Rabindranath Tagore's emergence as a painter was discussed at a talk -- “From Meaning to Presence” -- at Bengal Gallery in Dhaka with an overwhelming overflow of crowd.
Counting heads, there were Qayyum Chowdhury, Syed Jahangir, Abdul Hye, Abul Barq Alvi, Moinuddin Khalid. Shamsul Wares, Rabiul Hussain, Samarjit Roy Chowdhury, Ranjit Das and others.
Raman Siva Kumar -- internationally noted contemporary Indian art historian, art critic, and curator gave the lecture at Bengal Gallery.
When Moinuddin Khalid read the welcome speech, he treated the speaker like a critique and art historian that he was. It was told that Kumar came to Kala Bhavan in Shantiniketan as a student and later became a teacher. He taught European Renaissance and Baroque art. Eminent artist K.G. Subramanyan refers to Siva Kumar as “one of the best art historians we have in the country [India].” Siva Kumar's major research has been in the area of early Indian modernism with special focus on Shantiniketan.
It was for the third time that listeners at Bengal Gallery heard about Rabindranth Tagore as an artist of international repute. Earlier on, there were discourses by Abul Mansur and Pranab Ranjan Ray.
It is questioned as to how Rabindranath painted after the age of sixty. It is the sensibility of the artist which led him to establish a style, said Kumar. He said that in Michelangelo's paintings one found the Renaissance and Baroque style. At times one focuses on each medium and this influences the sculpture or the painting of the artist as in the case of Raphael, whom Rabindranath wished to emulate. Artists of the colonial days went for the work of Leonardo de Vinci. Kumar said that the oil paintings during the Renaissance made the difference. In India, for instance, the nobles and princes had a pattern of clothes, jewellery and castles that were recorded in the Mughal miniatures. Rabindranath's vision was modified by both western and eastern art. Rabindranath, being born in an affluent family, had a highly creative and cultured background, where singing, writing and acting came naturally. He could change his mediums -- from songs to plays and short stories.
By the time he was 25, he had a reputation as a writer. He tried to paint like Raphael -- his ideal -- but couldn't. He couldn't match his concept of art with others around him.
Kumar believes that when Rabindranath went to Japan, he was very much in touch with art there. He was influenced by the Kabuki theatre. He came back with Japanese paintings, to encourage his students at Shantinikiten. He was also impressed by colourful dances of Indonesia. He told his nephew to concentrate on the vibrant colours rather than lines.
Kumar also spoke of Kandinsky's influence on Rabindranath. Van Gogh and his writings to his brother Theo also touched the bard. The rhythm of time was always in the mind of the poet-artist. From the age of 90, his motifs and patterns depicted birds, animals, princes and women. His birds and monsters appeared to speak to each other like elements in art nouveau. His paintings had no name to reveal the concrete nature of the world around him. At times his landscapes were fascinating.
After the informative lecture, Siva Kumar took some questions from the lively audience.