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Life Style

Benode Behari Mukherjee's works to go on London view

December 21, 2019 12:07 PM

NEW DELHI:An exhibition of artworks titled "After Sight" by Indian artist Benode Behari Mukherjee (1904-1980) is set to kick off at the David Zwirner gallery in London next month.

The first solo presentation in Europe devoted to Mukherjee, the exhibition will focus on the artist's collages from the late 1950s and 1960s, after he lost his sight. It runs from January 10 to February 22, 2020.

A pioneering Indian modernist, Mukherjee blended imagery and iconography from Indian life with a signature visual style influenced by Indian, East Asian, and Western art practices and traditions. Mukherjee studied with the celebrated artist Nandalal Bose as one of the first students at the renowned Kala Bhavana, the fine-arts institute founded by the poet Rabindranath Tagore at Visva-Bharati University in Santiniketan, West Bengal.

Rather than depicting mythological or nationalistic imagery, common themes and subjects among Indian artists at this time, Mukherjee examined nature and his immediate surroundings. He created works in a variety of media, from graphite drawings to wall frescoes, all of which exhibit a deeply modernist yet highly individualistic and contextually specific sensibility towards form, colour, and composition.

After finishing his studies in 1925, Mukherjee joined the faculty at Kala Bhavana, becoming a major influence on subsequent generations of Indian artists. In 1936 and 1937, he spent time in Japan and China and was taken with the landscape and calligraphic traditions of those visual cultures.

Born blind in one eye and myopic in the other, the artist lost his eyesight completely in 1957. Rather than ceasing to produce visual art, Mukherjee expanded his practice, continuing not only to create drawings but also to explore more tactile media, such as sculpture and especially collage.

On view will be a range of these late period collages. Evoking the style and format of Henri Matisse's paper cut-outs, Mukherjee's collages are nevertheless thoroughly distinctive and emblematic of the artist's own experience and style. He created these works by shaping and organising his figures through touch and deciding on and dictating specific colours for the compositions from memory.

The collages also reveal how the artist continued, even after losing his eyesight, to depict subjects and imagery that he had encountered throughout his life -- from street processions to Bengali theatre -- all rendered from memory in a bold, joyous, and vibrant style.

Also on view will be a selection of the artist's felt-tip pen and charcoal drawings. These works exhibit Mukherjee's remarkable control and energy, underscoring his connection to his media and his ability to grasp spatial order and compositional balance through gesture and the movement of his pen, rather than sight.

The exhibition has been organised in collaboration with Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi.

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