Decades apart, yet a common ground in fine art

Decades apart, yet a common ground in fine art
COLOUR CRAFT: A painting by Asit Kumar Haldar
Today’s column is about two artists born many decades apart, and as different as chalk and cheese. Both were trained in fine arts and have used their artistic abilities in different fields. We begin with Asit Kumar Haldar, whose paintings are being exhibited at the Victoria Memorial Portrait Gallery in Kolkata at present. I was privileged to see these enormous canvases on a visit to Allahabad, a couple of years ago. They were displayed at the Allahabad Museum, and though I had heard about Haldar, but was unaware that the artist (a grand nephew of Rabindranath Tagore) had gifted 200 of his creations to the museum. The works chosen for the present show are only a part of the Haldar bequest and have probably never been moved out of the museum premises. The show is on till July 27, and I strongly advice art lovers in Kolkata to go see it.

Asit Kumar Haldar (1890-1974) had joined the Calcutta Art College at the age of 14 and achieved the unique distinction of being part of the first group of three artists to copy the Ajanta frescoes. Considered a leading exponent of the Bengal School of Art, on seeing Haldar’s work, it becomes obvious that the Ajanta style had a major influence on him. He became an expert in many mediums — wash, tempera, oil, gouache and pencil drawings — and went on to assist Tagore at Santiniketan, and was responsible for introducing important changes in the art curriculam. His interest in folk art and crafts took him to the position of director of the All India Handicrafts Board in Bangalore in 1956.

The second artist is the much younger Chennai-based Thota Tharrani, whose boundless energy, undisputed talent, versatility and total dedication to the job in hand, makes him one of India’s more unusual as well as prolific painters. I first came across the artist as far back as the 1960s in Bangalore. He was among the group of young painters whose works were being exhibited at the Ashoka Hotel. His command over the medium (water colours) indicated that he was destined for greater things to come. I again met him about a decade and a half ago, by which time he had become rather famous for his film sets and was awarded the Padma Shri in 2001.

The son of film art director Thota Venkateswara Rao, it was but natural that Tharrani should be fascinated by the world of films. However, painting has remained a constant force in his life and his fans wait to see his new creations that include his celebrated abstracts, spur-of-the-moment oils, pen-and-ink drawings and even sketches of his latest film sets. For almost five decades, he has managed the tremendous feat of ‘straddling both worlds simultaneously’. Perhaps, his approach to painting has something to do with his success —Tharrani picks up a brush only after a bath; for him, art is worship.

(The writer is an author and a former art gallery owner)

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