Last week was the final week of MF Husain’s painting exhibition at Victoria and Albert museum in London aptly called as ‘MF Husain: Master of Modern Indian Painting’.
I have always wanted to see his work and his large canvases from a very close distance, so close so that I could smell the oils from the paints. Apparently he was committed to paint 96 canvases to put together the history of Indian civilization, as a commission by Mrs.Usha Mittal, wife of the steel magnate, Lakshmi Mittal. He started to paint them in 2008 and finished only 24 of them when he suddenly died in 2011. He was 95 years and still in his self-imposed exile in London.
It is amazing how you can see every brush stroke on his paintings making you wonder if the work is incomplete and if he was still alive would he come back and finish them at all. But as you see more and more of his work you learn that it is his style that he has developed where the figurative are floating and each one of them has got some story to tell. His paintings are poetic and the stories in them are like epic narrations and collage of story boards which you want to discover as you stand staring at them, totally mesmerized. MF Husain became a household name after 1994 when he painted Indian actress Madhuri Dixit after watching her in the blockbuster film ‘ Hum Aapke hain kaun…!’ He was totally awestruck by her beauty and persona and has apparently watched the film over 67 times. She remained his all time muse. He also made a film with her called ‘Gajgamini’. She appears here yet again in one of his paintings called ‘Indian Dance forms’ in which you see her performing Kathak-a traditional Indian dance form.
In all these works his signature horses, elephants, Indian female figures in vibrant colours are instantly recognizable. The details like eyes and nose are mostly missing. None of the paintings have a visible third dimension. They are all very flat, freehand lines with thick black borders and almost a childlike innocence in them.
MF Husain was totally unmatched as a painter and one of the greatest modern age artists India has ever produced. The strong Indian essence in his paintings took me back to the memory lane of my art classes where I did drawings as a child at the age of 12. There we toggled around similar subjects to paint like Indian festivals, a village street scene or a day to day scene from our lives. I used to love doing them. Below are few of my paintings from my ‘Art from Past’.‘Indian Procession’ – Painted back in 1991 (age-12 years) in poster colours, this memory drawing made in 1.5 hours, depicts a scaled down scene from a traditional Indian Hindu festival procession called as ‘Palki’ where a deity is carried on an elephant in a procession followed by the devotees. ‘Children around a Bullock cart’– Painted back in 1991 (age-12 years) in poster colours, this memory drawing made in 1.5 hours, depicts a fun filled scene from everyday life in some village where children run and race alongside a bullock cart.‘Wat Pooja’– Painted back in 1990 (age-11 years) in poster colours, this memory drawing made in 1 hour, depicts a traditional Indian Hindu festival called ‘Wat-Pooja’ or ‘Wat-Savitri’ where a married woman ties a thread around a Wat ie. A Banyan Tree which is considered sacred for a healthy long life of her husband and wishing to be his wife for all the seven lives ( Wow!! scary thought!). It’s based on a Indian mythological story of a woman named Savitri who followed ‘Yum’-a messenger of death on that particular day and got her husband back to life on earth (Interesting…Isn’t it !)
At the end of the exhibition hall there was a award winning short film being played which was made by Husain in 1967 ‘Through the eyes of a Painter’. It a 17.35 minutes film, reminiscent of Satyajit Ray’s 1955 ‘Pather Panchali’ , so well made with a perfect background score and striking visuals. Again it took me back to my childhood, though I was yet to born in 1965, but I had that sudden urge of distancing myself from this modern world and going back to the times when everything was so serene, basic, simple and non-urban.
Here’s the youtube link to the film uploaded by the Films Division.