ART Tagore painted for a little over 13 years. The exhibition at NGMA brings together his works

Why the ongoing exhibition of Rabindranath Tagore’s paintings at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) was titled “The Last Harvest”, reads the curatorial note by R. Siva Kumar. Tagore reportedly told a friend in 1928, around the period when he really began painting, “I am hopelessly entangled in the spell that the lines have cast all around me… if I were a free agent… unburdened by any care, I would live by the Padma and gather a harvest of pictures and nothing but pictures to load the Golden Boat of Time with.” It is known that Tagore only painted for over 13 years, creating over two thousand paintings. The paintings themselves emerged from the crossed-out lines and words of his manuscripts, which he expanded into doodles to mask their ugliness. The exhibition has, following this evolution in a way, been divided into four sections.

The first section shows some of his earlier paintings, (largely of animals or simply complex figures). These stem from the doodles, which began to take form, many times resembling those of animals. And gradually they evolved into paintings, first of animal forms, sometimes composed of graceful flowing lines and then more experimental geometric lines (or “zoormorphic” forms), as in the painting showing the bird on the tree or the painting showing the three black birds.

Usually in subdued colours, largely shades of black and white, there are occasional spurts of bright colours in some of the animal forms. The colours, though, are more visible in the freewheeling, dark fantastical figures. The next section showcases landscapes where he largely captures nature in the haunting period when dawn breaks and the trees are still silhouetted against the sun.

These paintings, largely done in inks, posters, watercolours or pastels are permeated by a deep stillness, which the absence of bright colours reinforces. This series also includes some still life, in paintings of flowers or flowers in vases, where again the background is dark. Tagore then paints people, single, in pairs or groups, capturing them in full profile, at moments when they are gesturing with their hands or expressing to each other (in his paintings of couples). He also paints performers, musicians, dancers, here again the colours become brighter.

Gradually he moves on to faces, many of which are sorrowful. At first, the faces are mask-like and are usually devoid of colour. Then again, he imbues personality into other portraits whether they are composed of strokes in pen and ink or are full of colour. So he can both take away depth and add depth to his work.

But Rabindranath Tagore’s world is quite out of the ordinary, rich in texture, in form and or colour and by nature. At the same time, it is dark and haunting, almost surreal. And what resounds throughout is the silence in his clarity of thought, form, stroke and colour.

“The Last Harvest” will be on view until August 16 at NGMA, 49, Palace Road. For details, contact 22342338.

HARSHINI VAKKALANKA

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