washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”
early petroglyphs to a flourishing contemporary art scene, India’s vibrant
artistic legacy is the result of a variety of cultural influences. The
diversity of art from this area—which includes anything created in the
historical regions of modern-day India, Bangladesh, and areas of Pakistan and
Afghanistan—is reflected in vivid, distinct, and enchanting styles that
represent many different civilizations. Because some of the world’s major
religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam either began or flourished in
India, much of Indian art is based in religious or political subject matter.
‘art is a universal language’ is a term that’s become a cliche, even
bastardised in a certain manner, it’s undeniable that it continues to hold
true. Indians have often turned to the world of art in its various forms and
medium, to use as an outlet of creative expression, exploration of one’s self
and identity, as well as a reflection of society. Here are some 12 leading
artists from India who have carved a niche for themselves and brought the
Indian art to the global art world stage, yet are not known to many.
painter from Kolkata, Bikash Bhattacharjee worked in various mediums including
but not limited to oils, watercolour and acrylics. The themes he addressed in
his paintings were mundane – like that of the life of a middle-class Bengali.
Over the years, Bikash became internationally known and did various shows
abroad. He received the Lalit Kala Akademi fellowship from Lalit Kala Akademi
drawings form a fitting introduction to his paintings, revealing the
predilection of the artist for forms: forms that are consist in terms of tone
rather than line. Bhatacharjee carefully expresses the textural effects of
crayons, pastels and pencil using the combination of highlights and depths of
passages built of varying intensities of line. Improbable characters (both
psychologically and physiologically) play a role on the canvas and dominate his
oils. Yet his work is a powerful combination of realism and fantasy, where
reality sets the ball rolling and fantasy helps the canvas assume a new
subject is always clear, recognizable, painted with faithfulness to detail and
invested with a sense of the dramatic. Female beauty is a major preoccupation
with him. But he also creates a varied cast of characters in his canvases - old
men and women, children, domestic help. The ability to create an authentic
milieu as a background to the characters heightens the drama. Bhattacharjee's
women are a strange mixture of spirituality and sensuality. Different moods of
the painter are reflected in his different paintings. Some times flesh and
blood figures turn shadowy. Where women in his canvas are an abstraction, men
appear to live in their own world.
artist explores the possibilities of oil as a medium and can depict the exact
quality of drapery or the skin tone of a woman, the peeling walls of an old
building. He had also achieved mastery over the capturing of the quality of
light, an effect that lends his work a superb realism as well as an enigmatic
quality. His love of cinema had a lot to do with this. He creates a wide
variety of characters in all walks of life, but his preoccupation is with
female beauty. His use of art techniques of post Renaissance European oil
painting could be responsible for creating this illusion of reality. Indeed, he
leaves the viewer thinking, his canvases haunt, his paintings are an enigma
that suggest and the mind is but a slave that must follow. Bhattacharjee is
also known for his Kolkata cityscapes that he worked on in his twenties.
art is among the most popular and well-known indigenous art traditions of
India. Taking its name after the tribe which practices it, Gond art is mainly
centred in Madhya Pradesh. Within this form, there is a wide spectrum of
artistic styles, primarily connected to certain painters and their practices.
The tribe’s strong tradition of oral narrative—often focussing on their gods who corresponded to elements of nature—transposes to their paintings as well.
indigenous art forms have now evolved in their social and cultural roles.
Efforts by art historians and the government have helped push them to
prominence and artists themselves have painstakingly modified a centuries-old
ethos to contemporary demand. At the forefront of giving the folk and tribal
arts the recognition they deserved, was Jangarh Singh Shyam, famed for his Gond
paintings and for popularising the art form abroad.
belonged to the Pradhan-Gond community of Mandla district in Madhya Pradesh.
His talent was discovered by J Swaminathan, who brought him to Bharat Bhavan in
Bhopal, where he perfected his art. He developed his own style which was a
beautiful amalgamation of tribal and contemporary art. His paintings featured
tribal deities, animals, and nature in the traditional Gond style, with lines
of coloured dots to make shapes and forms, as well as a master of the rotary
pen. He is considered the pioneer of Gond art and is one of the most celebrated
folk artists in India.
Elayaraja’s paintings are renowned for being hyper-real, almost photographical
as he depicts ‘Dravidian girls’, in his much-acclaimed, inimitable style. In
the painting, the girl is seen sitting with her parrots and smiling subtly into
the frame with a knowing look in her eyes. Elayaraja painstakingly breathes
life into every detail, from the folds of the girl’s dress to the shining
gold-threaded patterns and borders of her skirt, the pretty parrots perched on
the window sill behind her, the brown wooden frame behind her and the cemented
floor. Bathed in an almost angelic golden light, the painting showcases the
artist’s deep bond with his cultural background, growing up in a temple town in
of the Baroda Group, K.G. Subramanyan’s art was heavily influenced by folk art
from Kerala, Pattachitra from Odisha and Bengal, and Kalighat. Subramanyan
received the Padma Vibhushan in 2012.
theoretician and art historian, Subramanyan has written extensively on Indian
art. His writings have formed a foundation for the study of contemporary Indian
art. He has also written some delightful fables for children and illustrated
them. A man of multifaceted talents, Subramanyan demolished banners between
artist and artisan. He experimented with weaving and toy making. He also
reinvested several mediums earlier used in Indian art. For example, the
terracotta mural and glass painting found a new lease of life with his
experiments. The artist gave the human figure a new dimension. Drawing upon the
rich resources of myth, memory and tradition, Subramanyan tempers romanticism
with wit and eroticism. K.G. Subramanyan is a major presence on the Indian art scene.
flexibility of expression and richness of visual language evolve from the
diverse materials he works with as painter, muralist, printmaker, relief-sculptor
and designer. In his recent work Subramanyan uses many registers of language to
slide from high seriousness to irony, celebration to subversion, descriptive
rendering to lyrical evocation, fact to metaphor, and from real to surreal with
the ingenuity of a consummate craftsman and the alertness of a nimble thinker.
apprentice of Jangarh Singh Shyam, well known Gond artist Bhajju Shyam has
exhibited extensively in the Museum of London and on tour in the UK, Germany,
Holland, Italy, and Russia. His books on illustrations have attained widespread
popularity and sold more than 30,000 copies. They have also been translated
into 4 languages. Bhajju’s intense visual imagery makes him one of the most
popular contemporary Gond artists.
Khakar was one of the pioneers of Indian contemporary art. He was a part of the
Baroda group, a collective of artists from the Faculty of Fine Arts at Maharaja
Sayajirao University of Baroda. His artwork was mostly figurative. Khakar was
an openly gay man, and he tackled various gender identity themes through his
the innumerable changes of oeuvres between those first collages and the present
 "confessionals"; through the various avatars as collagist,
neo-miniaturist in the '60s, diarist of the demeaned in the '70s, painter of
the narrative in the '80s, gay icon of the '90s; through all the aspersion,
appreciation, rejection, acceptance, pannings, panegyrics, Khakhar… has
Mehra, ‘An Accountant of Alternate Reality,’ Outlook India, 13 December
in Maharasthra in 1934, Jivya Soma Mashe is one of the most widely recognised
names of Warli art. His fame within the community reached the ears of eminent
artist Bhaskar Kulkarni, who further refined his raw artistic talent. Jivya
painted his beliefs, life, customs, and rituals in simple drawings that made
him a legendary warli artist. His works today feature in major art collections
and museums across the world.
Raza was famed Indian modern artist who popularised Indian iconography around
the world. Syed Haider Raza was so fond of painting the the Bindu or the
Shunya in various forms that is became the focal point of energy in his
work. Raza once stated that “Bindu is a source of energy, source of life.
Life begins here, attains infinity here.”
worked mainly with a few primary colours, assembled and reassembled to simulate
the passion and colours of his homeland. At the same time, he had realised the
spiritual and metaphysical aspects of nature and began incorporating these
principles in his works. In the late 1970s, the artist's focus turned to pure
geometrical forms; his images were improvisations on an essential theme: that
of the mapping out of a metaphorical space in the mind. Around this time, the Bindu—a
motif that would become synonymous with Raza’s art— began emerging in his work.
It was the result of his concern with “pure plastic order” combined with his
preoccupation with nature. “Both have converged into a single point and became
inseparable. The appearance of the Bindu as a single, meditative form
marked Raza’s transition into pure geometric abstraction, the hallmark of his
art in later years. In his long and illustrious career, Raza’s works have been
a part of numerous exhibitions including the São Paulo Biennale in 1958; the
Biennale de Menton in France in 1966; 1968 and in 1978; Contemporary Indian Painting
at the Royal Academy, London in 1982; Roopankar Museum of Fine Arts, Bharat
Bhavan, Bhopal; Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai; National Gallery of Modern Art,
New Delhi in 1997; Celebrating 85 Years of Living Legend S H Raza, a travelling
exhibition at Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai, Mumbai, New Delhi organised by Aryan
Art Gallery, and Raza – A Retrospective, Saffronart, New York in association
with Berkeley Square Gallery in 2007; Paysage: Select Works 1950s-1970s,
Sovereign FZE, Dubai in 2014; and Nirantar, Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi and
Art Musings, Mumbai in 2016—to name a few. He was conferred the Padma Shri Award by the President of India in 1981 and the Padma Bhushan in 2007.
to a Brahmin family in Bihar, Baua Devi spearheaded Madhubani painting.
In 1966, noted crafts connoisseur Pupul Jaykar chose Baua Devi as one of the
first artists from the Mithila region to transform traditional Maithili
patterns onto white sheets of paper. Today, after attaining popularity and
commercial success across the globe, Baua Devi is an inspiration to generations
of Madhubani painters. Despite the modernisation in form and theme, she
still prefers using natural colours in her works. The Government of India
awarded her a Padma Shri for her contribution to Madhubani art.
Devi was only a teenager in the Sixties when a Mumbai artist called Bhaskar
Kulkarni came visiting her village, Jitwarpur. Encouraged by him, the women and
girls of the community learned how to transfer their artistry from the walls to
paper. Baua was part of a pioneering generation of Madhubani artists who
would make that shift. Legends like Jagdamba Devi and Sita Devi would blaze
ahead and bring great honour—not to mention, two Padma Shri awards—to
Jitwarpur. Baua would go on to make her own distinctive mark upon the field. Baua
Devi uses modern motifs and topical issues to make her canvases brim with
urgency and life. But the colours are still largely made by hand so her
paintings feel organic and earthy. There is a strong feminist perspective to
Baua Devi’s work, whether she’s depicting the raw power of Kali’s roar (below)
or articulating the interior life of the Nag Kanya, a creature with the head
and torso of a woman and the lower body of a snake.
Mehta’s Mahishasura is the artist’s impression of the immortal tale of
the demon Mahishasura. Created by Mehtra after his visit to
Shantiniketan, the painting fuses ancient imagery with simplicity of form,
colour and line to give us a powerful modern work that exudes vitality. It was
the first Indian painting to cross the million-dollar mark and sold for a
mind-boggling $1.584 million at Christie’s in 2005.
year 1954, Tyeb Mehta went to London and stayed there till 1964. During his
stay in London, he was deeply influenced by the works of Francis Bacon.
Meanwhile, his first solo exhibition of drawings, paintings and sculptures was
organized at the Jehangir Art Gallery, Bombay (now Mumbai) in the year 1959.
After his stay in London, where he worked briefly, he visited New York where
his works were welcomed with outstretched arms. In 1968, he was honoured with a
fellowship from the John D. Rockefeller 3rd Fund as Americans simply loved his
work. He then returned to India and started living in Delhi. He also worked as
an Artist-in-Residence at Shantiniketan for about a year. When he returned to
Mumbai, with all the knowledge that he had gained over the last few years, he
was a much-improved painter, and his works reflected the same.
his illustrious career, Tyeb Mehta has come up with a host of impressive works.
The most important ones are mentioned below:
Figures – Created in the year 1991, this was inspired by his real-life incident
when he witnessed a man being stoned to death by a mob. The incident took place
during his stay at Lehri House in Mohammed Ali Road. The violence that broke
out as part of the partition of 1947 had a deep impact on him.
– This was a triptych, a work of art which is usually divided into three parts.
This particular work of his fetched a whopping $317,500 (Rs 15 million) at a
Christie's auction. The auction which took place in the year 2002 became famous
for the price paid for his work. Back then, it was the highest sum paid for an
Indian art work at an international auction.
series – During his stay at Santiniketan, he came up with a number of triptych
paintings that were later collectively known as the Santiniketan triptych
Kali – At
Saffronart's online auction, an Indian auction house, his depiction of Kali
fetched an impressive 10 million Indian rupees.
This was a controversial painting as he had depicted the demon Mahishasura in
an embrace with Goddess Durga. But there were no controversies as far as its
value was concerned as the painting sold for a massive $1.584 million at one of
– In 2005, the chairman of Kuomi Travels Mr. Ranjit Malkani paid 31 million
Indian rupees for Mehta’s work ‘Gesture’. This was the highest sum paid by any
Indian for an Indian art at an auction held in India.
not very often that perpetual themes of everyday life fascinate so much and so
many to render it iconic, even when manifested through the compelling fineries
of art. It then indeed is a celebration of the artist’s perceptive abilities
that make him the creator of such a work of art that holds everyone in awe in
pure simplistic depiction on the face of it. One such highly regarded piece
that is definitely among the most famous paintings in India is the ‘Glow of
Hope’ by S L Haldankar. Also popularly known as the Lady with the Lamp, this is
a portrait of a lady - Haldankar’s daughter to be precise- who holds a lamp
that remains shielded by her hands even as the light emanating from it is
enough illuminating of the vicinity.
Haldankar painted the picture with his muse indeed holding her pose for at
least three hours straight even as the image conjured is also as real a vision-
one that had enthralled the painter when he saw his daughter in such light one
Diwali. Soft and subtle colors characterise this world-famous piece of art that
dwells in a semblative approach even as the intelligent play of light and
darkness render it further surreal even in its realistic depiction. There also
is symbolism at play, that come to fore in tones that are far more subtle - or
dare we say, insignificant. The saree clad woman is a definite epitome of
beauty and feminity while the lavender saree symbolises grace and the gold
therein and thereof perhaps an accurate foreteller of the continuing gleam of
the charm embodied by the painting.
Patua is accredited as being one of the painters who single-handedly revived
the dying tradition of Kalighat painting. Born into a family of Patuas, he
learned the art form from his father and grandfather and followed their
traditional style of painting. From an early age of 12 Kalam started to paint
the Patachitras made by his father and grandfather. However, with the
change of time and exposed to some ugly truth of society, Kalam decided to take
the Kalighat style to another level by introducing contemporary themes
by moving from the conventional mythological themes. Thus, in this move, he
happened to be the first Kalighat painter to revive the traditional art
form from its conventional Patachitra style towards a more contemporary
subject, form and style. The changing times made him introduce contemporary
themes and subjects, moving away from conventional mythological themes in
Kalighat painting. Over his 40 years of practice and dedication, he established
himself as a pioneer of contemporary Kalighat painters. Kalam Patua’s works are
shown worldwide in different exhibitions and some are also possessed by museums
abroad as their permanent collection.
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