Among the many treasures in the ITC Hotels Art Collection are paintings by Jamini Roy.
Often, in schools and colleges a standard quiz question is: "Who are the three unique artists of India?" And the answer is: Jamini Roy, Rabindranath Tagore and Amrita Shergill. In fact, if anyone can be called the Father of modern Indian art, it must be Roy.
Modern Indian art coincides with India's Independence Movement. The rise of nationalist sentiments initiated the search for an Indian expression. Jamini Roy turned away from the prevailing styles and started what essentially became his trademark unique Bengali folk style.
Recently UK newspaper, The Guardian, stated, "Jamini Roy's work retain an unblinking directness that make them powerful 70 years on. Painted on bold, thick lines and with trademark almond-shaped eyes, his figures could strike a passerby as childlike, but their uprightness and willingness to stare back at the viewer turns them into adults, not to be argued with over trifles. The style is aptly dubbed 'patua'. Patua was the folk style used for Bengal village paintings.”
Simple in their appeal, his works are easy to connect with. In fact, he used the simplest of materials to create them: unbleached cotton made in his native village, traditional materials such as fine alluvial mud, egg white and chalk and paints that had been used for centuries by Bengali artists on terracotta, paper, cloth and hand-made toys – a reminder of his deep connection to the earth and to life in his village in Bankura where he was born.
However, this simplicity is deceptive. He may have drawn inspiration from traditional folk forms but the manner in which he rendered them on his canvas evokes an irresistible paradox. Elegant in their austerity, his paintings can only be viewed as the result of an exceptionally alert sensibility that managed to integrate a complex range of influences.
At the time that Roy was starting his artistic career, the influence of Far Eastern art, Japanese and Chinese, was dominant. This is evident in the work of Tagore and two other great artists of the time, Nandalal Bose and Binode Bihari Mukherjee. The extreme fluidity of his brush stroke is believed to originate in this influence.
Some critics suggest that there are many sources at work. In some of his drawings, the way his subjects’ eyes dominate their faces hints at his possible familiarity with the 15th century Jain style of scroll paintings from Gujarat.
The most obvious similarity is of course to the work of the Patua painters of Bengal, who produced the lively Kalighat paintings. The main feature of this style, the double line, with strong outlines and the more subtle inner line that give the paintings their plasticity has been adapted by Roy into his own distinctive calligraphy of forms.
They have been imitated by numerous artists after him but never been excelled at or even used with his casual brilliance. His early training also suggests that he was more than aware of Western methods of reducing compositions to the norms of Cubism, using just geometric planes of flat colour to create an impression of weight and fluidity.
However, all said, each of these so-called 'influences' remains just that – an impulse hidden beneath the magic brush strokes of a unique artist.