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Book Review
Books that trace three contemporary Indian artists’ life journey
In recent months, quite a few quality books about internationally renowned contemporary artists from India have been released. The three of them in spotlight are Anjolie Ela Menon, KG Subramanyan and Paresh Maity. Among the most distinguished names on Indian art scene, they have certainly left a distinct mark with their remarkable art practice. The new publications provide a succinct insight into their thought processes, philosophy and achievements because of which they occupy a place of pride in Indian art history.

‘Regarding the Drawings of KG Subramanyan’ (Pages: 433; Publisher: The Guild; Price: Rs. 2,500) by R. Siva Kumar, Professor of art history at Visva Bharati, Santiniketan throws light on his illustrious career. The author introduces us to the various facets of his personality - artist, art scholar, educationist, writer, philosopher and designer – all rolled in one. The veteran painter addresses complex socio- political issues, touching upon gender, sex, social disparity and the tension inherent in public and private life dichotomy through his work. Often autobiographical in nature and extremely narrative, it largely draws from personal experiences and ruminations. His artistic style is often inspired by folk art traditions of India as well as by the Western Modernism’s cubistic styles.

Professor R. Siva Kumar notes about his art: “Encompassing doodles, scribbles, sketches, studies, calligraphic and tinted drawings, and drawing with pigments; done using ballpoint pen, brush and ink, crayon, alone or in combination with color or ink washes, and in gouache; and employing graphic devices ranging from marks, scrawls, calligraphic brush work, freehand flourishes, strokes and dabs- KG Subramanyan’s repertoire of drawings is indeed large. Cutting across these differences they are all undertaken to fathom the world and to think his way through it; to let the world into himself and to write himself onto the world. And looking at his drawings when we see aspects of the world reflected in them, and looking at the world we notice elements of his vision reflected in it...”

Another recent release tracks the journey of India’s most recognized female artist of her era. ‘Anjolie Ela Menon: Through the Patina’ (Pages: 342; Publisher: Vadehra Art Gallery; Price: Rs. 4,500) is a beautiful pictorial illustration and analysis of her rich oeuvre that spans over five and a half decades. Authored by by Isana Murty, incidentally the pen name for renowned defence analyst C Uday Bhaskar, the book is an outcome of research over three years. It contains informative essays on her evolution as an artist. Her oeuvre reveals tremendous sensibility, profoundly – highly individual in perception, albeit diverse in its sympathies. One of the finest artists of her era, she is known to experiment with newer themes, forms and materials - scintillating sculptures from Murano crystal; kitsch; and computer/digital painting.

Apart from working on painted objects, she has effortlessly handled several offbeat materials, including found objects. The celebrated artist is equally proficient in Masonite paintings and paintings on other form of media. With her boundless imagination, restless spirit and a touch of innovation, she continues to explore new ideas. The biographical account published by Vadhera Art Gallery, launched on the eve of an exhibition highlighting significant phases of her career earlier this year, goes to underline how difficult it is to compartmentalize her oeuvre having constantly witnessed a metamorphosis.

The show featured close to 70 works of art - both retrospective and recent - by Anjolie Ela Menon, tracking different phases in her life. An excerpt from the biography mentioned: “At a time, when modernist abstraction is preferred by artists both in India and the West, her works have been rigorously figurative, sensual and romantic." Since her debut show more than five decades ago, she has refused to be bound by any style, medium or form. According to her, ‘dissatisfaction is the prime source of growth’, and prompts artists to ‘abandon known (and oft-acclaimed) ground for treading new territory’.

Another noteworthy release on prolific contemporary artist Paresh Maity, entitled ‘The World on a Canvas – A Visual Voyage’ (Hardback, 360 Color Pages; Publisher: Art Alive Gallery; Price: Rs 7500), maps the wonderful watercolorist’s enchanting artistic journey. Rightly termed a 'romantic' painter, he treats life and art as an endless celebration as described in the new publication that also features his drawings, watercolors, oils, mixed media works and sculptures.

Authored by Sharmila Tagore, the book peeps into his artistic realm on a canvas and beyond. It depicts how his path to success has been one full of hurdles and hardships. An accompanying note states: “Travels form an integral part of his life and undeniably lie at the heart of his art. An indefatigable traveler, he has traversed the continents, seeking inspiration from landscapes and monuments, from history and people, from cities and hamlets. His sojourns across India and abroad have shaped his palette; he has instinctively imbibed the essence of each place in his work.” Complementing this enriching visual journey are Nemai Ghosh’s beautiful portraits of the artist at work.

The comprehensive accounts of the three most significant artists from India; their vision and voyage, are worth having on your shelf!