Considered by many to be one of the most important Indian artists of the 20th century, Jamini Roy, along with the Tagores and the artists of The Bengal School, was responsible in part for bridging the gap between traditional 19th century Indian painting, and 20th century modernism.
The aesthetic of Jamini Roy’s work was strongly influenced by Kalighat paintings, the subjects of which were usually religious, mythological and folkloric in design, although also often featured scenes from everyday live in Calcutta. These colourful pictures were produced by patuas, village artists, in the Bengal region in the 19th and early 20th centuries and were essentially souvenirs, purchased by pilgrims to the Kali temple.
The influence of the subjects and techniques of the Kalighat patuas on the work of Jamini Roy is clear to see, especially when once compares the images shown here. The bold use of natural pigments contained within the sweeping outlines of the women are strikingly similar. The work by Jamini Roy however displays the subject in an entirely ‘modern’ way; the flatness of the depiction creating a strong two-dimensional image that lends the figure an almost graphic quality.
Numerous books and essays have been written about Jamini Roy’s influences and techniques, so rather than dilute further we will focus on just one style in his oeuvre, that of figures and animals depicted in monochrome.
Using this technique Jamini Roy could distil the subject down to a few vital lines, whilst simultaneously attempting to impart volume and structure using his characteristic sweeping lines. These lamp-black works perfectly display the skill of the artist as the density of the colour wash decreases as you move down the painting. The requirement for perfection with each brush-stroke could almost be compared to calligraphy, such is the precision required to create the effect.
The monochrome example depicted here shows a cat, de-contextualised and devoid of emotion. Its wide eyes stare intensely at the viewer, presenting one with an image unrecognisable from Kalighat paintings, yet still displaying strong links to the artist’s cultural heritage.
For further discussion of Jamini Roy’s works see: Sona Datta, Urban Patua, The Art of Jamini Roy, Mumbai, 2010.