He may be an unsung hero but Bengal School master Ajoy Ghose, one of the few living artists practising the traditional wash technique of painting brought to India by the Japanese and developed further by Bengal School masters like Abanindranath Tagore and Nandalal Bose, is finally being given the due recognition he deserves. In a first solo show in Delhi at Gallerie Ganesha, the 64-year-old veteran artist will be showing 22 works starting September 7.
Says Shobha Bhatia, director, Gallerie Ganesha and curator of the show, “With all this emphasis on contemporary and modern art, somewhere the old traditional techniques of Indian art are going unsung and getting lost. So it is important to create an awareness of important landmarks in the evolution of Indian art amongst younger art viewers. Ajoy Ghose is an unsung master belonging to the Bengal School of Art who has remained true to the labour intensive and highly skilled technique of wash paintings, something which our younger artists have chosen to ignore in this fast-paced lifestyle.”
The traditional Bengal School watercolours (wash technique) were brought into India by the Japanese. In 1903 Japanese scholar and art critic Okakura sent his two artist disciples Yokoyama Taikan (1868-1958) and Hisbida Sbunso (1874-1911) to India, and they stayed with the Tagores in Calcutta. Abanindranath then observed how Taikan, using a large flat brush charged with water over a carefully painted and highly finished surface, gave it a range of soft and delicate tonalities. Abanindranath acknowledged this in one of his autobiographical writings but he also developed the technique further. After a thin transparent layer of watercolour, the painting was literally dipped in water (the Japanese never did it), which washed away some of the colour, and yet another transparent colour-wash was given on it. In this way, after successive colour and water-washes, different colours fused, bringing out tender tones, replacing the stern geometry of European pictorial space with a dream-like timelessness.
It is in this context that the solo show by Ghose assumes importance as he is one of the few living artists who still practises this technique of wash paintings. Beautifully recreating the stories from Indian mythology — from Ahilya and Savitri, Karna-Kunti and Karna Parashuram to depicting divinities like Durga, Ganesha and Shiva — in subtle colours yet finely nuanced lines and delicate features, Ghose has reasserted himself as an artist still charmed with the mystique and charismatic glow of what is essentially Indian. His technical expertise in space division, use of dimensional forms and lines, use of soft colours indicates his unique conceptual approach and modulation of inherited skills to the development of a visual language that is definitely modern despite being anchored in tradition.
Born in Bengal in 1938 and educated at the Government College of Art & Crafts, Kolkata under Dhirendranath Brahma, Satyendranath Bandyopadhyay and Benode Behari Mukherjee, Ghose has held important positions as Member of Faculty Council, University of Kolkata and Head of the Department of Drawing and Painting, Indian style at the Government College of Art & Crafts, Kolkata from 1984 to 1998. He is also the founder member of the contemporary Bengal Artists Group.
(Poonam Goel is a freelance journalist who contributes articles on visual arts for unboxedwriters.com)