Around a month after Santiniketan introduced that it’s going to honour its eminent alumni Benode Behari Mukherjee with a gallery devoted to the work of the visually challenged modernist grasp, an exhibition in Delhi traces his oeuvre, from the time Mukherjee accomplished his research at Kala Bhavan. “He registered as its second student in 1919, when the institution was established,” says artwork historian R Siva Kumar, who has curated the exhibition titled “Between Sight and Insight: Glimpses of Benode Behari Mukherjee”. Born right into a extremely literate household, a childhood sickness had left him blind in a single eye and myopic in the different. Unable to pursue formal training, Santiniketan is the place Mukherjee gave new life to the shut affiliation he had constructed with nature.
At a time when most different artists had been instilling nationalistic fervour by turning to mythology and historical past, Mukherjee was portray his environment and the self. “He began to paint landscapes and placed himself in the work, lending a more personal vision. Some of them are quasi-autobiographical paintings. In a way, he is looking at the world through his eyes and we are made aware of that — this is something that Indian artists might do later,” says Siva Kumar, turning to some of the early works in the exhibition.
Sourced from the assortment he bequeathed to his daughter, the late artist Mrinalini Mukherjee, the show, unfold over two galleries, exhibits the evolution of the grasp from a younger pupil to the pioneering modernist who didn’t let his failing eyesight intervene together with his inventive endeavours. If in his academics in Santiniketan, Nandalal Bose and Rabindranath Tagore, he discovered steerage, his travels uncovered him to world traits in addition to extra native orientations. Influences of his transient keep in Japan in 1937-38, as an example, are seen in the method through which he painted scrolls and flowers. “He is not directly influenced in terms of style. He would look at what is the constructional framework underlining the practice,” says Siva Kumar.
Back in Santiniketan, in 1946-47 Mukherjee designed what has been described as “perhaps the single most important work painted in modern India” — his mural Life of the Medieval Saints which featured the quite a few saint-poets of India.
Appointed as the curator of the Government Museum in Nepal in 1949, he got here in shut contact with the craftspeople and artisans. “Their work convinced him that a visual language could be structurally simple but rich in functional and expressive suggestiveness, and this is a quality that folk and traditional styles shared with certain post-cubist painting,” writes Siva Kumar in the catalogue. In the exhibition, we see the mountainous terrain with sloping roofs and cloudy skies. The panorama adjustments in the ’50s, when Mukherjee strikes to Mussoorie after travelling to Banaras and Banasthali. With additional deterioration in his eyesight, there’s a seen change in the line detailing of his landscapes. Appointed instructional adviser at the Art School of Patna in 1954, he begins to attract extra from reminiscence. “The definite strokes, the graceful web of assured touches, and the measured wash of colour, characteristic of his work so far, give way to vague scribbles, harder edges, and thicker layers of pigment,” notes Siva Kumar.
By the time he returned to Kala Bhavan in 1958, he had misplaced his eyesight and started to search out different mediums to experiment with; aside from drawings, he produced a number of collages and paper cuts, some of which had been later changed into colored lithographs. Siva Kumar writes, “Besides paper cuts and collages, he also made drawings, capturing the form, its edges and spatial disposition in a single gesture. Going further, after exploring the surface with his hands and fixing the field in his mind, he performed a sequence of gestures big and small, leaping blindfolded from island to island, to create complex compositions with several elements.”
A tribute additionally comes from his pupil Satyajit Ray. In the 1973 biographical movie, The Inner Eye, enjoying in the gallery, Ray paints an image of the life story of the modernist, ending with Mukherjee’s now well-known remark: “Blindness is a new feeling, a new experience, a new state of being”.
(The exhibition at Vadehra Art Gallery, Defence Colony, is on until February 22)