Artist Jyoti Bhatt’s earliest memory from his student days at MS University is that of assisting his teachers, N.S. Bendre and K.G. Subramanyan (fondly called “Manida” by his contemporaries and students), in their life-sized murals. “Teachers were like parents, and everybody looked out for each other. It didn’t matter where you came from or if you agreed with each other’s ideas and aesthetics. It was an environment that respected originality and artistic integrity,” says 73-year-old Bhatt. A retrospective of about 100 works by the artist, Jyoti Bhatt: Parallels That Meet, is on at the Delhi Art Gallery, and a book about his life and art of the same title, was released by Baroda alumnus and New Delhi-based artist Vivan Sundaram.
Masterstroke: More than 100 works by Bhatt are displayed at Delhi Art Gallery
A master of painting, print-making and photography, Bhatt stopped working eight years ago due to deteriorating eyesight. “I’m trying to restore my works and replicate some of them through computer software,” he said on the phone from the gallery, before the show opened.
Bhatt was a graduate of the first batch of the fine arts faculty taught by Subramanyan and Bendre, and subsequently became a member of the Group 1890 that artist Jagdish Swaminathan formed in 1962. The group (named after the number of one of the artist’s houses) rejected the naturalism of Raja Ravi Varma, the pastoral idealism of the Bengal school and movements in European art, and called for a new language. His fellow members included Jeram Patel, Himmat Shah, Raghav Kanneria and Gulammohammed Sheikh.
Bhatt pursued studies in Naples and an artist’s fellowship in 1960s’ New York, when Andy Warhol and the pop art movement was redefining the way the world looked at art. But he returned in the late 1960s, joined the fine arts faculty of MS University, and spent the rest of his years as a working artist travelling in Gujarat, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, searching, in his own words, “for images from real India”. The works at the retrospective represent various phases of that search—colourful motifs from cross-stitch embroidery, rangoli motifs from rural Gujarat, calligraphic forms from his native Saurashtra and also works of print-making and photography that reflect a distinct assimilation of American pop art.
“Some artists get wings when they move away from their roots. It was the opposite for me. I got pulled back to my roots, like it was the pull of gravity. Assimilation had no meaning unless the premise was what I knew from my heart,” the artist says.
Jyoti Bhatt: Parallels That Meet, at Delhi Art Gallery, 11, Hauz Khas Village, New Delhi. Until 27 October.
Another artist-teacher from the Baroda school is little-known Vinodray Patel. A contemporary of Gulammohammed Sheikh and Himmat Shah, Patel’s works were hardly under the spotlight in his lifetime. Mumbai’s Birla Academy of Art and Culture was preparing for an exhibition of his works from the 1960s, a prolific abstract phase in his life, in May this year when, in the last week of April, Patel passed away, in his early 70s.
The gallery has, however, decided to go ahead with the exhibition because, its curator Sandra Khare says: “The works were made 40 years ago, and the materials used may be outdated, but they are conceptually very modern.”
A sneak peek into the 20 paintings on paper, in enamel, ink and water-based colours, have the stamp of the passing years—almost-yellowed paper, frayed at the edges. In some of them, Patel juxtaposed animals, concrete structures and human figures in the same frame to surreal effects and some are pure abstracts where he played with smudged ink for their layered texture. Some of them are illustrations intended for a children’s book.
Patel was teaching at the fine arts faculty when he finished more than 100 works during the 1960s, some of which, along with his later works, were curated by Baroda-based artist Veena Jaikumar for an exhibition in Baroda in 2006.
The artist abandoned the abstract medium by the time he left Baroda and moved to New Delhi in 1996 and continued painting there.
Says his wife, Usha Patel: “He adapted very easily to the trend of exploring new media in the Baroda school that came into vogue in the 1960s. He was already an illustrator and designer for some industrial companies in Gujarat when he joined MS University as a student and he was always open to new media. Most of these works are done on German paper, a medium that’s almost extinct now but was in vogue then.” A former dean of the institute, Deepak Kannal, says that among his contemporaries, Patel stood out as a colourist.
But the most insightful comment comes from Patel’s teacher, K.G. Subramanyan: “I knew Vinodray for many years and watched with pleasure his talent for all kinds of art practice—painting, illustration, print-making and graphic design. In a sense, he was marked out for today’s art scene, which is deeply affected by various visual dialects of communication arts. It would have given him ample opportunity to put to use his sense of wit and whimsy.”
Works of Vinodray Patel at the Birla Academy of Art and Culture, Century Bhavan, Prabhadevi, Mumbai. From 19 October to 1 November.
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