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Review: Tagore’s Paintings

books Updated: Jul 09, 2011 10:59 IST

Indrajit Hazra, Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Tagore’s Paintings: Versification In Line

Sovon Som

Niyogi books

Rs 1,250

PP 96

How one man can contain two opposite creative sensibilities — and creative strategies — has been an old puzzle. As a poet, writer of novels, short stories and songs, Rabindranath Tagore not only celebrated nature and all things within its realm, but also made a pantheistic creed out of it that typecast him (not incorrectly) as high priest of lyrical romanticism. And yet the man, who entered the world of visual arts in earnest at the age of 63, was an artist in love with pure form, creating shapes that didn’t have equivalents in nature.

Tagore’s Paintings is essentially a collection of essays on Tagore’s art by the late historian of art and artist Sovon Som that charts Tagore’s movement into art and then from abstraction to figurative images. With superb lucidity and providing examples, Som underlines how different this trajectory was from that of other contemporary modern artists such as Kandinsky, Miro and Jackson Pollock who took the usual direction of starting from representative art and moving into unfettered abstraction.

Som puts Tagore’s ‘radical’ journey as an artist in the context of his being an outsider in the world of visual art. Tagore’s art emanated from doodles that were corrections and deletions in the manuscripts he was writing. As Som states, “...but for these corrections and deletions, these self-referential and self-generated forms would not have appeared.”

Tagore himself saw his art as a rejection of — or at least an escape from — the real world under nature’s thrall. “A rose is a rose and nothing else. It does not express any emotion or keep concealed any philosophy; it has no words but only cadence of lines and modulation of colour... it does not instruct or inform, or represent anything further than what it contains in itself,” he wrote in 1932, two years after his debut exhibition at the Galerie Pigalle in Paris.  As Som points out, Tagore almost echoes Andre Breton’s 1924 manifesto of surrealism that underlined the importance of art as an antidote to the real world outside.

This slim book has great colour reproductions. But it is Som’s scholarly and convincing text that provides the images with context — despite an ugly typo (“A strange face uninvited/hovers before my brush...” has horrifically become “hoovers before my brush”).