Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Review - The Blank Canvas filled by Prabhakar Barwe and more..


The Blank Canvas filled by Prabhakar Barwe 
Bodhana Publication, Mumbai published the English translation of a book by the legendary artist Prabhakar BarweJohny ML reviews ‘The Blank Canvas’.

When you read Prabhakar Barwe’s ‘Blank Canvas’, a collection of ruminations on creativity in general and that of his own in particular, the crystal clear thoughts and the beautiful preambles for each chapter throw you into some sort of confusion. How could that be possible? You may ask. Confusion brewed up in me only because, while reading I thought that he could have been a poet rather than a painter. But each time I looked at the illustrations that accompanied the text almost in each page, I thought, nay, he was a great gift to the field of visual arts. Barwe, the artist could have been both; a painter and a poet. Many, who are deeply immersed in regional cultures, are poets and painters as well. Those who are unilingual or monolingual or pretend to be so, remain just art critics and poets. They write prose in poetic fashion and poetry in complete prosaic form, both leaving a bad taste in the readers’ mouth. Blessed are those creative people who could at least use their mother tongue, national tongue and the tongue of power with the same verve and passion, and do not feel obscene about being a vernacular speaker/writer. Barwe was vernacular in writing and universal in his visual language. When you read the translated essays and feel the beauty of it, you may feel sad for not knowing the original tongue in which it was written, Marathi. But we have a translation that has not lost the nuances of it; more about that later.

( Work by Prabhakar Barwe - For illustrative purposes only)
The Blank Canvas, published by Bodhana Publication, Mumbai is the English translation of the original, ‘Kora Canvas’, which was published by the reputed and respected Mouj Publication, Mumbai in 1990. Known for his flat enamel paintings filled with objects and shapes, which is neither abstract nor narrative but curiously non-figurative and poetically and intuitively narrative, Prabhakar Barwe was born in Nagoan near Konkan region in Maharashtra. He had an artistic lineage as his grandfather and father were famous artists of their own merit as they showed their artistic excellence in academic realism. Barwe, in his own rebellious way moved away from the academic realist language and found his mode of expression in a space, form, feeling and meaning based language by using the medium of enamel paint. To eke out a living he joined the Weavers Service Society as a designer after his schooling at the Sir J.J.School of Arts, Bombay. Job took him to Benaras where he got introduced to Tantric philosophy and practice from which he shielded himself by absorbing the philosophical threads and leaving the rituals behind. He did not become a Tantric practitioner nor did he become a neo-Tantric painter. But the Tantric philosophy and the Indian philosophy in general helped him to create a discourse around his own aesthetics and the aesthetics that he deemed to be universal and relevant for all times.

( Work by Prabhakar Barwe - For illustrative purposes only)
As an artist, according to Ranjit Hoskote, who has written the introduction to the book, Barwe was formulating the ideas for himself as well as for a group of artist friends who used to come around to share ideas on a weekly basis in 1960s. Barwe was interested in Jiddu Krishnamurthy’s philosophy of doing away with the past and rejecting the known for making space for the new. Also Barwe was interested in the writings of Paul Klee. This learning and the context in which he was establishing himself as an artist demanded a sort of elucidation from his side about what he and his fellow travelers were thinking about art. Once Barwe was on the job of writing, like a diarist, he was no longer writing it for a group of people, but he was writing for the people in general. He was right perhaps, that’s why when his notes were first published in 1990, the Marathi reading public embraced it to their hearts and celebrated it like an event, a new arrival. Those people who were not interested in visual art also were drawn to it once they read Barwe’s book.

( Work by Prabhakar Barwe - For illustrative purposes only)
Barwe starts off from the blank canvas. It leads to him to the discussion of space, from there to he moves on to form and meaning. Anybody would think what more to be talked about art, that too painting? But he has something more to say about colour, than imagination. Okay, enough, what else to be said. Barwe goes to the next level of inspiration and from there to content and medium. What is left and what are you talking about, one may wonder. But then there are more petals to be unfolded in this lotus of art that Barwe is holding out for you. He has now ‘sensibility’ to talk about. Then about experience and image; what do you do with logic and coherence; expression of emotion; naturalness; the touch of truth; vision. Come on, is there something more to art? But surprises are still in store for the reader. Barwe leads them to the joy of creation, feeling, the experience of beauty, the real, the surreal, dreams and pictures, concrete and abstract, illusion, symbols, the mystery of panting and the BLISS. If you are not able to keep this smooth flowing writing down and you hunger for finishing this literary feast in one go, I will not say stop it. It is irresistible. Why, because, nowhere Barwe brings up academic art history. He talks in a language which can find a parallel only in the words beauty and feeling.

( Shanta Gokhale)
What is the essence of Barwe’s writing? The more you read him the more you understand that this artist is someone who has walked a different path. He talks about being simple. He is not a Gandhian. But the idea of simplicity comes from keeping the desire quotient under check. Then what do you let loose in your creative operations; experience, emotions, feelings, sensitivity and so on. He tells the reader about how you crystalize not only the idea of making but also about the idea of looking. There is a beautiful chapter about seeing and looking. Even John Berger of Ways of Seeing and Ways of Looking cannot come anywhere near to Barwe when it comes to philosophical clarity. The topics that Barwe has dealt with have already been written about by many aestheticians both from east and west. While their audience is mainly the academics, Barwe sees his audience in the common man who holds the handle loops in a local train with one hand and reads a Marathi newspaper held precariously in the other hand. He speaks to them directly. But it is interesting to notice how he invites the reader to his world of ideations. Barwe, at the outset of each chapter speaks something about the universal; citing of moon, sun, butterflies, waves, night, day, streets, flowers, lonely village paths, tools and so on. He speaks of a sapling, he looks at the movement of an ant. This is a mundane world that we generally avoid. But when your attention is invited to the mundane they look ethereal, surreal, sylvan and romantic. Barwe prepares his readers for the next step where he speaks of art and its various facets. And, I assure you that you cannot divert your attention once hooked. 

(Jesal Thacker)
But I am not a Marathi reader. How come I got the beauty of that language in the English translation? The answer lies in the fact that it is translated by the famous critic, novelist and essayist, Shanta Gokhale. Her novel, Tyavarshi, originally written in Marathi was recently published in her own translation in English as ‘Crowfall’. When Shanta Gokhale translates you do not find the difference between two languages. She captures the music of the language and tries to recreate the same in the translated version. In fact the project was started off long back by accident, as Gokhale would like to put it. When she took up charge as the arts page editor of Times of India in Mumbai, she devoted a section to publish regional art writings by artists in their translated versions. It still remains a feat that many editors have taken up with the same rigor. To begin with the column she had translated the first chapter of Kora Canvas by Barwe and people thought that Shanta Gokhale was on her way to translating the whole book. With a lot of trial and error, with enthusiastic and reluctant assistants to support, she finished the translation a couple of years back as someone was tailing and pestering her all these while. It is Jesal Thacker of the Bodhana publications did the magic with a lot of patience and perseverance. She has taken it up as her mission to bring out regional art writings in English as well as publishing monographs and original interviews of contemporary artists. Shanta Gokhale deserves bouquets of gratitude from the art lovers in India and elsewhere for bringing a beautiful book which otherwise would have got confined to the Marathi reading public. I think each book written in a vernacular language, if it is really of best quality, from its inception itself gives birth to a translator also. In Barwe’s case Kora Canvas has already found its translator in Shanta Gokhale. Even if she had refused to do so, somehow it would have come back to her desk. Last but not the least Jesal Thacker has done a commendable job in bringing this book out in English, in great paper with wonderful illustrations by the artist. 


The Loft, Mumbai presents a solo show of works by artist Antonio Puri, titled ‘Varna’. The show is a result of a residency program at Arts Reverie in Ahmedabad. The Philadephia based artist has worked with a subtle skin coloured palette to depict the change sin skin colour of the local residents. Addressing issues of caste systems in India and taking it as a point of departure into the larger context of the world, the artist plans to incorporate people from various continents. 
Colour being seen as a strong separator of peoples of any community, the work addresses the issues of discrimination, racism and castes.

The show is on view till 7th February 2014.


Visual art Gallery, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi presents the works of artist Manoj Kachangal  in a show titled, ‘Love’. The show displays acrylic on canvas paintings. The renowned artist belongs to Madhya Pradesh.

His amazing sense of mixing colours and his creative ideas are a delight to watch. His forte lies in creating abstract paintings. He tries to mix a variety of genres in his paintings. He never plans out what he will create, instead just applies paint and lets the brush take control working intuitively.

Till date, he has exhibited his works at various solo exhibitions. His creations have been appreciated by various art lovers. He has been honoured with awards like 'Meera Gupta Merit Scholarship' and 'Raza Award' to name a few.
The show is on view till 15th January 2014.

Aqua Echo

Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai presents the works of the immensely talented artist, Parag Borse. The artist will display his range of works in his exhibition tilted 'Aqua Echo'. He has used the medium of oil on the canvas for the paintings.

The artist graduated from J. J. Institute of Applied Art. His works draw an inspiration from his surroundings. He loves painting the real life urban and rural scenario around him and believes that art is a form of relaxation. He had presented his works at various exhibitions.

The show is on view till 15th January 2014.

The Eternal Radha

Dhoomimal City Gallery, New Delhi presents a show titled, ‘The Eternal Radha’ by artist Suhas Roy. The exhibition comprises his 20 creations, all resplendent in their imagery. 
The Eternal Radha is the artist’s mysterious heroine his concept of a perfect woman is literally garbed as a muse; or lies nude to sniff delicately the receding mountainous air in a pensive guise; the rocky horizon seen while approaching the road gives rise to a clear, live image of her inner self that deeply stirs the painter.

The rhythm in Suhas’s paintings runs through a piece of music. He puts a vital rhythm into the visual sensation. 

The show is on view till 31st January 2014.

(News reports by Sushma Sabnis)

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