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Since 1st March, 1999
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Attractive asceticism, eternal Varanasi
A work by Haku Shah.

A large exhibition of Haku Shah, the Gandhian idealist from Gujarat, titled Maanush has opened at Emami Chisel Art on the EM Bypass.

As the title suggests, it is all about high ideals that may seem unrealistic but somehow it works when this 74-year-old handles the human figure. It turns into a monument of uniform proportions, limbs and features, inspired partly by indigenous traditions, minus all extraneous elements, as in his figure of the sage in saffron.

The underwater sirens and the conjoined dancing figures of the man and woman are stripped to the basics without a hint of ornamentation. He uses oil colours on canvas, but at times his works look like wall paintings. Even when he draws on Rajasthani miniatures, he uses simple lines to delineate forms, and so they look quite modern. The colours he uses look bleached, occasionally contrasted with brighter shades. The sky behind the two white figures playing a flute under a tree and coaxing a cricket is a beautiful ultramarine. Rain clouds turn into blocks of colour, and the sun is a golden disc. His allows himself to be whimsical in his collages with handmade paper and his drawings are purely linear. Asceticism looks almost attractive in Haku Shah’s paintings.

India’s eternal city, Varanasi, has been painted and photographed so often that it is difficult if not impossible to create images that carry even a hint of originality. Gallery K2 is holding an exhibition of six artists, including Ganesh Haloi, who has contributed one painting. Haloi can turn geometry into poetry and reams have already been written on it.

Of the rest, only Tapas Ghoshal has tried to experiment with form and colour. He juxtaposes bright and muted shades and uses motifs of wall decoration, and icon-like likenesses of temples and stairways, two other features with which the holy city is identified.

S. Pranam Singh’s evocation of an alleyway with bold brushstrokes is quite evocative. Giovanna Caruso’s crowned girl drinking green coconut water stands next to a dazed penguin placed on a table. Waif-like and sporting sunglasses she stands under the shade of umbrellas. Two foreigners look on. The girl’s extraordinary gear pushes a perfectly ordinary situation into the realms of the bizarre.

Prints are a neglected art form. Few galleries touch them as few know that they are actually original works of art bearing an artist’s impress, and are not mass produced. Chitrakoot’s exhibition of graphic works presents some of the most talented printmakers of Bengal, many of whom have are either too old to create them, or have themselves passed on. Chittaprasad known for his depictions of the famine created a village on the outskirts of Mumbai. It is a revelatory work. There are two prints from Somenath Hore’s Wound series, but even more interesting is the burst of red around the skeletal figure raising its hands in protest.

The lithographs and woodcuts by the likes of Makhan Lal Dutt Gupta and Ramendra Nath Chakraborty are lessons in art history. Roop Krishna’s tiny etching is marked by great delicacy. Amitabha Banerjee, Dharmanarayan Dasgupta, Shyamal Dutta Ray and Sanat Kar are also well represented.

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