AICON GALLERY presents Jamini Roy & Somnath Hore: Figuration in the Bengal School, an exhibition exploring the extremes of representation and artistic vision within India’s Bengal School of Art. Founded at the turn of the 19th century in Kolkata and Shantiniketan and originally an avant-garde and nationalist movement in reaction to previous academic styles, the Bengal School was led by Abanindranath Tagore (1871-1951) and sought to modernize Moghul and Rajput styles, to counter the influence of Western art traditions. Along with his brother Gaganendranath Tagore (1867-1938) and pupil Nandalal Bose (1882-1966), these artists represented the early modernists of India. The Bengal School was often associated with Indian nationalism (swadeshi) as an official Indian art style, but also found support from British art institutions under the epithet of the Indian Society of Oriental Art (founded in 1907 by the Tagore brothers). From the 1920s onward, prominent Bengal School artists embarked on widely divergent, often aesthetically polarized paths. However, figuration remained a central focus and unifying link for those at the forefront of the movement’s modernist evolution. Some embraced images of tranquility and nature, myth and mysticism and playful folk scenes during turbulent sociopolitical times, while others portrayed the darker forces of humanity, exploring famine, spiritual torment and violent conflict. Jamini Roy and Somnath Hore are perhaps, respectively, the two most prominent representatives of these opposing aesthetic forces, the former influencing the latter, and both leaving their indelible marks upon the future of modern Indian art.
Jamini Roy (1887-1972) is one of India’s most celebrated and iconic modern artists, particularly admired for creating playful works in his signature neo-folk style that brought solace to viewers during a turbulent time in Indian history. In rejecting western stylistic tropes and returning to Bengal’s rich history of folk imagery and Kalighat patachitra painting, Roy’s powerful simplicity of line and lyrical compositions served as both a foundation and inspiration for a subsequent generation of figurative Bengal School artists. From the patent beauty of Suhas Roy’s melancholy yet elegant female forms, through the expressive linear physicality and longing of Lalu Prasad Shaw’s couples, to the dignified innocence of Ramananda Bandopadhyay’s scenes of rural life, one feels Roy’s ever-present influence in these artists’ shared visions of a dreamlike world caught between sensuality and innocence.
In counterpoint, the work of Somnath Hore (1921-2006) expressed a fundamental concern for mankind's underlying inhumanity, disregard of morality and penchant for perpetual violence and conflict. His originality in technique and language led to radical innovations in his media, casting him as a revolutionary founding figure for a darker strain of artists that emerged from the Bengal School. Ganesh Pyne’s ethereal and haunting images of death as life’s ever-present fellow-traveler, Shyamal Dutta-Ray’s pensive surrealist scenes of society in disintegration, and Bikash Bhattacharjee’s masterfully rendered yet psychologically and spiritually isolated figures, can all be seen as deriving from Hore’s life-long pursuit to give form and figure to the chaos, violence and instability inherent in human nature. His Wounds Series carry this stark vision beyond figuration, achieving a unique brand of abstraction, exemplified by ethereal white surfaces punctuated by scar-like disruptions in the hand-made paper, calling to mind the mortification of human flesh resulting from famine, war and other man-made cataclysms. Aicon Gallery proudly presents these works as a group for the first time in New York.
Please contact Amy at [email protected] for more information.