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Treasures by Jamini Roy - first modernist master of Indian art

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Press Trust of India New Delhi
Noted modernist artist Jamini Roy's nearly century old paintings have lived beyond their time and find relevance even today.

Uma Nair, who has curated an ongoing solo exhibition at the Dhoomimal Art Gallery here showcasing nearly 80 artworks by 20th century master calls him a "universalist."

"Jamini Roy is never out of fashion. Whatever he drew was universal. It is relevant even today. It is so important for works of art to live beyond its time," she says of the artist who passed away in 1972.

Titled "Carved Contours," the show underway at the Dhoomimal Gallery here is divided into two distinct parts - one set of coloured works and another of pen and ink drawings.

Roy who was tutored under the Bengal School of Art under the mentorship of Abanindranath Tagore, shifted from the academic tradition of drawing classical nudes and went on to derive inspiration from the Indian culture.

He captured the simplicity of the tribal livelihood in his art where he painted extensively the "marginalised" santhal community of Bengal.

"His main subjects were the humble simple people from the santhal tribe. His soft heartedness towards the community comes out of his sensitivity for the poor. In today's world when we hear about atrocities against Dalits, here is an artist who celebrated people who were marginalised," says Nair.

Roy's treatment of the female body is sensitive and respectful in a way that it appears sensuous rather than crude and vulgar to the viewer.

"I think he was very sensitive. He appreciated women. When you look at the forms of the women he does not make her look cheap but beautiful," says the curator.

Even though the artist seldom paints the faces but whatever one sees in Roy's women is all beautiful.

"He is a man who loved what he saw. In today's age when we are talking about violence against women, I think respect is very important and I realise Jamini Roy was a humanist," she says.

Roy's coloured works show clear influences of the Kalighat patta paintings in his bold sweeping brush-strokes. He also turned to rural decorative traditions of alpana and kantha.

According to Nair says the artist's choice of medium of work was egg tempera and tamarind seed glue and that he soon switched from dyes to natural colors, using earth, chalk powder and vegetable colors.

"His palette was a limited array of seven colours - Indian red, yellow ochre, cadmium green, vermillion, grey and blue - prepared from materials like hingul, harital, kak khokri, lamp black chalk or limestone," she says.
The "mother-child" figure is another recurrent subject in

Roy's works, which he blends effortlessly with his other areas of interest of the santhals and bauls, mythology - both Hindu and Christian.

Roy's depiction of the selflessness of motherhood in his paintings - an image of a santhal woman embracing her child; a bronze bodied santhal mother feeding an infant - is indeed heartwarming.

"He loves portraying Ganesh and Durga, as well as Krishna, especially the child Krishna and scenes from the Ramayan," says Nair.

The show has a series of simple monumental images of sari-clad women, village dancers and domestic animals besides Madonna and Christ and the famed Ramayan series.

According to the curator, Roy has dealt with the idea of 'Ravana' in a very contemporary way. Unlike his other works which have a very matte finish, this particular work depicting the evil king with his 10 heads positioned diagonally in 'tomato red' exudes an uncanny liveliness.

"He has treated it in a very modern way. Whenever you and I think of Ravana, we think of him standing with his ten heads horizontal. He takes the Ravana and makes his heads diagonal. He gives so much joy in the destruction of evil," she says.

A 110-page book, brought out by Dhoomimal Gallery, carries a foreword by Uma Jain and curatorial note by Uma Nair and a couple of art write-ups besides a brief biography of Jamini and the images of all his works at 'Carved Contours'.

All the images from the exhibition are from the Uma and Ravi Jain Estate.

The month long exhibition inaugurated recently at the galley, which turns 80 this year, is set to continue till March 10.

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First Published: Feb 09 2016 | 11:32 AM IST

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