The work of modern Indian artist Nandalal Bose is currently being shown at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Indian figures and forms are so comforting to me, and even more so in these diverse renditions. Bose’s work was touched by such a broad range of influences: India’s indigenous and ancient artistic traditions, Japanese and Chinese art, western modernism, and the anti-colonial movement, to name some. He experimented and produced in a wide range of styles. But his work remained always thoughtful and introspective.
The mood evoked in “Head of Shiva” is transcendent and inspires meditation, like the subject. The use of a single color draws specific attention to line, shading, and brush stroke. It makes me think of how neutral interiors require great variety in texture, surface, shade, and line to remain engaging. This “wash” painting is a second version of one of his early works originally done in 1910-11. He recreated his paintings in this technique in the 1940’s because much of the original work was unpreserved and lost.
“Evening” was my favorite work, and also the frontispiece at the exhibit. The composition is impeccable and riveting. It captures the feeling of Indian art so well, but it is decidedly modern. The spots of vibrant color really make this piece. The strokes in the tree trunks are reminiscent of western techniques, while the leaves on the tree remind me of Rajasthani miniatures. I believe that indigenous and ancient art in India features its subjects in the foreground, often filling the frame. Here this solitary figure is rendered partially obscured, while the trees in the foreground are larger and extend beyond the frame. Somehow the trees feel protective rather than imposing to me. This, again, is a meditative piece.
“Saraswati” is definitely lighter and livelier in line, color, and mood. The mix of the “niche”-like frame at the top and the vina extending out of this frame on the left gives the dynamic feeling of both a temple murti as well as a live depiction of the Goddess Saraswati, the goddess of arts and learning. The colors and lines, especially the lotus theme in the background, remind me of both Indian batik and block print on fabric.
Overall this exhibit really brought home the question, what does it mean to see the world through the eyes of an artist? There is inspiration and beauty in everything. The world is filled with line and color and diverse ways of interpreting what we see. And how we interpret and represent has an impact. Bose lived life through eyes like these.