Forthcoming Issues - Archives
January & February 2012
Bombay Progressive Artists Group
Guest Editor : Ratan Parimoo
It was during the
1990s as India was celebrating the 50 years of Independence that many of us
realized the significance of the Artists groups formed during 1940s and 1950s. I
call it the ?Spirit? of the era in the life of our culture, which struck many
creative minds and spread in many parts of the country. This undoubtedly cries
to be recognized as a most significant turning point in the development of
modern Indian art.
While the Bombay Progressive Group of Artists was formed in 1947, their historic Group exhibition was held in 1949. This represented the works of six artists, some of whom had already held their own solo exhibitions. The six artists were: i) Francis Newton Souza, ii) Maqbul Fida Husain, iii) Krishnaji H. Ara, iv) Sayyed Haidar Raza, v) Hari A. Gade and vi) Sadanand Bakre. While Bakre was the only sculptor among them, the other five were painters. It can be observed that their works were definitely more ?advanced? at that point of time in terms of style and expressive quality in comparison with the works shown in the exhibitions held in Calcutta and Delhi. With the exception of S.H. Raza, rest of the five artists have died.
As the World War II ended in 1945, travelling to Europe and the U.S.A. became relatively easier and several Indian artists ventured to travel to western countries resulting in direct exposure to the new trends in modern western art. Souza?s departure for London in 1949, was followed by Bakre where as Raza preferred to go to Paris. Husain began travelling frequently and shuttling between Mumbai and Delhi. Thus, the group got dispersed. Significantly, the artists remained focused and kept returning to the motherland and exhibiting at intervals in Mumbai and Delhi. So also those, who remained behind like Husain, Ara and Gade. Their periodic exhibitions often received wide publicity in Mumbai and Delhi, especially those of Husain, Raza and Souza. However, Souza?s exhibitions were much noticed because of their boldness and his own provocative statements and writings.
The Austrian born Rudy Van Leyden was perhaps the first ever art critic in Bombay who was able to influence opinion in favour of modern art with his regular writings especially through 1940s. He had enthusiastically reviewed the first exhibition of Jamini Roy in Mumbai in 1942, hailing him as a modern master. He reviewed the exhibition of the Calcutta Group in 1945. He reviewed the exhibition of the first modern Sri Lankan painter George Keyt, held in 1947. Before the PAG?s 1949 exhibition, Leyden had reviewed solo exhibitions held by Ara, Raza and Souza as well. That is how while reviewing the historic Group show, Leyden observed that those who had followed the works of the PAG artists over the past years would know of the struggle, the experiments, the trials, that lie behind the considerable achievement which this exhibition represented. These artists had demonstrated that they were not satisfied with readymade conventions of either the academic western or the academic traditional. However, neither had they simply exchanged the conventions of the old schools in favour of obscure codes of modern paintings. Leyden had realized the future potential of these artists when he observed that those who want painting to be the expression of the deeper emotions and striving of a generations, will be satisfied with progressive offerings of these artists. These were reasons enough to hail them as welcome ?rebels?. Among the supporters of modernity at that point of time in Bombay were the other two émigré Germans, the artist-advertiser W. Langhammer and the Company Director, Schlesinger, besides the distinguished novelist and art critic Mulk Raj Anand.
With the passing
of decades and decades we are now realizing that modernity in India was carried
over after Independence by the maturing artists of the 1950s, who consolidated
it. The critical discussion was carried forward and kept alive by critics in the
1950s, who wrote about pre-independence pioneers of modern Indian art. Later in
1960s, they analyzed the new experiments and languages created by artists who
had worked through the late 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s. Supportive critical
writing alongside the ongoing developments in Contemporary Indian art, is an
important component of the times, which offers insightful reconstruction of the
process of the Indian modernity.
The two issues of ART ETC NEWS & VIEWS will explore the entire phenomena of the dramatic ?moment? of modernity in western India in a series of essays, some of them will be devoted to defining the trajectories that each of these artists took in their creative work as they grew and reached maturity.