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Written by Hemavathy Guha
Most of the artists especially from the visual art field do take up some job or the other to augment their meager income which they might receive following the profession of an artist. This also perhaps enables them to be more honest with their creative pursuits, not having to cater to the market. Some are happy with this compromise and destined to it although the time they get to devote to their own creativity is quite reduced and much less than what they would have had, had they not been employed. Some artists are fortunate as they take up jobs in art institutions and thereby make the most of it by being in the middle of art happenings, in whatever form and content it might be. One of the very senior artist from Delhi, S.K. Sahni is one such person, who landed himself a job at the National Bal Bhavan after completing his diploma in visual arts from Sir J.J. School of Arts, Bombay. For the next few years, he immersed himself in preparing educational exhibits and planning thematic exhibitions as part of his job. Finding his visualization and dreams turn into reality through various educational projects for children provided immense satisfaction to him.
Although inclined towards the creative arts from childhood, a good percentage in school final exams in 1954, made his parents asking him to take up the sciences. As he could not concentrate and his mind was still on the arts, he left the sciences and landed in the J.J. school of arts after completing a draftsman’s course. He first joined the Bal Bhavan after his studies from where the great visionary Dr.Sihare ,the then Director of the National gallery of modern art, New Delhi, impressed with his work, brought him to the National gallery of modern art, as Deputy keeper. Alongside his work, he also improved upon his educational qualifications by completing a course in museology from M.S. University, Baroda.
He worked at the NGMA till his retirement and his tenure there provided him opportunities to be in the midst of various kinds of art from all over the world and also enabled him to come in close contact with artists, there by opening a path for a process of learning and self discovery. His job also took him to various international destinations where he spent his time in visiting museums and art institutions and imbibed the best that was available out there.
The retrospective exhibition which is being held at the All India fine arts and crafts society, New Delhi has been curated by the writer and poet Robinson. The exhibition has been divided into different sections and also displayed chronologically beginning with his oil paintings, proceeding to his etchings, prints, watercolours and culminating in his trademark line drawings. The oil paintings done during the 1960’s while pursuing a job at Bal Bhavan are the most vibrant and fluid using bold strokes and very much like the paintings of a young artist who has not yet developed his own style, but very much influenced by various isms taught in most of the schools founded by the British in India. The subject matter of these paintings are the loss he felt after losing his parents, but it must have taken a lot of courage to record all the rituals including the cremation of them on canvas.
The year 1970 saw him joining the graphic workshop organized by the American artist, Paul lingren at USIS. This was followed by a series of etchings and linocuts in black and white. Circular and bold strokes make these works interesting reminding one of Edward Munch. The water colours and tempera on paper are fresh and vibrant and have retained their luminosity even after so many decades.
From 1980 onwards, plain and simple lines attracted him and he started creating drawings on paper exploring the space with lines. As Sahni says in the catalogue essay, ’the process through which these works are created is simple. I put a few parallel lines anywhere on paper or canvas and then with these lines, I let my imagination take over. I allow the lines to move in different directions and to develop freely in space, creating imaginative spaces within spaces. Sometimes I use mathematical proportions to fix their internal relationship in space”.
Sahni has exhibited several works which are based on lines both on paper and canvas. In his early works, it was plain ink on paper with lines horizontal, vertical or diagonal, at times merging and at times diverging. The simple works of 1980s slowly gave way to more complicated ones where colour inks were also introduced. Some works resemble a spiraling staircase seen from the top while another one looks like a human face with two eyes and rabbit like ears. At times circles are created by cleverly diverting and crisscrossing the lines at the right intersection point.
He has also done a few works using ink for the lines and water colours to fill up the spaces. He continued his experimentations with photographs and collages alongwith the lines on canvas and paper. During the past few years, he introduced masking tape to produce a more flat and broader area between the lines. The series of works titled ‘Kaleidoscopic space’ done since 2008 follow this technique and they are pleasing to the eye with different hues of yellow ochre, blue and black.
For an artist who has been working ceaselessly creating these works with lines, Sahni feels that each move of a line is independent, though it is very much closely related to other previously drawn lines. And his journey continues.
The exhibition was on at AIFACS till 27th October 2016.