Colours of the past

September 04, 2011 03:46 pm | Updated February 22, 2012 01:51 pm IST

A rich slice of Indian art history came to light with the launch of the coffee table book Artrends at Cholamandal Artists' Village recently.

The book puts together all the issues of a unique contemporary art journal (also called Artrends ) that was brought out by a visionary group of artists in Madras between 1961 and 1982. The result is 400 pages filled with 203 artist profiles, 650 images of artworks, and reams of in-depth, brutally honest analysis that takes you back in time to an era of remarkable dynamism in Indian art.

“This collection fills a major gap in recording the history of contemporary Indian painting and sculpture,” said N. Ram, Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu , speaking at the launch. “It offers a critical but loving insight into those formative years of Indian art when issues such as national identity in the wake of Western influences were a burning concern among discerning contemporary artists.”

“For those interested in Indian art and art history, and also their intellectual as much as aesthetic and stylistic underpinnings, this is an invaluable link to a transformational phase in Indian art,” he said. “I was struck by the evolution of Indian modern art in the minds of the editors of Artrends ,” said Jennifer A. McIntyre, Consul-General of the United States, who released the book. “While the focus in the 1960s was on the influence of American and European modern art on Indian art, by the 1970s and 1980s there's no doubt that Indian modern art had come into its own.”

The journal was brought into existence 50 years ago by the Progressive Painters' Association (PPA), a group of the city's most eminent artists lead by the late K.C.S. Paniker, visionary principal of the Government College of Fine Arts, and the founder of Cholamandal. “This launch is the perfect opportunity to pay homage to Paniker, truly a man ahead of his times,” said P.M. Belliappa, president, Association of British Scholars (ABS), who presided over the event.

“The idea of starting the journal came about because we had no support for art in the media back then, and very little support from the public,” said senior artist S.G. Vasudev, speaking at the launch. “Paniker believed that we needed a magazine to talk about artists — local, national and international. That was his vision.”

He and other senior artists such as V. Viswanathan and K.V. Haridasan reminisced about the hours spent working on the journal as art students, manually typing out the articles, and then sitting in the printing press all day, putting it together.

Putting together the book was an equally labour-intensive job. “It has been quite an arduous task,” said sculptor S. Nandagopal, who was closely involved in bringing out the book. “We needed to retype all the pages, and rework all image plates individually. But once the book was ready, it was all worthwhile.”

The book, priced at Rs. 1,500, is the result of a collaboration between Cholamandal Artists' Village and Lalit Kala Akademi, Delhi. “The launch of Artrends is an important event in the annals of Lalit Kala, as we've funded the publication of such a comprehensive work on art for the first time,” said Rm. Palaniappan, regional secretary of Lalit Kala Akademi.

M. Senathipathi, president of Cholamandal Artists' Village, commended Nandagopal and his team, and Palaniappan for a job truly well done. The evening ended fittingly enough with Mr. Ram inaugurating a remarkable exhibition of the works of many of the Madras Movement masters who are featured in Artrends. The exhibition will be on at the Cholamandal Centre for Contemporary Art for two weeks.

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