From the Jacket:
Rabindranath Tagore was not only a great poet and novelist but also a great artist. He started painting in his late sixties and continued painting till he died. He left behind more than 2500 paintings and drawings, all done between 1928-41. Tagore's paintings are bereft of all spiritual solace; they portray silence and loneliness. They are also very strange - the viewer is not sure how to view his paintings. Many of the paintings in this volume can be placed beside the works of major twentieth-century artists.
SOME painters cannot be labelled or put in any class. They are in a class of their own. You cannot compare them with other painters because no other painter is like them. They have no imitators, no followers. They are unique. Hieronymus Bosch, El Greco and T agore were unique in this special sense.
Albrecht Durer once said of Bosch's paintings that nothing like them was ever "seen before nor thought of by any other man."! It nearly sums up what you can say about Tagore's paintings. The grotesque creatures which people the universe of his paintings, the surreal landscapes sadly glowing with a light that never was on sea or land, the bizarre and haunting faces that look and do not look at you, the flowers you will never find in a garden or botany book-they all exist in a world way beyond reality. Most artists paint what they see. Tagore painted what he did not see. Or saw only in his mind. He did not want to "sit in the stagnation of realism."!
Why did Tagore paint like that? What he once told Ranee Chanda may offer a clue: "The delight is in the seeing ... not in what we see. Nor in its beauty or non-beauty. What pleases in a painting is the reality of the image.
But Tagore's idea of "reality" was out of this world. Literally. He said: "There are two kinds of reality in the world. One of them is true and the other truer. I seek to occupy myself with the truer.?" And because he occupied himself with the "truer," the reality of his images gives us such a jolt.
Tagore burst into painting in his late sixties and continued painting till he died. He left behind more than 2500 paintings and drawings, all done between 1928-41, the last thirteen years of his life. Not only that. During this period, he wrote fifty volumes of poems and songs, short stories, novels, plays, essays and letters. And if you think of his public activities at that time, it seems superhuman. It has no parallel in the history of art.
Tagore had a go at drawing when he was quite young. "Toying with picture-making,"? he called it. But after a few attempts he apparently gave it up. Later, when he was an established poet, he started making his erasure-drawings. The calligraphic erasures and corrections he made in his manuscripts became drawings of a strange kind. "I try to make my corrections dance, connect them in a rhythmic relationship and transform accumulation into adornment, he said." These mysterious drawings were the springboard for his paintings.
Nobody knows what sparked off Tagore's frenzied burst of drawing and painting. Amiya Chakravarty, his personal secretary for many years, says: "Art ... was for him man's response to the mystery of design."? But the question is: Why did Tagore respond to the mystery of design so late in life, when he had only a few more years to live?
The way Tagore's paintings were made was also strange. He never used a palette. Almost all his paintings were pen-drawn . There was something Vesuvian about his art. It came out like the eruption of a volcano. He literally threw himself into sheets of paper, sometimes knocking off several paintings in a single day. His paintings were emotion recollected more in turmoil than in tranquillity.
The critical response to Tagore' s paintings is as varied as the paintings themselves. Some dismiss his works as "hash" and "abysmal. Some find his strength as a painter in his lack of conventional training and in his uninhibited frankness. Some feel that his works reveal an unknown side of Tagore-naive, innocent, earthy, sometimes hideous and cruel, sometimes grotesque and sinister and sometimes mysteriously beautiful." A modern Indian painter highlights the "mesmerising brilliancy" of colour in his landscapes." To a modern Indian poet, his works are "bereft of all spiritual solace ... telling portrayals of silence and loneliness." Andrew Robinson, author of The Art of Rabindranath Tagore, thinks a good proportion of Tagore's works "are of permanent worth. Several hundred of them merit being placed beside the works of major twentieth- century artists."!'
When the response of the critics is so widely diverse, how should the ordinary man view his paintings? It is not an easy question to answer. The finest of Tagore's paintings are like the best poems of Li Po, the great Chinese poet. Li Po's poems are magic. But you cannot tell where the magic is. As if it is not in the words but in something in between them. And it is this resonance of indefinable nuances that gives such evocative power to Tagore's paintings.
A friend once asked pianist Artur Rubinstein how he felt when he performed before a concert audience which did not understand music. "What's there to understand in music?" Rubinstein replied. "You either respond to it or you don't." What Rubinstein says about music is equally true of Tagore's paintings. You either resonate with them or you don't.
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