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Inimitable with brush... and pen

K.G. Subramanyan is not exactly fond of talking of his works. But his works speak for themselves. For proof just leaf through a retrospective on the seasoned artist, says OM GUPTA... .


THE PUBLISHERS of "K.G. Subramanyan: A Retrospective" have called it a catalogue. It is a modest understatement. In fact, its text writer says, "Subramanyan's oeuvre has not only grown but also become richer, and if anything his place in the Indian art scene has become more seminal and more widely recognised. This retrospective not only includes his more recent work, but also, with over 350 works, takes a more comprehensive overview of his oeuvre. There is little that this beautifully illustrated companion to one of the greatest artists of our times doesn't tell. The works of Subramanyan create a mosaic that links even the most isolating moments of our common past both to our present-day cultural practices and to the larger human landscape, says Rajeev Lochan, Director, National gallery of Modern Art, in the preface.

It traces the origin and creativity of a communicator par excellence both verbally and visually. It talks about various influences which the artist imbibed and the improvisations he made in the six-decade long journey of expression through a widest possible range of media including iron sheets, water colours, gouache, oils, acrylics, relief murals, panels, fabrics and terracotta with equal ease and elan.

Subramanyan has always been averse to talk about his works. Because he believes that the

arts are not translatable. Says he in the book, "There are many things I consider fundamental to my art creativity -- emotions, inspirations, the inner landscape of the heart, agonies, enthusiasms and such psychological minutiae that I do not feel comfortable talking about."

He virtually ridicules any effort to draw out the artists from their shell. "People sometimes ask such questions. That blue in your painting, what does that mean? You don't know. But to avoid a second question you say may be I was depressed then.' That pink, you add in a light vein. "Maybe I was happy. That explains it, they declare you have two contrary streaks inside your placid self. You are a schizo with a grinning cat on the right, a growling dog on the left."

Still the book gives a vivid insight into the thought and the creative processes of KG both through actual and imaginary conversations. He is not happy at the way the artists are trying to promote themselves. Says he, "The artist today wants to be a performer like a tumbler or a juggler or a contortionist -- to amuse, to shock or titillate. Not that I would not like to be amused, shocked or titillated. But these are the pleasures of the bathhouse. Art should give you something better."

The book reflects on the hereditary, environmental and acquired factors that went into the making of what K.G.Subramanyan stood for and known as. It takes the reader on an absorbing voyage which starts from the backwaters of Kerala, takes to Mahe and Santiniketan in India and Slade in England and finally ends in various towns of Europe. It makes a stopover at each creative milestone of the artist's evolution. It is a journey from outward to inwards. From tradition to modernity. From global to national and from universal to insular.

The best parts of this presentation are the colour plates representing the best of the artist's works which are also on display at the National Gallery of Modern Art. Subramanyan's images are visions of this order that brings the antipodes together and show us that: Between the sky and the earth hover over life and death, loathing and love, growth and grey decay, Man snipes at clouds. Birds land in spectral flight. Between abstract beauty and twisted agony, Hearts meet under trees below the moon. All broken fragments of stories to be made. And all addressed both of our eyes and our mind.

The book should inspire the initiated and the lay viewer to have a panoramic spectacle of a fabulous body of his works. It's a collector's item to be passed on to successive generations.

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