An artist may be considered an icon or a legend, but when he feels his creative output is inadequate, his humility is evident. Kolkata-based artist, Somnath Hore, who passed away in 2006 wrote, “I have not achieved much, except for a few pulp prints and some bronzes.” Hore was an acknowledged print-maker, known for his series titled “Wounds”.

Art lovers in Chennai are fortunate to catch a glimpse of the master’s works through the efforts of Galerie 88 Kolkata and Sanjay Tulsiyan of Chennai. The exhibition, on at the Indigo and Labernum Galleries, Cholamandal Artists Village, Injambakkam, showcases select works from artist-daughter Chandana Hore’s collection.

Emotional approach

Through a visual language that is minimal, yet strongly expressionist, the small scale bronze sculptures grip the soul with their poignancy and pathos. The manipulation of voids and lean solids offers a contrast of light and dark, which through a rough impressionistic finish and fragmented form enabled Hore to convey the power of suffering and evoke sympathy in the viewer, rather than appeal to his intellect. As a matter of fact, it is difficult for the artist to allow reason to be the main protagonist in defining his art. This emotional approach is central to his work.

In analysing his crayon drawings and lithographs, the distortion which defines his artistic vocabulary effectively expresses authority through lines and blotches of paint that have been placed with acute perception to become living symbols of despair and grief. The mute silence in some untitled works is worked through the sheer play of line and tone as well as compositional arrangement — stark verticals juxtaposed with diagonals. The faces that are reduced to mere skulls, the emaciated bodies defining the structure underneath, the poses, gestures and glances are silent yet poignant soliloquies that Hore has poured forth from the depths of his being.

In many respects, his compositional formatting with single figures is strongly reminiscent of 19th-Century French Realist Edouard Manet’s ‘The Toreador’ and ‘The Fifer’. The works comprise Hore’s crayon sketches, water colours, lithographs, mixed media, pulp prints and bronze sculptures that cover a period from the early 1970s to the late 1990s. The theme is suffering humanity — from war victims of the Partition of 1947 and 1971 to abject poverty on the streets of Kolkata. His socialist leanings, coupled with empathy towards the less fortunate, became the defining feature of his creative oeuvre.

The abstraction of suffering is so sensitively evoked in his pulp prints in the ‘Wounds’ series that it can move the viewer to tears. The pristine white background of paper is wounded by slashes, scratches and sharp incisions to recreate the horror of wounds metaphorically. The metaphor is made obvious as it allows ambivalence in its visual reading. It is possible to read a wound diabolically like a screaming mouth or a torn skull with hair or fractured skin or grimacing faces in moments of tortuous death. The articulation of abstract emotions has been so evocatively represented that the viewer is left in a trance — so struck is he by their spiritual simplicity. And this defines the core of Somanth Hore’s persona.

Mixed media

The mixed media works are striking for their harsh resonance of colours that again convey the same sentiment. The broad, rough brush strokes of opposing harmonies of colour and primitive form are defined by emphatic black lines and areas of stark white of the paper which configure to create compositions that are dynamically powerful in their violence, grief, darkness and resignation to fate.

The works are a power house of emotions, admirably minimalist with judicious lines, evocative play of light and shadow, fragmented body parts, scratches and dents. The sum of all this makes Hore’s works enduring with haunting images of vulnerable people, rendered with sensitivity and empathy.

The exhibition is on till November 28.