Amrita Sher-Gil, a name with which I was very familiar, an artist I had heard much about and whose works I knew from the lovely coffee table book at my best friend’s place.
So when the NGMA had a retrospective, I knew I had to go, even though it is no longer in my backyard. (Alas!) I often get asked by many unenlightened souls, who haven’t had the fortune of being introduced the wonders of art, why I would take the effort to juggle my schedule and fight traffic , just to go see some works of art I came easily see online. “To better appreciate the finer details,” I answer. But that’s not the entire truth. It is to feel that sense of unadulterated appreciation and awe when I stand in front of the oeuvre d’art that I have much admired and read about for so long. It is for the moment of sheer joy when I discover a painting I didn’t know about. And above all, it’s for those hedonistic moments when I can indulge my eyes and soak in the beauty in front of me. Amrita Sher-Gil described this last feeling aptly in her letter to Karl Khandalwala in 1937:
“How can one feel the beauty of a form, the intensity or the subtlety of colours, the quality of a line, unless one is a sensualist of the eyes”
I am very much a sensualist of the eyes, so though at the fag end of the show, off I went one hot afternoon, to soak in the beauty of Sher-Gil’s work. The exhibit was on the first floor of the building, with an introduction to her life, style and work displayed on the way up.
Once inside, I was drawn immediately to the portraits with which I associate Sher-Gil. Bold, with clearly defined lines, portraits of models, most of which seem to have a rather broad jaw-line. Walking through, noting the dates, I couldn’t help but marvel at how skilled she was even in the beginning of her career, as a young student at Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. Her work displays a deep sensuality and an ability to look beyond and see her subject’s soul, evident in her portraits right from the early 30s to the later works in India. Known as India’s Frida Kahlo for her unique way of blending European styles with more “primitive” (i.e Indian) settings, she is one of the rare artists to have transcended both the European and the Indian worlds.
Sometimes disturbing, always hauntingly beautiful, her work, I think, strikes a chord in even the most art agnostic individual. I stood lost in front of the portraits, mesmerised, rueing the fact that I couldn’t make it for the films and so very glad to have not missed the exhibit…
As I walked out, goosebumps dotting my arms despite the afternoon sun, I felt that familiar surge of unadulterated pleasure surge through my veins. The pleasure that can be derived only in the presence of great art.Previous posts about events/shows at the NGMA:
- A Letter from Courbet
- Sundays at NGMA
- Elephant Boy – a film screening at the NGMA
- Rendez-vous with Pollock and Basquiat