First International Print Biennale in Delhi brings Printmakers Back in Focus

by May 1, 2018 0 comments

First International Print Biennale in Delhi brings Printmakers Back in FocusIndia had tried to adopt and integrate printmaking as a part of its ethnic culture throughout the 18th and the 19th centuries. The 20th century saw the rise of some prominent print-makers from the city, Uma Nair reviews four discoveries Bengal printmakers at the Print Biennale in Delhi.

From the early years, Kolkata remained the initiator in the aesthetic propagation of printmaking and it has produced some of the finest works in the history of this artform. The 20th century saw the rise of some prominent printmakers from the city where the benchmark had already been established in the first half of the last century during the colonial period. Post-Independence, India saw the art of printmaking at its zenith, complying with a language of its own.

Paula Sengupta and her steering committee recently created a phenomenal study in art history with the International Print Biennale in Delhi. Among all the works that were unveiled, four Bengal print-makers stood out for their strength of composition, their devotion to the very process of printmaking, their passion for the medium as a powerful recording of reality in the times they belonged to.

History says printmaking in India began in the 1700s. In the journal, Arts News and Views, Sarmistha Maiti writes, “An album called Twelve Views of Calcutta was published in the 18th century that was a compilation of prints. The tradition was further enhanced with the settlement of various foreign artists on the banks of the Hooghly River who were mostly engravers and etchers. Throughout the 18th and the 19th centuries, India tried to adopt and assimilate printmaking as a part of its indigenous culture of art in an attempt to make it truly its own.”

Prominent printmakers

Maiti also adds that the journey of printmaking in the eastern part of India developed around the socio-political conscientious ground. The artists’ deep concern for contemporary society and its malice got introspective and represented in their works of art. Chittoprasad was one of the most socially involved artists of the last century. His main area of expression was through caricatures, sketches and prints and he is probably most remembered for his depictions of the Great Famine of 1943. He combined satire, mock elements and the touch of sensibility to invoke the variable layers of thought process a work of art is able to execute, with minute detailing that took the realistic appeal of the prints to a higher order of aesthetics.

Labour and the Linocut

The great master Chittoprasad, who died in poverty, did stunning surreal portraits of workers and peasants — his portrait of a fisherman is one that draws attention to the capacity of man to forget the unforgettable. Whether pen or brush and ink, his strokes give us the pain and deprivation of the underprivileged during the 1940s. We also know he was a caustic critic of the hypocrisy of the political class in his cartoons.

A member of the Communist Party, it is the simplicity of the portrait and the ethos of the subject that draw attention to his devout socialist principles. His magnificent oeuvre included paintings in colour and posters in which the worker and peasant emerge as heroes. In his depiction of portraits taken from the everyday idiom of labour, he stands apart as an extraordinary artist.

Human drama and angst

Somnath Hore was more than an artist. He was a witness to the human drama but his expression was artistic. Hore was the head of the printmaking department, College of Art, Delhi. He won the National Award for a colour etching called Birth of a White Rose, 1961. To see the etching so many years hence is to be invited into the kingdom of a master, who loved his medium. This print personifies his deep knowledge of composition and the alchemy of natural, abstract as well as cubist schematic elements; and his ability to balance monotones and colour viscosity printing from the same plate.

Hore explored the technicalities and virtuosity of printmaking. He used to tell the students to work on different permutations and combinations in just one plate in order to learn the vocabulary of printmaking. He was fascinated by the textures and visuals that could be produced through different processes such as lithographs, etchings, monoprints and woodcuts.

Tranquil etchings

Rural Bengal in woodblock printing was what Haren Das could create magic with. Through true indigenous appeals to the mundane sentiments of society’s rural roots, Haren Das transcended simplified depictions of village scenes to create prints with a story-telling mode of narrative — his coloured etching is a telling tale of a rural riverine rhythm.

It was Ibrahim Alkazi, the noted theatre personality, and princely collector who had arranged Das’ retrospective at Art Heritage, New Delhi, and established him as a major print-maker more than two decades ago. He could also execute wood engravings, linocuts, etchings and cave reliefs with equal ease. He headed the graphics department, Government Art College Kolkata, from 1947 to 1979. The institution had a tradition of printmaking.

Das had the technical competence that was unbelievably complex. Both in black and white and colour woodcuts, he excelled in depicting the lifestyle and culture of rural folk. He seemed to sanctify the simplicity of their lifestyle. There are elements of documentation in his prints. But the visual and aesthetic harmony of his prints is manifold.

Mystic symbolism

Master of mystic symbolism, Dipak Banerjee, his 1966 etching on paper is worthy of scrutiny. Banerjee the mentor and the master used make his own colours with dyes made from herbs and vegetables. He was influenced by tantric symbolism, and his understanding of geometry gave his works a cohesive formula of perfection in which his works withstood the formulae of time and space.This work in the show is a reflection of his understanding of cold and warm tones, the fluidity of lines and their linear graphics. Trained in Paris, his work personifies his understanding of Indian mystical philosophy and the inner rhythms of minimalist moorings to create works that stood as iconic indentations in the world of etchings and linocuts.

Writer: Uma Nair

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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