By Madhusree Chatterjee
New Delhi: At a time when western artists are commissioning juniors to create artworks for them in studios, seven Britons are trying to revive the manual skill-based art.
Their project, titled ‘Critical Narratives in Colour and Form’, explores trends in visual art to encourage artists to create works themselves rather than commission others to do it for them.
Manual art in the western world is becoming rare with famous artists offering lucrative commissions to part-timers to execute complex projects and learn in the process.
But in India, where visual art is yet to become a sustainable livelihood, most artists, barring the big names and studios, still do the work themselves.
One of the earliest studio artists in India who outsourced his work was Jamini Roy. He taught his sons and students to paint his ideas, executed mostly in the form of narratives.
Curator and British artist in-residence Angus Pryor, who has been working in a small room at the India Habitat Centre here, is reinterpreting the Biblical story of ‘Adam and Eve expelled from the Garden of Eden’ by imprinting images on his canvas.
Pryor, a senior lecturer at the University of Kent, has picked iconography from Mughal and Pahadi miniatures. His Eve is blue.
“…Like Lord Rama of Ramayana. I painted the face of our presenter Alka Pande’s daughter blue and imprinted it on my canvas to create the impression of a blue woman, who is also a man in the philosophy of the eastern ‘ardha-narisvara (man-woman)’,” Pryor told IANS.
The other icons on his canvas are impressions of readymade plastic toys that appear as demons.
It is a carry-over from the 20th Century avant-garde icon Marcel Duchamp’s readymade mechanical art, in which “he reintroduced mechanical toys as paintings on his canvas,” said Pryor.
The work is painstaking as it is manual.
“In the post-conceptual era, people are looking at the manual skills of the artists once again. It is a reaction to manufactured art, which is such a huge tradition because of the studio system. Artists like Damien Hirst commission people to make his art… Flemish artist Rubens too got people to make his art in the 16th century,” Pryor said.
“But a huge group of artists is now saying: ‘Look, we’re making our own art with our own hands’,” Pryor said, explaining the counter-movement.
Mavernie Cunningham recalls myths from her childhood through woodcuts and lino-prints.
She uses her daughter as a metaphor in her generational saga while the imagery has ethnic art traditions of India as well as the west.
“I have tried to continue with the tradition of Duchamp where the objects have been distorted by a process. The starting point is always the same and the objects have a personal connect with me,” artist William Henry said.
He has cast a set of three small violins — like the ones painted by Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso — manually on to a frame to show objects can change but the substance remains the same.
Mark Rowland will exhibit paintings of the lush English countryside in bright colours with alien objects like drums and fuel vats placed at odd points to convey industrialisation of pastoral landscape.
Chris Hunt documents human expressions and emotions in his traditional portraits, a practice few western artists use today.
“Portraits are difficult and time-taking,” Pryor said about Hunt’s work.
Ayah Mouri has taken techniques from ancient Japanese art traditions to narrate fairy tales.
The project, an educational initiative of the Visual Arts Gallery of India Habitat Centre, aims to deepen people’s engagement with art, says critic Alka Pande, who conceptualised the project.
“The artists will display their works in the form of serial narratives from Nov 27 to 30. Nothing is for sale. The exhibition will be followed by a two-day workshop on curation, critical art writing and a curated walk,” Pande said.