini Roy's art too awaited the same fate as some of his celebrated predecessors like Abanindranath and Raja Ravi Varma. The neat patterning, rythmic outlines and flat, bright colours were extracted from his works and tamed into a standardized formula and a flood of perfected copies overcame the master.
Jamini's presentation of Santhal drummers, toiling blacksmith, Krishna-Balaram and women figures like Radhas, Gopi's, Pujarinis and Virgin and Child became very popular during the 1940s and his collectors included the middle-class Bengalis as well as the European community. His work was exhibited in London in 1946 and in New York in 1953. He was honored with the State award of Padma Bhushan in 1955.
He died a much celebrated and revolutionary artist, at the age of 85, in Calcutta in 1972.