Indian Blue Uncovers a Range of Artistic Practices

An exhibition that explores the nuances of the most varied of colours written into the fabric of the country -- the blue of the skies and oceans, the rivers and lakes.

An exhibition that explores the nuances of the most varied of colours written into the fabric of the country — the blue of the skies and oceans, the rivers and lakes, the blue of ancient royalty and that of Koh-i-Noor, of Ambedkar’s famous power suit, of the peacock’s feathers and Shiva’s throat, the blue of Kali and the hue of Ram and Krishna, the often-ignored fourth hue of the Indian flag — in an attempt to research the artistic responses to it spanning over a century of art practice.

DAG, uncovers a range of artistic practices from the realistic to the abstract, from landscapes and portraits to history paintings and figurative narrations, across an equally astonishing range of mediums–oils, watercolours, acrylics, printmaking, sculpture–and periods, in its exhibit Indian Blue through which it examines the history of the colour blue in India and the world prompted by its seemingly universal value.

“Even though all art deals with colour, we have never before examined a colour individually,” notes Ashish Anand, CEO and MD, DAG, adding, “Through Indian Blue, we discover that colour plays a central role in our lives, and the artists were chosen for this exhibition establish our relationship with it in different ways. I hope this will be the start of discovery of different colours and their hierarchies in an artist’s palette.”

Landscape artists used blue not just for the sea and the sky but to suggest vast distances, or to denote shadows. It is in that vein that Nicholas Roerich has painted Blue Cliff — amassing of rocks of various shades of blue to suggest depth as well as light and shadow: a masterly work to represent the lofty Himalayas. K. C. S. Paniker’s Untitled (River Scene) is one of the last of the works in which the artist turned to his academic training as a device for communication. He had become conscious by this time of the need for an indigenous vocabulary and would go on to create the Madras Art Movement, found Cholamandal Artists’ Village, and create his well-known Words and Symbols series. Coincidentally, this painting was made the same year the national Lalit Kala Akademi was set up in Delhi.

Among the most charming works in the selection is a group or family portrait by an unknown artist that depicts a group of five women of varying ages in their gara sarees seated as though posing for a photograph with a group of four children. Two of the women hold a walking stick and a diary or spectacle case. The painting draws interesting parallels with the development of photography and how it influenced portrait painting in India. Rhapsody in Time by Anupam Sud explores how the printmaker returns to images she had made earlier, adapting and morphing them for etchings later. In this case, the figure in the etching took 17 years to evolve.

The greatest surprise of the exhibition is a painting by Jamini Roy-a tempera abstract that seems to consist almost entirely of a textured blue mottled with red and a few diagonal lines — a rare work of the kind almost never before seen from the master’s oeuvre.

Featuring over 90 artists, including Jamini Roy, Nandalal Bose, Sunayani Devi, Jogen Chowdhury, Abanindranath Tagore, Ganesh Pyne, Ramkinkar Baij, all from Bengal, the Russian artist Nicholas Roerich who made his home in India; pioneering modernists such as F. N. Souza, M. F. Husain, S. H. Raza, Himmat Shah, Prabhakar Barwe, Satish Gujral, Avinash Chandra, G. R. Santosh and; others like Jeram Patel, Paritosh Sen, Prokash Karmakar, Krishna Reddy, Manu and Madhvi Parekh, Devyani and Kanwal Krishna, J. Sultan Ali, Natvar Bhavsar, Jyoti Bhatt, Chittaprosad, Shanti Dave, Biren De, Rabin Mondal, A. H. Muller, K. K. Hebbar, K. Laxma Goud, Laxman Pai, Gogi Saroj Pal, Anupam Sud, Bireswar Sen; the exhibition opens on October 10, 2021 at DAG, The Claridges, New Delhi for two months.

Indian Blue in an effort to examine the relationship civilisations share with the colour blue, not only helps the viewers understand the artistic responses to its hues and tones at a subliminal level — something it achieves through the chosen colour under investigation in this exhibition — but also goes beyond it to examine the role colours play in human lives. And what better way to explore this rich sensory archive than through the world as visualised by artists.

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