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It's all relative

The theory that families or partners influence each other is seductive, but more often their styles are likely to be too dissimilar to bear this out

Kishore Singh 

Kishore Singh

Nature - essentially what boils down to family DNA - and nurture are responsible for the way we respond to most situations, whether it is our choice of how we like our eggs fried or prefer our coffee. Families influence each other in more ways than imagined. We may disagree on issues but there are similarities built into relationships that are difficult to escape. So, how does a family of artists influence, guide or impact each other? Or do they too compete with one another?

This interesting point came up for discussion with respect to the Tagore family where Abanindranath was the artist whose salon was responsible for what came to be identified as the Bengal School of painting, Gaganendranath became a middle-aged, self-taught artist who brought in elements of cubism and satire to two vastly different styles of practice, their uncle Rabindranath began to paint well into his advanced age but differed greatly from their style, and Sunayani Devi whose schematic images nevertheless cast her as India's first woman artist - at least one who signed her name to her paintings. The interesting thing is not that their art was distinctly different from each other's but that they probably critiqued each other's work too. What did the nephews make of their uncle who supported art to the extent of establishing an art department in Santiniketan, but also painted in a way that dealt a blow to their romantic idyllism? What must those discussions have been like?

In more recent times, Manu Parekh takes an almost proprietal interest in wife Madhvi Parekh's folk-style of modernism, encouraging her to paint using the reverse glass technique. Does she, in turn, inspire him in his work or comment on it? What of Arpita Singh and Paramjit? Or Rameshwar Broota and Vasundhara Tewari? What must Jitish Kallat and Reena Saini-Kallat talk about? Or Subodh Gupta and Bharti Kher?

The theory that families or partners influence each other is seductive, but more often their styles are likely to be too dissimilar to bear this out. There might be facets they share in common, but they also usually find their own unique way rather than copying each other's styles. Take the case of the Burman-Maity family, all of whom work within the genre of fantasy or magic realism. Paris-based Sakti Burman likes to create enchanted worlds where history and geography collude in a distinctive marbelled technique of escapism. His French wife, Maite Delteil, too recreates fairytale settings that are candyfloss perfect and just as sweet. Their daughter Maya Burman's narrative paintings are almost illustrative but depend more on line work. Nor is that enough. Saktida's niece, Jayasri Burman, paints goddesses with swans attached to their hair, while her husband Paresh Maity's diverting fare consists of a stunning palette of colours in the figurative idiom.

Theirs might be a pleasing body of art, yet each is sufficiently different from the other to eliminate any suggestion of influence. Still, to advocate that discourses, comments and criticism - whether gentle or scathing - might not have an impact on their work would be to unreal. Artists by their nature tend to be temperamental; egos play a large part in their practice. But they also tend to combine vulnerability about their own work with a sense of wonderment about another's. They are also surprisingly and often honestly critical about what they see around them. While this may hardly matter for most part, when such criticism is directed, and heard, in one's own home and within the family, it can result in piquant situations. Reason enough for any art writer to want to be a fly on the wall when such stormy circumstances occur.

Kishore Singh is a Delhi-based writer and art critic. These views are personal and do not reflect those of the organisation with which he is associated

First Published: Sat, April 11 2015. 00:07 IST