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SAILOZ MOOKHERJEA: INDIA'S PIONEER OF MODERN ART

Sailoz’s drawings are an elixir of the essence of line. It shows amply that drawing was central to the artist’s oeuvre, and whether he worked in oil paint, or ink his exploration and representation of form needed very few strokes to convey the patterns of a powerful image true to its creator’s desire, writes Uma Nair.

SAILOZ MOOKHERJEA: INDIAS PIONEER OF MODERN ART
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The onset of winter at Connaught Place is perhaps the best time to walk up to one of Delhi's oldest galleries and breathe in the landscapes, portraits and drawings of the Bengal Master Sailoz Mookherjea. To know that critic Richard Bartholomew considered him one of the four pioneers of modern art in India comes as a heady haunt of history. "In today's disturbed art world, superficiality and confusion rule," opines Mohit Jain Director Dhoomimal Art Centre. "Hype generated by public relations ensures that certain artists from the past who have been deeply committed to their art are hardly talked about or entirely forgotten."

Joyous Pensiveness
Sailoz Mookherjea – mentor and artist who knew poverty more than fame had a lot to give the world as this show curated by Mohit Jain unveils. The Paris returned Sailoz created canvasses that had French influences – you can see the thick strokes of Paul Gauguin as much as the joyous pensiveness of Matisse.
Between landscapes and quasi-surreal studies inspired by the lush environment that surrounded him, these classics belonging to the Mohit Jain collection inherited from his illustrious grandfather Ram Babu, epitomises the teacher, the artist's life-long search for the blend between what was primitive and what was naturally modern in those early years.



Quiet sophistication
Irrespective of the subject the works on both floors neatly spaced have about them a quiet sophistication, a tranquil depth of vividness and sensuous atmosphere as they mirror a brooding, warm palette that characterised his landscape as well as figurative paintings. Sailoz did not date his works, thank goodness Mohit left them as they are without manufacturing dates.
Researcher, artist Samit Das' notes say: "Maybe it was the result of intense meditation, a highly developed spiritual consciousness and an understanding of the innermost self. The forms of his objects are always highly personal, inspired by his inner activity and an expression of his psychological state. His technique of applying colour and using brush scratches were not widespread practices but he discovered them on his own by looking inwards."
His still life study of a pair of bananas, an orange and a pomegranate with a bottle are the epitome of poise and poignancy – the pomegranate is what adds the Indian idiom and you know at once that Sailoz created works with Western grammar but was happy to hunt for cultural symbols and Indianesque insignias to paint with his own sense of freedom, as he sometimes even preferred to mull over the wilderness in a village and the simplicity of remote places for his subjects. What we see is the fluidity and expressiveness of his brushstrokes which reflect a sense of artistic liberation from within.
Deep sonorous figuratives
The figurative works are a treat for tired eyes. Two Women and Mosque (released as a stamp) and Village Belle are riveting works – I don't recall seeing figurative studies of such deep sonorous colours. Sailoz wove in landscape elements into his figurative studies too – Impressionist trees are in blossom. Sailoz had a style of treatment that had a dynamic, in-depth palette in which his oils reflect the richness of nature and the hint of feminine aura that attracted the artist.
Lovers on the other hand, is a composition dominated by the subtle shades of mixed media-the scratched oil and ink strokes are punctuated by the brilliantly coloured strong, yellows on the left lower and upper half, clearly inspired by the sunshine that bathed everything around him but also the emotions between the two lovers. Sailoz strove to create the most sumptuous colour harmonies in order to represent sunlight and an orchestration of nature's bounty in his works.
Woods and Captive Hamadryad (nymph who lives in a tree) are two works that echo this dictum so distinctly. Intriguing how in his works instead of bleaching the color out of objects, [sunlight] exalts their hues, pushes them to the bursting point; it favours the art of painting, and authorises an incandescent light that adds to the mood as in the study of the boat with three humans – it has an equivocal tone of the journey.
Lithe lines in ink
A suite of pen and ink drawings on paper are a bevvy of energetic and intense observations of life and locales around him. Sailoz was happy drawing the simplicity of everyday idioms – Horse Shoeing shows clearly how fascinated he was by the humble lifestyle of street views, unencumbered by civilisation, as he happily painted the world that surrounded him.
Potters is an attractive and robust rendition of mules with stacked pottery as well as two women handling some ware while in the far distance we see a pile of pottery – of course one can evince the artist's interest in the exotic appeal of the scene as it played out before his eyes.
Among the drawings, one of the finest works is Jama Masjid – a neat rendering of the Masjid, its steps and its architectural details in dulcet thickened lines with shop sellers and their ware. It is clear that Sailoz was an artist who surrounded himself by attributes of nature. The viewer's eye is drawn for long periods to the pen and ink drawings, they lock our gaze. These drawings are a testament to Sailoz's long-standing fascination with the very act of drawing – stripped back to its purest form.
The only etching in the show is a tactile temple drawing thronged by devotees that exhibits clearly that while the subjects of his compositions celebrated the artist's surroundings, especially in Delhi it draws on the Western canon of grammar and techniques.
The drawings are the elixir of the essence of line. It shows amply that drawing was central to the artist's oeuvre, and whether he worked in oil paint, or ink his exploration and representation of form needed very few strokes to convey the patterns of a powerful image true to its creator's desire.
Artists who trained under Sailoz were J Swaminathan, Ram Kumar, Arpita Singh, Anjolie Ela Menon and many more – this exhibition is a tribute worth cherishing.




(Sailoz Mookherjea was born during the British era and studied Fine art at the Government College of arts, Kolkata under great masters like Abanindranath Tagore and others. He also taught at SaradaUkil School of Art Janpath in Delhi. His artworks are listed as National Treasures.)

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