A true guru's empathy
Well-known painter Abani Sen was popular among artists, art students and collectors. This is his birth centenary year
MASTER STROKES Abani Sen's self portrait; (BELOW) one of his famous animal paintings
"Abani Sen's contributions remained locked away if not in rusty trunks in the attic, surely in the priceless albums of memory. But how long before that memory too starts to fade? Surely it's time to dust away indifference and set aside every other preoccupation. And time to mount a retrospective that takes us through the spectrum of art that was Abani Sen."
WHEN BAWA, one of India's most celebrated contemporary artists, espouses his guru so eloquently, isn't it time for art galleries to seize the initiative? On cue, Right Lines gallery will mount a mini-retrospective tribute to Abani Sen for a fortnight from May 28 to mark his birth centenary. The 25 works on show, done from 1935-65, span inks, oil pastels, charcoals, and water colours on paper.
Who was Abani Sen? His post-1949 disciples recall that if you dropped into his Bhagat Singh Market house in Delhi, you were likely to rub shoulders with K.K. Hebbar, M.F. Husain, Pradosh Dasgupta and Subho Tagore. Each came to Abani babu for critique and instruction.
Abani was as popular among artists, art students and collectors. Did they gather to share food and conversation with him because of his personal magnetism? Or could it be his total dedication to art? Perhaps both.
Didn't Abani set out to paint landscapes with friends like Jamini Roy and Atul Bose? Didn't he found Calcutta's Rebel Art Centre in 1932, veering away from both the western academic style and Mughal romanticism? Wasn't he as luminous as his peers in the third decade of the 20th Century like Binodebehari Mukherjee and Ramkinkar Baij?
Abani's legacy in art is resplendent. It begs to be shared by an audience larger than his immediate family or the Delhi galleries. Bawa recalls his legacy: "Guruji had a tremendous empathy with the world of animals. Birds and beasts, monkeys and tigers, camels and deers, roosters and fowls he observed their anatomy, read their body language, understood their unspoken thoughts. They never failed to be eloquent in his paintings... (My) world view that gives equal space to man and mute creatures that is a gift of the master."
Born in Dhaka in 1905, Abani lost his father when he was three. Years of struggle followed. At Calcutta's Government School of Arts and Crafts, its British principal Percy Brown nurtured his unusual talent with a freeship. Yet, when Brown suggested that his diploma would earn him a job, Abani tore it up. Instead, he made art awareness his life's mission. En route, this intensely humanistic artist taught the young Santo Dutta how to capture the shifting moods of light in the field. He inspired Pratibha Jhalani to become an art restorer, with assignments at London's Tate gallery, besides museums in Munich and Cologne.
Bound by no school of art, Abani was deeply impacted by the beauty of the everyday. Says his daughter Ganga: "My father would pick up people from the streets, bring them home, bathe them, fondle them and they would be his models. I remember often we would see lice falling from the model's hair while he stroked it with affection. Such was his love for humanity."
In 1972, Abani Sen passed away with a brush in his hands like a true devotee at the altar of art. At a time when commerce dominates Indian art, these glimpses of Abani's oeuvre could prove a turning point for us.
The exhibition, from May 28 is at Rightlines Art Gallery, No. 43, 80 Feet Road, HAL 3rd Stage, Bangalore. Phone: 25272827 or 25292658
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