Jamini Roy (1887-1972)

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Jamini Roy | Biography | Life | Paintings
As early as the 1930s, Jamini Roy had anticipated the current vogue amongst the artists to draw upon folk-art in fashioning artwork. 

He attempted to create a distinct indigenous style in seeking inspiration from folk-art traditions as against the elitist approach of the Bengal School. 

He found a quality of freshness, directness, and robustness in the artistic spirit that still survived in the scrolls, the bazaar paintings of Kalighat, in the Puja images, in toys and dolls and the hordes of artifacts created for rituals—all synthesized with the visual effects of kanthas and alpanas. 

He abandoned his interest in portraiture in oils and the ‘wistful sentimentality’ of Abanindranath’s style after 1910. 

He was attracted to the folk- art sources, adopting not only the freest possible manner, characteristic of native folk arts, to shape the figures in his works, but also formal ideas from Orissan and Jain manuscript illustrations of the medieval period. 

After the mid-1920s he adopted an increasing use of firm and majestic curves and simple forms. He also changed his palette to mineral and vegetable dyes popularly used in villages, so as to fully identify with the village ethos. 

His style, however, gradually became more decorative than poetic or sensuous. He moved away from Kalighat, although he retained some of its characteristics like the large eyes and the oval faces. 

In some of his works Of the early 1930s, the stress is on the vertical rigid forms reminiscent of Byzantine icon paintings. 

His paintings on the theme of Christ and the satirical paintings of animals, like those of cats with protruding eyes, clearly show the influence of the Jain School. 

But, by and large, his paintings are marked by the conventional features of the native folk paintings, i.e. the flattening out of design in-depth, and of voluminous and otherwise massive forms, by omitting light and shade, and use of pure and positive colors in the interaction of their tonal quality and strength. 

Jamini Roy’s paintings are a sheer expression of rhythmic lines drawn with curved and elliptic sweeps that define the robust forms of his figures. 

He seems to be subordinating everything to the repetitive decorative rhythm in his panel pictures but not in his sketches, some of which are powerful spontaneous expressions. 

He added an element of subtlety and sophistication to the simplistic painting of Kalighat, resulting in a strongly individualistic style. 

One may wonder why Jamini Roy adopted a style based on folk-art, which, as is well known, he did after a great deal of heartsearching. 

Starting his career as a portrait painter in the Western academic tradition and later experimenting with impressionism, he, subsequently discontinued both. 

And though the Bengal School was then in the ascendant, he found it too eclectic to be attracted to it. 

To overcome this stalemate in the art scene of that time, he strove to strike a new path by turning to native folk-art traditions wherein he discovered the art impulses and genius of his own people. 

He, however, did not foresee that the folk-art style he adopted would, in course of time, lead him into a blind alley. 

For, unfortunately, his enthusiastic endeavor to strive for Indianness resulted in a ‘factory’ producing Jamini Roys for the elite. 

Though artistic control plays a quiet but crucial role in Jamini Roy’s paintings, it raises questions about the significance of creativity in art. 

In his search for finding an identity, he styled his artistic activities as a ‘Patua’—the Bengal folk painter. For, he compared his free repetitious approach to that of the ‘Patua’. 

Jamini Roy’s stimulus-response model is based on emotionally charged and decorative religious content which, though necessary, is not sufficient for creative expression. 

Mere sensation ‘furnishes’ the mind with nothing whatsoever; it leaves no legible character on the ‘white paper’ within us. 

For, art is an expression of a totally imaginative creative experience. How- ever, Jamini Roy’s art had nationalistic significance, especially when India was trying to free itself from the clutches of the political and cultural influences of the West. 

No one, perhaps, knows with certainty whether Jamini Roy was heading in the right direction; for no one has subsequently followed his approach or style concertedly. 

How far his explorations of the aesthetic norms of folk- art were successful in reviving the spirit of indigenous art traditions is a debatable question. 

And how valid are the aesthetic norms of bygone days for artistic expression today, especially when the present-day artist faces a vast array of material, styles, and traditions all of which are equally internationally valid? Perhaps time only will decide whether Jamini Roy’s pursuit of artistic labor was successful or not. 
Be that as it may, we must remember that Jamini Roy was the first artist to prominently and creatively use folk-art at a time when more and more Indian artists were attracted to alien art forms.


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