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Jamini Roy - a true rebel artist

- by Prakash Bal Joshi, Mumbai based artist / journalist


JAMINI ROY is perhaps the first among very few artists who tried to deviate from academic western style and searched their Indian roots by drawing inspiration from their culturally rich folk and tribal art. Jamini, born in an obscure village of the Bankura district in West Bengal in 1887 into a middle-class landlord family was sent to study at the Government School of Art in Calcutta. As a gifted boy, he was quick to learn the prevailing academic tradition of drawing classical nudes and use oil paint on canvas. Moving away from his impressionistic landscapes and studio portraits, he began his own search and was heavily influenced by the Kalighat, and evolved his own bold sweeping brush-strokes. Confident about value of his experiments searching new symbols in Indian mythology, he began experiments between 1921 and 1924 with Santhal Dance as reference for his art work.


His initial work in early 1920s which he completed soon after completing the academic training in the Calcutta School of Art reflected mannerism of the traditional Bengal School mannerisms. He also produced few works which could be categorized as Post-Impressionist genre of landscapes and portraits. However, these works, though technically perfect, it lacked any enthusiasm and energy.


After dismal start to his art career due to lacklustre work, he began experimenting on the lines of the Kalighat style. He was fascinated by Kalighat paintings and the terracotta's of the Vishnupur temple. By 1930s, his work began showing signs of definite simple and bold use of lines. Very soon, he began to experiment with local material to enhance his work. He gave up canvas and completely switched to indigenous materials - painting surfaces made out of cloth, wood, even mats coated with lime, and painted using earth and vegetable colours. What began in the early 1930's saw the beginning of his glorious career, maturing into his own style and dominating the Indian art work well into 1960s.


Roy's bold step to deviate from the art-school trained modernity and draw inspiration from the nostalgic lyricism of the true Bengali folk painters was in fact a beginning of a new chapter in the annals of Indian Modern Art. Though he drew from Kalighat and other traditional artwork and developed his own style, he never forgot the crucial input by the folk art.


In 1930 staff and students of Sir. J.J.School of Art painted murals for the Imperial Secretariat building at Delhi. Dhurandhar painted for the law-member's room "Streedhanam" (Wedding), "Dattavidhan", and "Donation at the time of death" and The Old Hindu Law in the British Raj (Adoption Ceremony) i.e. in all four murals for four walls of the Hon. Law-member's room. He painted the small water colour of 6" x 1" cartoons for these paintings for the final works of 24" x 6". When Solomon afterwards had an exhibition of the paintings of students of Sir. J.J.School of Art, at London one of the small preliminary paintings by Dhurandhar, "Streedhanam Adhyagani" was kept in the show. Queen Merry bought that painting.


He was a true rebel and his new style was totally different from the Bengal School and the Western tradition. Throughout his career as an artist he struggled to capture the essence of simplicity of the folk people and in the process give Indian art its separate but distinct identity. This was very difficult as the entire art world still under European influence was divided on how to go about acquiring distinct identity for Indian art. Few before Jamini had tried to use European style to depict Indian ethos but failed as the synthesis lost the charm and energy.


Jamini succeeded where others failed since he drew inspiration and style from folk art and interpreted Indian aesthetics in a simple but bold innovative style. Some of Jamini's well-known work included Santhal drummers, toiling blacksmith, Krishna-Balaram and women figures like Radhas, Gopis, Pujarinis and Virgin and Child. His bold work became popular during the 1940s decade and his collectors included the middle-class Bengalis as well as the art lovers from Europe.


His efforts and success was awarded when he received the Padma Bhusan in 1955. His work dominated extensively in international exhibitions and found place of honour in many private and public art galleries including prestigious Victoria and Albert Museum, London. He was one of the most envied students of Abanindranath Tagore and spent most of his life living and working in Calcutta. You visit any group shows by contemporary artists and you will find traces of Jamini Roy style in different forms.


(courtesy : One India One People)