Paintings by Ambadas Khobragade, Ganesh Haloi, Mehlli Gobhai and Prabhakar Kolte

18 Oct 2013

Text by Jesal Thacker, 2008

Being an artist from Sir JJ School of Art, the abstract expressionists continued to  intrigue me – especially Vasudeo Gaitonde. In class, I often plunged deeply to observe his works, through books and catalogues (as they were the only mediums available). As I began to study his work, I came across many artists who painted in a non-representative manner. Amongst them, a mystical aura was conjured by Prabhakar Kolte, Rajendra Dhawan, Mehlli Gobhai, Ram Kumar, Ambadas Khobragade, Jeram Patel, Ganesh Haloi and Nasreen Mohamedi. All these artists had a common element in them; their art was un-identifiable. It was formless in its expression, yet it found a source inside a world filled with visual imageries.
Nature has been a constant muse for artistic creations; throughout history one can witness this fact - nature has transformed herself creatively to suit the eyes of the artist. The artist is initially attracted to the obvious physical beauty of nature - its lustrous form, colour, texture and overall aesthetic sensibility. By probing deeper, one begins to see what the normal eye cannot see. Our vision expands – with an inner vision to perceives the organic truth of nature, slowly dwelling deeper and deeper until one reaches a formless state from which all creation stems.
All these artists, be it Eastern or Western, are carriers of this hidden truth that is not visible to the eye, but is known to us by intuitive insight. Van Gogh perceived this truth with wavy energy strokes that formed his canvases - it was no aimless abstraction, but a concrete vision, perception and construction of nature; a reality beyond the physical existence. Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian, Mark Rothko - all resorted to this form of expression unconsciously, which was predominant in the West as they explored nature through art. They tried to reach the spirit from matter.
However, in the East, we directly connected with spiritual techniques as art became an expression of this union - a narration of the bliss, an image of the divinity within. One can carefully trace this faith and devotion in Indian pre-independence art through the temple architecture, miniature paintings and Ajanta caves - they all remain creative expositions of the same spirit.

Post-independence art in India struggled to balance these two diverse methods - from which many artists sprang to form the lineage of Modern Indian Art. The above mentioned abstractionists are at the extreme end of this lineage. With the limited understanding of art amongst the masses, these artists were passed off as mystical, which blocked the passage of a true understanding. When carefully observed, one can trace a sense of visual memory that is composed in their canvases, which is expressed with a minimum substitution of realistic delineation, to etch a basic fundamental impression on the surface.
For example, a study of Ganesh Haloi's works clearly show the landscapes of Kolkata - its typical flavour and colour - expressed in minimum form, line and texture. His earlier works are clearer, but his later works become more and more minimalist - resorting to a silence that exists in nature. He tries to capture the breath of each leaf, as it brushes with its natural surroundings. How is this perceived? Why cannot a layman hear this sound or perceive its inner beauty?
Simplification is the key to all these questions. It is when we simplify (not only our vision, but also our constant inner thoughts and desires) that we can hear the colours and rhythm. It's a process that requires a lifetime of research - a construction of thought, its de-construction and subsequent re-construction. This process is continuous for an artist. Eastern Philosophy and Spirituality play a very important role here: they become tools supporting the artist's inner vision, opening up pathways of probing deeper and deeper.

It is this enquiry of the self, vis-à-vis the painting, which I discovered as I began my journey of research. My curatorial practice is based on this search and thus every exhibition becomes a platform to exhibit my research as well as a platform for further discussion and introspection. This dialogue has no end.