|The poet who scribbles his mindscape - a painterly, volcanic burst:
A brief appreciation on Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore & his work of art
Raj Kumar Mazinder
It was a great privilege and fortunate for myself as to view ‘Tagoreana in the National Library’ an exhibition of select books, illustrations, portraits, paintings and manuscripts from its collection at Art Gallery, Bhasa Bhavan, National Library, Kolkata, 06- 17 June 2011(which has been curated by Prof. Swapan Majumdar), during my brief tenure at the historic premise in last month. As mention in the brochure, “The exhibition mounted here as a humble tribute to Rabindranath Tagore as revealed through the world of his manuscripts and books in the possession in the National Library, Kolkata. Again, as worth to quote from the brochure - “The National Library, Kolkata, has been one of the greatest repositories of printed materials collected in India over almost the last two centuries. Tagore items constitute a respectable part of that collection.” After that intense experience, of course, certainly it is an enchantment to write about Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, an epoch making poet sage and his work of art. Here my intention is to study, appreciate the text/visual, process and inner man behind of his image- making predominantly beside his prolific literary works.
In Rabindranath case, however his prolific literary output which includes great bulk of prose and poetry as well as the three thousand and some odd drawings and paintings that he did during the last ten years of his life, which seem to some to be of totally different in kind and nature. As Sandip Sarkar writes, “Rabindranath literary works have a harmonious interrelationship of highly idealized form worked out with great precision and cohesion sometimes with monumental classicism, at other times with lyrical romanticism and often with effects of simplified yet subtle tones of naturalism. Contrastingly his painterly renderings seem disorganized and chaotic, disharmonious and primitive, destructive, demonic and expressionistic. How to account for the disturbing and confusing extreme polarity of the two?”
In fact Rabindranath Tagore started painting seriously in his old age. The earliest work of course comprises of scribbles of pen on unwanted word or whole lines in his manuscript of poems, what have been termed as doodles have been traced as far back as in the first decade of twentieth century, profusely filled manuscript with erasures is the one containing the collection of poems later published in ‘Purabi’’, which was published in 1925 and dedicated to Victoria Ocampo in whose house in Argentina he stopped for convalescence when he fell ill in the previous year on way to Peru. Victoria Ocampo herself has described how she saw the poet at work both at the poems and the erasures; making lines that suddenly jumped in life of this play; prehistoric monsters, birds, faces, appeared.”
The red line of the road is merged in the
dawn on my life’s shore,
The opening sentence of “My Reminiscences” begins with an allusion to painter’s art, “I know not who paints the pictures on memory’s canvas; but whoever he may be, what he is painting are pictures; by which I mean that he is not there with his brush simply to make a faithful copy of all that is happening. He takes in and leaves out according to his taste. He makes many a big thing small and small thing big. He has no compunction in putting into the background that which was to the fore or bringing to the front that which was behind. In short, he is painting pictures and not writing history.” …….” The variegated colours scattered about are not reflections of outside lights, but belong to the painter himself, and come passion-tinged his heart.”
The other important landmark in Rabindranath’s career as a painter is the exhibitions of his works held in many European cities (Paris, Berlin, Moscow and Birmingham) and in New York during the year 1930. Worth to mention that, the first ever Tagore exhibition took place in Gallerie Pigalle, Paris from May 5, 1930 till May 19, 1930. Prof. Satyasri Ukil writes about another remarkable landmark of Tagore’s art; “In February, 1932 (initially from Feb. 1932, but later on extended till March 7, 1932), audience of Calcutta had witnessed the grand spectacle of an exhibition of Drawings, Paintings, Engravings, Poetry, and leather work by Rabindranath Tagore at Government School of Art at 28, Chowringhee Road. It consisted of two hundred and sixty five original works by Tagore in various mediums, apart from seventeen craft work by his son Rathindranath and daughter in law Pratima Devi…. Artist Mukul Dey, first Indian Principal of Government School of art, Calcutta (Dec. 13, 19170) and the sponsor of this historic exhibition, was a student of Tagore’s school at Santiniketan during the year 1905 till 1911. In the illustrated catalogue published on the eve of this event Principal Dey had introduced Tagore the artist in no uncertain terms.”
The enigmatic world of Rabindranath’s doodles and early paintings are peopled with predominantly animals and birds so grotesque that it is difficult to specify species. To an extent they do derive from his childhood memories suggested numerous times in his “My Reminiscences”. They are a sort of personal zoology for both creator and vice versa. One may draw an analogy between child art and Tagore’s painting which had in earlier years been more linear and flat pattern quality and the later work, which is more painterly, where the image are built in terms of colour masses and conceive in space. But the growth of child’s image does not place in Tagore. He is already an old man, confident and mature, with fully developed all round sensibilities. His scribbling is accompanied by the exercising of the unconscious and is directed towards giving concrete forms to images. In fact image making seems to be the whole basis of his paintings from the beginning to the end. There is no schematic element but conscious serious process in Rabindranath’s early works at all.
Landscape constitutes a major and constant theme in Rabindranath’s oeuvre. And some of the most interesting, refined, expressive and mature paintings were done in this genre. When he painted a landscape he is always total atmosphere that he is seeking for. The common features of the late landscape are: silhouetted trees against glowing sky arranged on either side of the painting surface, the middle opened up through which the glow of the sky is seen. This serves as compositional focal point and also as means of leading the eye into pictorial space. There are no local colours and no realistic details but spontaneous brush work of restricted palette. In its treatment of light it has a plain-air quality like the Impressionist. In fact that they are rarely occupied with human figures given them an added air of peculiarity.
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