Unfolding Kashmir’s Charm, Magic Of Tantra

Unfolding Kashmir’s Charm, Magic Of Tantra

9 January 2012
The Asian Age
Moushumi Sharma

New Delhi: In the first-ever retrospective of one of India’s most iconic artists, Delhi Art Gallery (DAG) has ushered in the New Year with a seminal exhibition featuring the works of National Award and Sahitya Akademi award winner G.R. Santosh. On display at the DAG in Hauz Khas Village, the exhibition, called Awakening, showcases important works from all phases of the artist’s career and includes rare archival material and some of his unpublished writings. The exhibition will conclude on January 21. Hailing from a conservative Shia Muslim family in Kashmir, Santosh always wanted to become a painter. “I never wanted to do a white-collar job. I would rather work with labourers,” he said. He learnt his craft the hard way - painting signages and buildings for a living and drawing for tourists. Born as Gulam Rasool Dar, he renounced his surname after marrying a Hindu girl as a protest against the opposition to his inter-religious marriage. From then on, he came to be known as G.R. Santosh, Santosh being his wife’s name. Santosh was a self-taught artist, as his father never encouraged him to pursue art as a profession. Persuaded by S.H. Raza, a member of the Progressive Artists’ Group in Bombay, Santosh joined the Progressive Artists’ Association in Srinagar in 1952. Later, a scholarship took him all the way to Baroda, where N.S. Bendre mentored him and under whose tutelage he shed his informal training. In 1957, Santosh received his first National Award from the Lalit Kala Akademi and was awarded the Padma Shri in 1977. As a figurative artist, Santosh drew his inspiration from Kashmir. His Gouache on Paper works at the exhibition - Sunset on Jhelum River (1954), Backwaters, Dal Lake, Kashmir (1952-53), Kashmiri Women Having Tea (1956), Houses on the Jhelum (1952) - show his love for the Kashmiri culture and landscape. This, however, changed in 1964 on his visit to the Amarnath caves. After what he called a mystical experience, Santosh gave up painting and dedicated his time to meditation, reading and research. It was during this time that he was heavily influenced by Kashmiri Shaivism. “Technically, it took me 23 years to throw away the thick colours I was used to,” he said. From there on began his period of transition, in what can be called the tantric phase (mid 1960s-late 1970s). His works in this period are called the Shiva-Shakti series. “Tantra was not an intellectual exercise for me, but an internal urge, a call to understand the truth that is the source and underlying principle of everything, the truth that fashions the contours of our creative expression,” he said. Santosh’s paintings show his attachment to Kashmiri philosophy. At the same time, much of his works revolve around the Bindu - seed of the tantric tradition. Madhu Khanna, co-author, The Tantric Way, aptly sums up the artist’s works in the following words: “It is quite obvious from Santosh’s vast oeuvre that he had internalised some meta-truths of Kashmiri philosophy and mastered the technique of manipulating a wide range of abstract tantric symbols that not only lent a tantric signature to his works, but also tended to create a mystical aura of sublime transcendence.” Santosh’s inclination to the early tantra phase, however, dissolved into what critics called his neo-tantra works, in which his figures and shapes became more geometric. Nonetheless, his love of Kashmiri landscape made him add elements like mountains and clouds in the backdrop of his figures. Shantiveer Kaul, author, The Art of G.R. Santosh, says, “Most of Santosh’s neo-tantric paintings look like stylised portraits of the female form, seated in padmasana or the lotus position. This is not a coincidence; there is a definitive suggestion of the female torso in the placement of geometric elements within the composition. The stylisation is symptomatic of Santosh’s devotion to Shakti, the Divine Mother.” Apart from his tantric and neo-tantric works, the show exhibits his six pen and ink on paper works made in the late 1960s and untitled acrylic on paper works done in the late 1980s. His oil and waxwork on canvas include 10 paintings of the early 1960s, titled The Feel (1964), Torso Series (1965), In the Snows of Kashmir (1963), Calligr-aphy Series (1963). His experimenting methods of working on different media while employing a rich palette of bright colours are testimony to the prolific artist that he was. “His works are very impressive, particularly the diverse use of colours. They help give a new perspective to art,” says Tenise from Australia, who is holidaying in India. That Santosh was a multi-faceted genius is evident from his writings, including poetry in Kashmiri and Urdu. In 1963, he wrote his first Urdu novel, Samandar Pyasa Hai. Apart from being a figurative artist, Santosh was also a portrait painter of repute. Several portraits of Indian heads of state, including Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Giani Zail Singh, made by him adorn the walls of Rashtrapati Bhawan and Parliament House. The retrospective, the first-of-its-kind dedicated to Santosh, is a fitting tribute to an artist who left the world at the peak of his career.