| An enamel by K.G. Subramanyan, part of an exhibition of a series by the artist now on at the Seagull Arts and Media Resource Centre. Picture by Pradip Sanyal
Amal Ghosh, the artist who used to teach enamel painting at an institution in London, had held a workshop at Kala Bhavan, in Santiniketan, in 1998. At that time, new equipment was acquired and, along with it, a new furnace. Since then, K.G. Subramanyan has been experimenting with this new medium. Last year, he had done a series in enamels that is now on exhibition at the Seagull Arts and Media Resource Centre.
Protean talent that Subramanyan is, he attacks the medium of enamel painting with the same vigour he does every other medium to which he has been introduced in the past. Be it terracotta relief, reverse painting on glass or sculpture, he harnesses the language of that medium for personal expression, often enriching his work by the knowledge he has gained by working in diverse media.
As R. Shivkumar, art historian from Santiniketan, says, the veteran artist is always eager to try out different media without imposing on them.
Folkloric, tribal, craft, Mycenaean, African … the range of influences that one can trace in Subramanyan’s imagery is phenomenal. His mind seems to absorb by a process of osmosis myriad influences to which he has been exposed, erudite scholar that he is.
Transmogrified by his imagination, we see it all in a new light, the influences barely identifiable. He has, thus, retained a very individual form of expression that is often imitated but seldom replicated.
The enamels are small in format and are framed. There are a little more than a dozen of them. They could be called paintings. They could be called relief. Overlaid and scraped, their surface undulates according to the accretion of paint. The enamels are almost monochromatic and the palette is confined to warm chocolates, greys in a variety of tones, black, red and green.
Subramanyan had been trained at Santiniketan under Nandalal Bose, Benodebehari and Ramkinkar. It is so easy rediscover Sahajpath in these enamels but in a different context, of course. They have the same brooding and mysterious quality. But the wit is unmistakable.
Human beings are shown in complex relationships. Some of these works could be frozen moments from a play, the protagonists engaged in wordless exchanges. A man, arms akimbo, gives the glad eye to a nubile maiden. Two figures in bathing suits (or in deshabille) face each other.
Two warriors from some Grecian urn are locked in a battle of gazes. A person looks out of a window at a sky studded with great balls of fire. A large and lonely sofa sits in a room swathed with heavy drapes. Two women at toilette. The large head of a little girl with a bird. A sentient being seems to be keeping watch as a genderless couple is engaged in making love. They could also be pugilists. Little is clearly stated. The viewer’s imagination is allowed to fill in the void.
Subramanyan uses fine lines, blobs or large areas of colour with such unerring ease and unconcern that the process seems to have nothing premeditated about it.
The exhibition continues here till March 8.