East Meets West as Indian Contemporary Art Expands the Boundaries of Imagination

Contemporary Indian art is popular on the world stage and has spawned its original talents and cutting edge genres. Many contemporary Indian art works combine ancient themes with modern sensibilities…

East Meets West as Indian Contemporary Art Expands the Boundaries of Imagination
Contemporary Indian art is popular on the world stage and has spawned its original talents and cutting edge genres. Many contemporary Indian art works combine ancient themes with modern sensibilities.

Indian Contemporary Art and Its Global Reach
With its diverse population and dramatic changes in the last century, India has become home to internationally known artists and writers. Indian Contemporary Art is characterized by the exploration of themes of Westernization, commentary on modern society, and traditional Indian themes. One can see influences from European and American artists but in the context of themes from classic Indian art. Also in evidence are images and attitudes derived from the many social, political and economic changes India has seen in the modern era.

The Roots of Indian Contemporary Art in Modernism
In the last days of British dominance, the Bengal School flourished. The Bengal School was a reaction in Indian contemporary art at that time against colonialism and explored nationalistic themes. One of the best known painters from this group was Abanindranath Tagore, nephew of the poet Rabindranath Tagore. He created paintings inspired by Mughal miniatures and added new themes. His most famous work is Bharat Mata or Mother India, and it shows a woman with four arms holding up items that symbolize India.

Abanindranath Tagore’s painting set the stage for Indian Contemporary art
The Progressive Artist’s Group started after India’s independence in 1947, and the group of artists explored themes in the wake of India’s new existence as an autonomous nation. Six artists comprised the Progressive Artists’ Group: S.K Bakre, H.A. Gade, M.F. Husain, K.H Ara, S.H Souza and F.N Souza. Syed Haider Raza or SH Raza was called “the pilgrim of intensity” by poet and critic Ranjit Hoskote. He was inspired by the surrealist work of Mark Rothko and Wassily Kandinsky and gave viewers images that evoked emotions through spatial interactions. Vasuedo Gaitonde was the foremost abstract painter in India in the post-colonial period. His work was characterized by minimalism and he lived as a virtual recluse much of his adult life. Maqbool Fida Husain began as a billboard painter, and his work is an example of Indian modernism, and his paintings are reminiscent of Picasso, Matisse and Klee.

The Pop Surrealism of Subodh Gupta
Subodh Gupta’s surrealist Indian Contemporary art (Saatchi)
Subodh Gupta is often regarded as the iconoclastic Damien Hirst of Indian contemporary art. Like Hirst, Gupta uses graphic, often unsettling images for his work and brings the viewers through the contemplation of disparate elements. His art is like pop art and surrealism but brings every day objects under the scrutiny of an ironic gaze, from cooking implements to cow manure. His work has been seen in the most illustrious galleries worldwide and has earned him an international reputation.

Billboard Reality with Jitish Kallat
Jitish Kallat’s Untitled (Eclipse) 5 surrealism in Indian contemporary art (Saatchi)
Jitish takes the mundane street scenes from his native Mumbai and puts them side by side with the ubiquitous promotional material and billboards seen everywhere. The result are images that bring people into the world of advertising and vice versa so that the people in the subways or standing on the street seem to be a part of the advertisement Kallat uses various media to express his impressions of street life in India, and makes films as well as paints. His work “Traumanama” or “Cry of the Gland,” is, in Kallat’s words, “is a portfolio of works on paper that opens up the body almost like Rorschach inkblots, the stretched muscles and dripping fluids metaphorically become receptacles of urban trauma.” His Analgesic Studies (2005-7) deals with the theme of globalization with dark humor.

Pseudo Realism, Davjyoti Ray and Indian Contemporary Art
Davijoyti Ray, pseudorealism and Indian contemporary art
While many Indian artists combine artistic theories and approaches from the East and West, Davjyoti Ray, born in 1974, was able to start his own movement in India. Ray had no formal training in art when he began to produce his paintings following the economic reforms in India that transformed the social and cultural landscape. Ray paints mainly in acrylic with bright colors and realistic looking yet often faceless subjects involved in everyday activities. The paintings are meant to give the imaginary an illusion of reality and to reflect the fact that in the modern world, with the plethora of media and advertising, it is difficult to distinguish reality from illusion.

Contemporary Indian Art Provides a Visual Passage to India
Indian artists are garnering significant attention and solid prices at international auction houses. Husain’s paintings still command a significant following with his hat tip to Western modernist masters, his use of classic modern styles such as cubism with an Eastern touch. V.S. Gaitonde’s colorful depictions of figures and stories from Indian tradition in a surrealist style breathe new life into ancient themes. At auction houses and galleries, you may find an original Raza with its Rothko-like solid blocks of color which catch the viewers’ gaze and evokes an emotional response. Amrita Shergil’s paintings of people with large eyes and striking expressions give the impression of an interrupted narrative and candid moments. Ravi Varma’s Western realism combined with Indian subjects and themes creates an innovative synthesis of styles and attitudes.

Buying Contemporary Indian Art
You may be an expert on Indian contemporary art or might have seen a painting by an Indian artist that you like, want to know more, and possibly own an original. Buying art can be an art form in and of itself and while it is a wonderful pursuit for a novice, it requires some homework, consultation and planning. It helps to know your subject and be familiar with the styles, genres, artists, periods. In addition, a prospective buyer should be informed about the approximate value of contemporary paintings and what makes some paintings fetch a higher price than others. You may want to follow auction sites and galleries that discuss the prices of various works of art.
Consider art as an investment as well as an acquisition. It is true that a thing of beauty is a joy forever, but it is good to know that your beautiful artwork can accrue monetary as well as aesthetic value. Consult with gallery owners and other art experts about what kind of work goes into creating contemporary Indian art and which kinds of paintings are popular and valuable.