01 Dec, 2019 - 02 Jan, 2020

The Figural Universe features six artists whose works are centred on the human form. Each artist presented here explores this common theme as a vehicle to distinctively express notions related to culture, geography, and social and personal identity.

            The narrative of this exhibition begins with M.V.Dhurandhar (1867–1944) from Kolhapur, Maharashtra. On display in this exhibition are his sketches of women and landscapes. These reflect the artist’s training at the Sir J.J. School of Art, Bombay where students were ingrained in the habit of sketching. Dhurandhar sketched, from life and photographs, in preparation for oil paintings and for creating illustrations. A pioneer in the field of Applied Art, many of his sketches and paintings were translated into prints and used to illustrate books. Particularly relevant to the works on display was his illustration of Otto Rothfeld’s Women of India featuring women from different parts of the country. Working in the naturalistic method of painting that was popularised largely by European painters, art historians argue that his life and works also reveal his desire for rooting himself in the vernacular world. The search for an Indian identity was a concern for not only him but also for many artists who came after him from different parts of the country.

                  One such artist whose works reveal a distinct search for an Indian identity was K.C.S.Paniker (1911–1977)  from Madras. As seen in some of the works on display he was a master in the naturalistic painting method. A trip to the West exposed him to developments in the art world there. More importantly, it also underscored the need for an Indian identity in one’s work. He thus began to create flat forms with an emphasis on linearity that drew from Indian visual traditions.  In this regard, the works of Jamini Roy, whom he had met in the 1940s, were also a point of reference for him. This is evident in the painting of a mother and child that is on view in this exhibition. As a teacher and later Principal of the Madras School of Arts, his desire to evolve an art that would be “Indian in spirit and world wide contemporary” influenced many artists, all of whom were broadly grouped together under the Madras Art Movement.

                 One of the students of K.C.S.Paniker who furthered the Madras Art Movement was A.P.Santhanaraj (1932-2009). A native of Tiruvannamalai, his works were the outcome of his energetic personality, his exposure to the murals of Tamil Nadu and his grounding in local culture. He absorbed these exposures and inclinations with prodigious skill resulting in a visual vocabulary consisting of explorative lines and fractured forms. Reminiscent of landscape formations, the figures reveal the artist’s perception of people- earthy and being shaped by the land they inhabit.  The visual parallel between land and human form that could be read as a reference to man’s attachment to his environment as well as the erotic impulse resonate with the works of Laxma Goud whose works are also part of this exhibition.

                  Belonging to the hot and arid Telengana, the works of Laxma Goud (b.1940) are anchored in rural life that he saw while growing up and to which he consciously returned following his degree in art at Baroda.   This was upon the advice of his teacher K.G.Subramanyan who told him to “look for an expression that would not be interchangeable”. He thus gravitated towards the villagers whose uninhibited expression and openness towards the erotic was in contrast to the city dwellers. Over the course of his life, Goud worked on images ranging from the openly erotic to representations of rural characters examples of which are on view in this exhibition. In these works, the raw passion evident in his early works has been replaced by subtler emotions. These works are also a testimony to the artist’s fine sense of observation which transcends documentation and acquires a poetic quality.   

                 While the poetic aspect in Goud’s work reaffirms the joyousness of life, in the works of Somnath Hore (1921-2006) it is used to evoke the pathos of human life. Born in erstwhile East Bengal, his life and works were shaped by the experience of the Bengal famine, the communal riots and Partition. Suffering and wounds became the subject of his work expressed through various media such as printmaking, sculptures and sketches. The 1970s and 1980s in particular marked the time when he worked on his famed Wounds series and began sculpting. Alongside these explorations he created sketches and paintings, some of which are on view here. These works reveal the artist’s preoccupation with suffering manifested through emaciated bodies and distorted forms. The use of monotone not only reveals the artist’s fondness for printmaking but also heightens the bleak mood of the works.

                     Vivid colours are by and large absent even in the works of Chennai based artist C. Douglas (b.1951).  His works are pervaded by greys and earth tones produced, among other things, through the use of tea stains and sand. Paper in this regard is particularly apt since it absorbs the stains easily and allows itself to be torn, stitched and crumpled, all of which echo the primary theme of his art works- the fragility of human existence. The vulnerable human form, embryonic or broken is a preoccupation for Douglas.  Evolving from a deeply personal context, his images, such as the paintings on display, are a combination of figure and text. This reflects both the artist’s fondness for reading as well as the way meaning is made in the world- through image and word. These images and words that create images represent the way the artist contextualised the discussions on regional identity and linearity, that were taking place during the Madras Art Movement, to address trans-national issues of migration and memory.