Art News & Views

Somnath Hore

Book Review

by Anil Casyab.

Somnath Hore's body of work is of a very special pain and torment. The humanity and sheer brilliance of his work, which infuse the essays contained in this volume edited by Nanak Ganguly, may be traced in some measure to the conditions of the epoch he lived in. In fact it is difficult to measure an intense career that spans over sixty years. These essays by different writers of repute reflect though his talent and enduring love to humanity. The volume also include Hore's own essay first published in Seagull Foundation for Arts catalogue of 'Wounds', an exhibition in 1992 providing compelling insights into his preoccupations, ideology and the making of his language. Each of the following rubrics considers his great career, in order that moves not necessarily from the simplest to the most complex, and among the perspicacious lovers of the equivalence, in the form of this book, between the visible and its nominal inverse. Hore to be sure, often trafficked in the violence of a depicted scene; spectacles of bestiality, mutilations and horror. But these are overly facile detours, detours that the artist himself judged severely and condemned. His refusal in his work to employ fixed categories, such as genres, to explain human action both at the individual and social level also rose from his personal experiences- it is a violence of reaction and expression, a scream rent from terror; a residual vision he witnessed. It is an understanding of human predicament that took shape from encountering the wars, the Japanese bombings and man- made famine he experienced early in his childhood in 1942 and 1943.

It is exactly such traumatic encounters Pranabranjan Ray maps in his essay 'Hunger and The Painter'- “…life-long involvement in painting, drawing printmaking in different media and sculpting is, similarly, long odyssey in the pursuit of the most expressive objectification of the ontological essence of wounded humanity- the first manifestations of which he experienced as a youngman of twenty two, during the man-made Bengal Famine of 1943.”

K.G. Subramanyan sums this up nicely “…He goes over and over this obsessively. In everything he sees, he reads its gesture of tragedy.” In his Wounds a space often delimits the place where the human being- that is to say, the Figure- is seated, lying down, doubled over, or in some other position. What comes in sight is the indelible mark of pain- an axis of agony is thus created. Chittaprasad was the 'first mentor' of Somnath Hore. Somnath has himself expressed this in one of his writings. Subhendu Dasgupta elaborates this in his essay printed in this volume.

In his direct and stark representations, Hore's work evolved into a mature and more liberated expressionism over a period more than six decades and hailed by critics as the progenitor of the main spirit of the Seventies in Indian art. His strategy was to change medium from time to time.  Sculpture was the last in this long series of shifts. Prof. R Shivakumar in his essay 'Images of Discontent' maintains cruelty and suffering fixed the missionary focus of his life and art at the very outset but he did not discover his visual language or artistic sensibility at one stroke. He was one for whom the Bengal famine of 1943 was an unforgettable experience. “For him it is an In Hore's sculpture form is no longer an essence but becomes an incision and thus labels him a socialist painter and a missionary.

He died on October 1, 2006 at the age of eighty- five after a prolonged illness of the lungs. All those who knew and admired him grieved without measure the loss of a great Master of Indian contemporary art. Today we are left with an unparalleled intellectual and artistic inheritance of his art work and writings on and by him. It is like entering a great sea. The book is not intended to be a definitive guide to Hore's work, but to suggest ways for further studies and future scholarship. This volume will certainly take us directly into the life of a great artist in modern day India and act as a kind of memory of his times, mind and ideology.

Somnath Hore, Edited by Nanak Ganguly, Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi, Price Rs.750


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