Colour, style, simplicity, innocence, and ample creativity best describe the artworks of artist extraordinaire Jamini Roy (1887-1972). Around 200 works including sculptures and sketches by the late artist adorn the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) in Bangalore as part of an exhibition dedicated to him. The exhibition titled ‘Journey to the Roots’, curated by Ella Dutta, started on 20 March and will go on till 30 April. The exhibits are from the Jamini Roy collection at NGMA (Delhi) and Museum of Art and Photography (MAP), Bangalore.
Born in 1887 to a middle-class family at Beliatore in the Bankura district of Bengal, Jamini Roy studied at the Government Art School in Kolkata. He was trained in the British academic style of painting. But like most of his famous contemporaries in the Bengal art scene of the early 20th century, he shunned the British style of art in spite of having complete mastery over it. He also all but gave up using oil paints the predominant medium in this style of art. This was in protest against the British rule in the country.
Instead, Jamini Roy inspired by the folk art tradition of Bengal developed his own individual style of painting and went on to create history. He loved experimenting. He experimented with colour as well as the material he painted on. He used bold, vibrant and dazzling colours. In his later years, he used tempera.
Jamini Roy painted for a living and he did well. He regularly received commissions. The versatile artist never dated his works so chronologising his works was next to impossible. His works are divided into many series. He also made copies of the works of great masters like van Gogh. He mass produced his paintings and he didn’t charge like other artists of his time. The idea was to make his works easily available for the common man.
He enjoyed global recognition. The Cleveland Museum has the largest collection of his works. Jamini Roy’s was a highly fruitful career and it spanned six decades. During his time, he held exhibitions of his works at Arcad Gallery in London and also at New York.
One of his favourite themes was ‘Mother and Child’ and he has a panoply of works on this theme in different perspectives. One such painting of a Santhal woman and her young son drove the great artist Abanindranath Tagore to tears. This particular painting is on show at the exhibition.
The ‘Krishna-Leela’ series is exquisite. I simply loved the painting of Krishna and his brother Balarama flanked by peacocks. I don’t remember seeing a more ornate painting. A painting of Yashoda milking a cow and the child Krishna watching her with his arm around her is a picture of innocence. And there is a smile on the cow’s face! Do look out for the painting of Krishna and the Gopikas. It is as colourful as it is expressive.
The artist’s portraitures of Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi throw hints of his support to the Nationalist movement.
Jamini Roy’s suite of paintings featuring Santhal women has a very sensual tone unlike those of other women he painted.
Though he stayed rooted to village culture throughout his career, Jamini Roy loved exploring other cultures. This is embodied in his series on the life of Christ. The idea of creating the series on Christ was to communicate the story of Christ to the average Bengali villager. The paintings are nothing less than spectacular. His version of the ‘Last Supper’ will have you awestruck. The painting depicting crucifixion of Christ is very colourful in spite of the tragedy of the scene. It is also very expressive and depicts divinity as well as sadness in equal measure.
Jamini Roy’s portrayals of animals are very cute and witty. Paintings like ‘Black Horse’, ‘Rats’ and ‘Big Elephant’ are cute and ornate. ‘Cat and Lobster’ has elements of naughtiness. Another painting ‘Big Bull’ also stands out in this series.
The legendary artist also produced a series on the Ramayana and Mahabharata. The painting depicting Sita’s Agnipariksha is stunning. The use of colour, and the portrayals of the Monkey Gods and sages makes this work a visual feast. In 1935, Jamini Roy painted an entire series on Ramayana for noted Bengali sweet confectioners K. C. Das.
The illustrious artist’s oeuvre also includes landscape paintings like ‘3 Boats’; people paintings like the ‘Santhal Dance’, ‘Tibetan Monk’, ‘Three Pujarins’, Blue Boy’, ‘Bibi’ and ‘Babu’; animal paintings like ‘Queen on Tiger’; an oh-so-cute depiction of a doll; and vibrant festival pictures like a colourful one showing Holi.
Jamini Roy was awarded the Padma Bhushan by the Government of India in 1955. He died in 1972 at the age of 85. His legacy still lives through his astonishing works.
UPDATE: THE EXHIBITION HAS BEEN EXTENDED UP TO 10 MAY.