Wounds – Somnath Hore

11th January – 21st February, 2016

at Akar Prakar Art Advisory, New Delhi

 

Somnath Hore’s (1921-2006) paper-pulp prints, of made marks on expansive white space without colour and with occasional wispy touches of reds and/or blacks, are rightly celebrated for perfect symbiosis of personal technology of making and a language that communicates in sensuous terms. The sparse minimalism of the language is resultant of the intensity of the biogenic feeling transformed into dense on-surface visual explication. By simulating various kinds of wound marks, made by different kinds of weaponary on corporeal bodies, on paper surface starkly, Somnath at the same time intensified the feeling of hurt and extended the meaning potentials of inflicted suffering.

Somnath Hore took his time from around 1968, through wide range of experiments to wed technology of making with visualinguistics, for communication, of dense message of human suffering, resulting from inflicted wound, in visually tactile terms; to which he arrived around 1972, with his white-on white pulp-prints. His journey began with monochromatic lithographs of 1971; with red or black detail-less linear silhouetted figures in tell-tale postures in vast barren spaces. He would soon abandon the planometric surface of the litho-stone, in favour of cut and /or chiselled blocks of wood to pull cameo impressions – to get the feel of cut and /or bruise. But, instead of applying colour on the wood-blocks to get impression of the colour, he made paper-pulp with impregnated reds. The red colour paper pulp would then be spread on the worked wood block. The block with the spread would then get repeated presses and rolls to squeeze out water and be thinned. The bleeding red sheet with impression would then be peeled off and dried. These red cameo prints, on self-made colour–papers, off blocks of cut and bruised wood, led Somnath to making of large blocks of clay, wounding the surfaces with various kinds of tools, for simulating wounds inflicted on living bodies by different kinds of weaponary. For getting the impression of varieties of wound, Somnath would then use paper–pulp; pressed and rolled; the impression receiving surface would then receive details both from the bottom and the top. From sun dried clay tablets to less fragile cement matrice; it was just a shift of convenience. The driving intention was simulation of heightened perception of reality, shorn of details, to densify focus on inflicted suffering.

Pranabranjan Ray

 

Print and Pulp : HAUNTING RESIDUES

“What do I paint? Expression of my own self, revolving around the one concept – Wounds. All the wounds and wounded I have seen are engraved on my consciousness.” Somnath Hore

Look at any work by Somnath Hore, the grace, the fluid delicacy and the poignancy of minimalist expressionism remain as a reflection that is born of suffering. In varying degrees in Somnath Hore’s sculptures, prints and paintings, besides the haunting sight of an anguished struggle, there is a simultaneous possibility of endurance, in which technicalities lead on to a more forceful statement of sensitive emotive contents, to give us a residual human form that harnesses experience into expression. It is in the placing of the humans that we see a haunting echo, an epic vision of man’s suffering.

These rare print and pulp works originate from an important period in Hore’s career. In 1958, Hore came to Delhi to set up the first ever department of printmaking at the Delhi Polytechnic. At this time he began experimenting ‘with intricate compositions, using multi-coloured etchings printed off a single matrix. Delicate yet richly textured, he used colour for the first time in an expressive manner.’

Thereafter sprang the paper pulp print series ‘Wounds’ which the artist began to make from the 1970s alongside his sculptural work. This series represents the culmination of thirty years of exploring the theme of war, starvation and human suffering, in a simple yet powerful manner. The prints were made from moulded cement matrices (the moulds were taken from originals made in clay), on uncoloured paper pulps, which form into paper on the matrix. Hore moulded the white paper to form wound-like gashes, and stained them with red blood-like pigment.

“In these works, one can detect some organic shapes, in low relief, and contortions of the paper surface amid flat or mildly textured spaces of white paper, having some gestural protrusions. The shapes and the contortions suggest an organic dynamism, evoking associations of birth, decay and death. The left-out spaces around the hollow areas are porous and freckled and can thus be likened to the quality of the human skin. In this context, the pulp print becomes tactile as well as visual, generating an overall sense of discomfort in the viewer.”

Throughout his career, Hore experimented with different printmaking techniques and materials, particularly lithography and intaglio. In the Wounds series shown here, the printmaking process itself reflects the artist’s experiences of violence and trauma. He used knives and red-hot rods to cut and burn into a piece of clay, which then provided the basis for a cement mould that would shape and scar the paper pulp. Wounds shows the marks of a knife, which has rippled and torn its surface, whilst a large hole burns through. Blistered, dented and fragile, the prints stand as representations of the wounds on human skin, pierced and disfigured by conflict and shrapnel.

The scars depicted are universal symbols of human affliction, relating to both the trauma of Hore’s lived experience and what the artist perceived to be a larger social malaise. But the economy of line, the sparseness of mood is what creates abstractions of subtle splendor bathed in wounds that recall Shakespeare’s ‘red ruby lips.’

 

Sculptures: A Socialist’s Spine

‘Wounds is what I saw everywhere around me. A scarred tree, a road gouged by a truck tyre, a man knifed for no visible or rational reason … The object was eliminated; only wounds remained.’ ~ Somnath Hore

History shapes our language, and often by the law of unintended consequences. In the sculptures of the decades to follow Hore would create works that unveiled angst of all kinds — of the spirit even more than the body. He used allegorical satire with whiplash grace; the more cutting because of its moments of forbearance. In his Goat the essence of his poetic intensity, is something else: a quaint expressive phrase with the expansive radiation of a split atom when you look into its details.

For Hore, creativity in sculptures went beyond mystery, dissolving into the metaphysics of personality and talent as in the universal frame of livelihood in Picking Lice. The quasi- abstract rhetoric of postwar Communism and the constrictions of its concrete gray reality seem so lucidly woven we can sense its impact. Uncanny how he did away with notions of mass and volume, and went beyond to find a balance between the patina of flat sheets and an expressive aura.

His sculptures became verses of a strong and steady light, which, without denying the shadows, were about suffering and created an imagery of iconic poignancy in the garb of tragic grandeur. Hore’s socialist spine is at the core of ‘classicism’. Hore invoked to signify his sculptures with the realism of experience. There are also other related qualities: for example, his preoccupation with trials and tribulations cannily modified so that contemporary experience is constantly held in the long, cooling perspective of man’s moorings as in Boar Hunt.

Then there are his subdued, chaste rhythms and sparse language as in The Woman and the Beast. The tension between the ideal and the real is the backbone on which all his work depends. It is what allows Hore to be at once classical and insistently political. For everything he created is founded on the realization that suffering, by its nature, is idealistic, hopeful or, as William James put it, ‘tender-minded’, while the situation in which he must function as an artist is savagely ‘tough-minded’—pragmatic, political, destructive, controlled by life’s paradigms. There is delicious irony in the comparison of proportional identities-small quaint sculptural entities vie with the magnitude of human suffering.

 

Drawings

It was the famed Chittoprasad who introduced Somnath Hore to the bare bones and living nuances of drawing. His ability to translate what he saw on the famine stricken streets of Chittagong became the leitmotif for his understanding and life long passion with the need to portray reality. But even after joining art college and picking up the foundation of sketching – reality for Hore was about the contours of anatomical truth and skeletal finesse. Pen and ink became a satiating reverie and the human condition remained his most cherished subject while domestic creatures like the cat or dog sometimes peered into his drawing sheets.

Hore’s drawings  leave no room for romantic excesses. If he gives us a portrait it is also classical in the tautly intellectual control that edges it continually towards some Platonic point of rest, some poise of art and understanding. In image after image he strains cunningly towards the moment of final silence. His subjects live between time and space in the equipoise of eloquent elegance. Details alternate between what is sumptuous and what is subtle.

We could think of Hore’s artistic leanings going through mediums of drawing, print making and sculptures and yet keeping his subjects the same points to his passion of understanding the rudiments of human suffering. To some degree, this tension places him firmly in the tradition of Indian literature, which has developed during the few centuries despite constant domination by one foreign power or another. These drawings unveil Hore as an artist of complete isolation. In whatever he created Hore embodied the conscience of a civilization, a revolution. The great sculptor Giacometti said:‘Art is a residue of vision.’ And so be it.

Uma Nair
Curator and Critic