Birla Academy of Art & Culture, December 14-18, 2010.
by Nanak Ganguly
Printmaking is like an act of sorcery. The repetitious plates to liberate desire that seeks to satisfaction but affirms human beings the sign of destiny at the end of history. As we are condemned to freedom and meaning we are condemned for transgression. Can we rid ourselves of satisfaction and steep in the free accidental play of desire- the subject? The subject that knows, idealizes and acts pragmatically is lacerated. Subject and self are no longer stable sources of meaning and productivity, but in these printmakers, become accidents and nomads. Only in the dissolution of the subject do we know that consciousness is the ecstatic discovery of human destiny. Above all, even if there is a promise of pleasure, the suggestion of pain is never far away.
We have seen that despite the fact that modernist practice privileges individual expression, artists have time and again come together as self-help groups with shared aims. This brings to our mind the Group 8 (1968), the printmaker's collective initiated by Prof. Jagmohan Chopra, aimed at constructing a community of printmakers. The collectivized efforts of Group 8 saw the emergence of special print exhibitions and publications some four decades back and how far did this help to expand the audience for the medium. Certainly this effort by Birla Academy of Art Culture under the stewardship of Atin Basak with 32 eminent artists some of whom are acclaimed Masters is also an attempt to “elevate” printmaking to an art form and remove all traces of its commercial, mass reproduction origins. Atin Basak says “…I am still… experimenting with different aspects of this medium for the last 20 years. Perhaps I enjoy the challenge of this indirect method which developed a true love for this medium. A surprising element is always active which attracted me from the beginning…What we are to do was to pull a medium out of its commercial context by pushing its limits beyond the parameters defined by commerce.”
There was no market for prints in the 1970's and one could push the frontiers of the medium in as a purely experimental gesture. The culture industry did not latch on to printmaking for a long time, therefore some of the most interesting explorations: processual and conceptual took place in printmaking. The aesthetics of printmaking was not dictated by market exigencies and this is clearly visible in the kind of work produced in that period. The parameters of “original” printmaking that emphasize working directly on the plate or matrix, instead of merely reproducing a work made in another medium are very important and equally to work with the mediums possibilities for the printmakers. Ravi Varma was primarily interested in expanding his audience for commercial reasons and therefore the potential of the multiple ways was very important for him. It is only much later in Santiniketan that artists began to experiment with the inherent expressive qualities of the techniques. In an interview given earlier Anupam Sud once said, “I am deeply anguished by the fact that today artists and galleries are complicit in misleading the public about printmaking with reproductions being passed off as originals.”
In intaglio the plate meant for printing bearing ink in a groove or pitted mark may be made from copper, zinc or steel or any hard material and the mark is either made directly be engraving or indirectly by etching with acid. Ink is rubbed and pushed into the mark and the surface wiped clean. Pressures of the press forces the paper into the plate and makes contact with ink during the printing which results in printed mirror- image of the original mark. These are then printed successively in registration. The plates confront the viewer here in the workshop in an overwhelming and dizzying fashion-exciting that it contrasts the work of major printmakers with widely disparate styles. This is the moment of aesthetic distance that provides the narrative a double edge. It is high time to stop defending printmaking as a valid art form and simply begin to recognize its enormous potential. Printing is explorative, creative and can incorporate carving, painting, drawing and using one's full artistic potential to create a work of art. These artists are eminent and prolific in their own field. Some were trained to be a painter or a sculptor but do not fear to go into an unchartered territory, their growing mastery as a sculptor, painter and printmaker deserve a wider recognition. The workshop's real importance is to gather artists at a time when a lot of printmakers have shifted their allegiance to painting blaming the condition of the art market responsible for this exodus. In order to sell the work, the galleries have to exercise equal effort whether it is a print or painting. This is why the galleries here have not supported the printmakers properly.