Jamini Roy

JAMINI ROY (1887 – 1972)

Born in 1887 in a small village in Beliatore, Bankura district, West Bengal, Jamini Roy joined the Government School of Art, Kolkata in 1903. He began his career by painting in the Post-Impressionist genre of landscapes and portraits, very much in keeping with his training in a British academic system, but by his late 30s began experimenting with the Kalighat Pat (Kalighat painting), which was a style of art with bold sweeping brush-strokes. He eventually forged the style of modern painting for which he is best known, a successful reinterpretation of traditional South Asian iconography by way of crisp, clean, modernist lines. He went on to become one of the most celebrated modernists in the history of Indian painting. The mother and child, Radha, and animals were painted in simple two-dimensional forms, with flat colour application and an emphasis on the lines. The main subjects were often enclosed within decorative borders with motifs in the background. The figure of the Christ was also a subject that Roy often painted.

By the early 1930s, Roy made a complete switch to indigenous materials to paint on woven mats, cloth and wood coated with lime. The inspiration for painting on woven mats was the textures he found in Byzantine art, which he had seen in colour photographs. It occurred to him that painting on a woven mat might make for an interesting mosaic-like surface.

His paintings were first exhibited at the art school in Kolkata in 1929, and the artist also had notable solo exhibitions in London in 1946 and in New York in 1953 among other numerous solo and group shows. His works can be found in several private and public collections, institutions and museums all over the world, including the Lalit Kala Academi in Delhi and museums in Germany and the United States of America.

Jamini Roy was honored with the Padma Bhushan in 1955. He died in 1972 in Kolkata, where he had lived all his life, at the age of 85, a celebrated and revolutionary artist.

“……Jaminibabu would soon pass over the period, retaining as he did, the three most important lessons he learnt from the experiment. It must, however, be admitted that on being infected by Abanindranath’s nationalistic affliction, in 1921, Jaminibabu undertook a cultural journey back to re-discover the still living arts and crafts of rural Bengal, in terracotta reliefs, scroll patachitras, wooden patas and above all in folk toys (wooden and clay) of Bengal.”

“He, with a latent belief in classicist values, believed that to reach out to a wide spectrum of spectators and appreciators, a linguistic continuity was sine-qua-non for even the most individualist artist. With such reasoning, Jaminibabu created an individual Indian ‘modernist’ artist’s unique kind of art, with an unmistakably Indian identity of a kind. That precisely is the reason why Jamini Roy needs to be celebrated as ‘modernist’ Indian artist, of highest significance, even if his art was not contextually as relevant as some of his contemporaries and juniors. Significant though as non-abstract purist art with ‘Indian’ visual association, any reference to Indian life and the hopes and anxieties the life inevitably generated, is totally absent from Jamini Roy’s art. Jamini Roy’s is a self-contained autonomous art, at peace with itself.”

Pranabranjan Ray
“The 1930s was a time of experimentation with not only visual language but also with material and medium as well as with imagery. Whether it was the dancing Santals, the village blacksmith, the young village boy who could well be a cowherd, he invested his male figures with a robust dignity. The same dignity was manifest in the voluminous female figures. The figures are painted with thick, black contour lines. The simplification of forms suggests a sculptural quality.”

Excerpt from Jamini Roy (1887-1972) : Journey to the Roots by Ella Datta

Those who study the various pictures will be able to trace the development of the mind of an artist constantly seeking his own mode of expression. His earlier work done under purely Western influence and consisting largely of small copies of larger works must be regarded as the exercises of one learning to use the tools of his craft competently and never quite at ease with his models. From this phase we see him gradually breaking away to a style of his own.

You must judge for yourselves how far Mr. Roy has been able to achieve the ends at which he is obviously aiming. His work will repay study. I see in it as I see in much of the painting in India today a real endeavour to recover a national art that shall be free from the sophisticated tradition of other countries, which have had a continuous art history. The work of those who are endeavouring to revive Indian art is commonly not appreciated in its true significance. It is sometimes assumed that revival means no more than a return to the methods and traditions of the past. That would be to create a school of copyists without visions and ideals of their own.

Statesman Editor Sir Alfred Watson, 1929

Jamini Roy’s greatest credit has been that he really challenged the rearguard action of remnants of the Neo-Indian school stubbornly defending the studied archaism. By his campaigns he defeated them. This he did by relying on the vigour and vitality of folk art. Folk art was his source, as Picasso’s was primitive African and Iberian Art, Matisse’s was Persian art, the Impressionists’ including Van Gogh’s was Japanese landscape and Henry Moore’s was pre-Columbian American art. Part of the misunderstanding about Jamini stems from our not conceding that he was a modern artist steeped in the Western tradition. That he happened to be an Indian added to his and our confusion. He belonged to the modern trend of referring to non-Western sources of human art; the more primitive or naïve the better.

Excerpt taken from Jamini Roy – His Life in Art by Sandip Sarkar

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