Monday, March 28, 2011

They died too young

These days we are reading about the ‘newly emerging war-zones’ in North Africa. No, it is not quite politically correct to call it a war; it is yet another ‘conflict’. But then let politicians use the correct terminologies, it doesn’t matter what laymen call it anyways.  Whoever is right or wrong, fighting under whichever flag, the truth is that we still believe in settling scores using destruction, as if blood shedding is the easiest option to solve the matter.

At this time, I am inevitably thinking of two German expressionist painters who died ‘in the action’ and died too young at that – Franz Marc and August Macke, both of whom died in World War I.

Marc and Macke were not just some young artists but founder members of the German expressionist art group called ‘Der Blaue Reiter’ (The Blue Rider) founded along with the renowned artists like Kandinsky, Jawlensky and Gabriele Münter. Both Marc and Macke were admired and widely exhibited in their lifetime.  Although Blue Rider as a group did not last long, as a thought it had a great impact on the developments in modern German art (and beyond) in the future.

When I first saw Marc Franz’s work in  a book I was intrigued by his amazing style. Then I saw more of his paintings and the next thing I learnt about him was that he had died young and that he had died on the battle field of WW I. Died in the war?! An artist as important as him went on to fight some war?! It was definitely shocking. Soon I learnt about August Macke, who was a bit younger than Franz Marc and who clearly had a great influence of Marc on his own style. Another unfortunate similarity between the two is that he too lost his life in war, in fact 2 years before Marc Franz did. This was just too much for me to digest. Early exits are not a rare occurrence in the art world, sometimes on account of mishaps, fatal illnesses or suicides, but artists sent to fight wars and killed on the battlefields was quite a disturbing realization. Please note that they were not ‘war painters’ who were assigned to capture the war on canvas, but they went as soldiers enlisted in the German Imperial army just around the time when the war broke out.    

Franz Marc (b.1880-d.1916) was a prolific printmaker and painter and is known for his bright palette of primary colors. His various paintings of horses and wild animals painted in his marked style had an amazing embodied movement and force. He was a great admirer of Van Gogh and his own style showed a great influence of the cubism movement. He died in one of the major battles of WW1 at Verdun, France. 

August Macke (b.1887-d.1914) was just 27 years old when died at the warfront in Champagne, France. We can imagine what a vigorous young man he must have been just by looking at the large number of paintings he has left behind. And it is not just the number of paintings but the way he has painted them. He was presumably quite curious, eager to learn new things and connect with fellow artists. In his short artistic career before getting enlisted in the army, he travelled a lot, spent time with great artists like Paul Klee, Marc, and Kandinsky and also became a founder member of ‘Der Blaue Reiter’. Ironically his painting called ‘Farewell’, which captures the gloom of the wartime, happened to be his last work.  
Here are a few more artists who died fighting as soldiers in wars and I’m sure there must be many more.
Frederic Bazille (b.1841-d.1870): French impressionist, died in the Franco-Prussian war.
Umberto Boccioni (b1882-d.1916): Italian painter and sculptor from ‘futurist’ movement. He died during the cavalry training after joining the artillery regiment in WW1.
Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (b.1891-d.1915): French sculptor who is well-known for his forceful and direct carving style. He died in the WW1 in Northern France.  
Issac Rosenberg (b.1890-d.1918): British poet and artist. Known for his terrific war poems and self portraits.

It is impossible to say what astonishing art these talented artists would have produced had their lives not been cut short by the ugly episodes of war. 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

‘The Jungle Book’ and ‘The Jungle Book’


If you were born in India before say 1985, you wouldn’t require any introduction to the aerated soft drink called ‘Gold Spot’. Before the international soda companies came (back) to India in the early 90s, we mostly had options of three cool drinks: Thumps-up (cola), Limca (lime) and Gold Spot (orange flavored). In 1983 as a promotional campaign for Gold Spot, the company distributed Walt Disney Jungle Book comic against a collection of their bottle crowns. I was too young to read ‘The Jungle Book’, but was old enough to get caught up in the cap-collection mania with my friends. Result – my own precious copy of the comic book. Honestly speaking, the children’s books or comic books were generally not very beautifully printed then, and this superiorly printed Jungle book was a thrill to flip through. Baloo, Mowgli, Bagheera and even Shere Khan (the villain) became my close friends. I copied their pictures into my sketchbooks for innumerable times, which I am sure so many other budding young artists must have also been doing at that time. :-) 

Eventually I came to know about Rudyard Kipling, his legendary Jungle Book, and ‘his India’. This was knowledge of the grown-up age and I could not very well correlate it with my copy of the colorful comic book. But sometime in 1994 while I was ambling down a road, I noticed a small, dusty blue, hard bound book in a tiny shop – the original Jungle Book version of 1919! It took me less than 30 seconds to close the deal, the guy had asked for just Rs. 5 for it! Thus I walked away with the original Jungle Book. After that I kept both of my Jungle Books together (I still do). I like to look at their artworks, compare the styles and basically just enjoy having them. The stories in the original blue book are indeed very fascinating and the illustrations are simply marvelous. Some of these are paintings printed in halftone and some are classic line drawings (perhaps etchings?) by illustrator W.H. Drake done in 1893.  The comic version has stylish black inking and is full of colors and cuteness.

I collected several books after that, varying on subjects, belonging to diverse timelines, from comic books to biographies. I feel all of these have some importance, some contribution in my process of becoming an artist. They are very much like memories, each book affecting and influencing my thinking in a singular manner. The Jungle Books have also been a part of this process, two different manifestations of Kipling’s story, impressing first upon my childhood and later on my youth.

A few years back, during one of my visits to the US, a colleague asked curiously (these kind of questions are now becoming rare though) “So you mean you have never been to any jungles for hunting in India?” I said “No! The jungle was introduced to me only by Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book”. :-)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

James Kalm: The guy on the bike

This post is not about an artist. Although he is a fine artist and a leading member of the movement called ‘New York Neo-Expressionism’, our story is about his ‘alter ego’. I’m talking about the senior artist Loren Munk and this story is about ‘James Kalm’ as Loren is also popularly known to his fans.

James is well known for his two amazing YouTube projects called ‘The James Kalm Report’ and ‘James Kalm rough-cut’s Channel’. Both the projects are about video reporting of the major art shows and artist studio visits in New York, which is one of the most important centers on the global contemporary art map. While The ‘James Kalm Report’ is more organized and compiled with superior post production efforts, ‘Rough- cuts’ as it is titled, is a little loosely bundled, more casual reporting of the art scene. As far as the viewers are concerned (particularly the ones who are not in NYC), all these videos offer a rare opportunity to walk through the prominent galleries and have a look at the shows, the artists, the visitors and absorb the atmosphere in general. Watching these videos is one great artistic experience in itself.

James rides on his bicycle to cover the shows with his tiny handheld video camera. That is where he gets his name ‘the guy on the bike’ from, and one which he uses as the starting note of each of his reports. His report usually opens with a group of anonymous musicians playing on some New York street, and from there James takes us into the gallery, with the music still playing in the background. James then shows us the artworks on display, accompanied by his subtle commentary. Sometimes he gets hold of the artist who is exhibiting and asks him a couple of interesting questions, or he candidly interacts with the visitors. He walks out quietly once the entire show is covered (and without fail he thanks his wife Kate at the closing note of each report!).

James has a very unique way with his commentary, though he himself is an artist, he is never critical about the artworks in the shows. His approach is quite neutral and unbiased most of the times. It appears as if he has successfully ‘partitioned’ Loren Munk, the artist from James Kalm, the art reporter. James also holds a single journalistic policy for everyone; he covers shows by the senior art heavyweights and also by the young artists and debutants with equal enthusiasm. James being a veteran art observer of the New York art scene, the viewers also get to enjoy many anecdotes that he shares while walking through the shows.

 If you already know about these YouTube channels, then you must already be a fan of James Kalm Reports like me! If you do not know about these, then you must visit the links below and you will be a fan very soon :) 

I wonder if James would conduct workshops for video art reporters across the globe so we can have such lively updates from everywhere. But at the same time I do feel that though one might be able to replicate the way he captures the videos, it may not be possible to have an expert commentary like James!

My sincere thanks to James for the permission to write about him and the picture he has shared with this blog.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Traylor, Lowry, Mashe: The invisible connection

This is a story about three painters. Each of them belongs to a different timeline, nationality and social background. But despite their varied origins, these three artists share an astonishing connection through their styles of creative expressions. 
These three artists are American artist Bill Traylor (b.1854 – d. 1949), British artist L. S. Lowry (b. 1887 – d. 1976) and Jivya Soma Mashe (b. 1934), an artist from India. Of these three, two are officially recognized as ‘Outsiders’ (Traylor, Mashe) and one is not (Lowry), but his artistic philosophy is evidently aligned with outsider art rather than the mainstream.

‘Outsider art’ is a term broadly used to categorize the art created outside the boundaries of official culture. Typically, those labeled as outsider artists have little or no contact with the mainstream art world or art institutions. Although the term ‘outsider art’ has been in use for many years, its meaning is constantly evolving. Earlier it was used mainly to categorize the aboriginal art, folk art etc. , later it took the form of an important French art movement (Art Brut) which laid a larger emphasis on the rejection of established values within the modernist art. 

Bill Traylor (b.1854 – d. 1949): William "Bill" Traylor was a self-taught artist born into slavery on a plantation in Lowndes County, Alabama. He started drawing and painting much later in life – when he was 85 – and made 1500 drawings in the next three years. He drew scenes of life on the farm and people on the streets. His art was based on things that he had seen, heard and experienced. He worked in primary colors and made use of simple compositions to create his bold and extremely original style. Later he met Charles Shannon, a painter, who helped him by supplying art material and also buying his drawings. Bill Traylor lived and died in obscurity, his work getting recognition only 30 years after his death. 

L. S. Lowry (b. 1887 – d. 1976): "I am not an artist. I am a man who paints." said Laurence Stephen Lowry, popularly known as L. S. Lowry. Lowry lived in Northern England and painted his famous industrial scenes. He had a distinctive style of painting and used a “matchstick” style representation for human figures. He studied at the Salford School of Art till 1925. He lived most of his quiet and secluded life in Mottram in Longdendale, Cheshire and was well recognized and honored in his later years. Today ‘Lowry Centre’ at Salford Quays holds the world's largest collection of his works.

Jivya Soma Mashe (b. 1934): Jivya Soma Mashe is known for his renditions of the tribal ‘Warli art’, of Maharashtra state in India. To position him correctly, we can say that he is as important an artist of the Warli tribal art as Emily Kame Kngwarreye is of the Australian indigenous art. Jivya was a pioneer in bringing Warli art from being a mere element of tribal rituals to a pure expression of art. Initially he painted on mud walls and later started using flexible painting surfaces like canvas. This transition helped him immensely in developing his unique painting style. But even in his new style, the subject matter is still related to Warli tribes, forests, birds and animals and traditional patterns. The magic of his work is such that it draws you into its unique world and makes you feel like you are a part of the activity inside the painting. Jivya’s work is widely exhibited around the world and is well recognized. In 2011, he received ‘Padma Shri’ (the fourth highest civilian award by the Government of India) for his contribution towards Warli painting.

I’m a great fan of these artists, and their humble and unbelievably original nature of work. I look at their paintings and wonder if Traylor’s farmer, Lowry’s worker and the tribal from Jivya’s painting could meet somewhere, perhaps for a drink in the evening after their tiring hours on farms, factories and forests?:) 

Friday, March 04, 2011

Martin Roemers: Seeing through his lenses

Every metro has a unique face. This face is not defined by the planners of the town but by the people who live in it and also by the people who visit it. This metro here with a very unique face is Kolkata (Calcutta), the ‘city of Joy’ and the visitor through whose camera lenses we see it is the award winning photographer Martin Roemers. For this picture, Martin won the 1st prize (category ‘Daily Life stories’) in the ‘World Press Photo Contest-2011’.

Martin has captured the speed of the city, the pace of its inhabitants and the bright color of the busy day in a beautifully composed candid shot. I was thrilled to see this picture and immediately googled up to see more of Martin’s work. What I got was not photographs but a gateway to a stunning world which Martin Roemers has captured for us.

The pictures from his ongoing series ‘The eyes of war’ show us WWII victims from Netherlands, Germany, US and Poland. These are people who have lost their sight to that gruesome war which is now more than 60 years old. In a war the world sees the winning side and the losing side, the drama of triumphs and the horrors of death. After being shocked with this the world simply moves on, but Martin chooses not to do so. He takes pains to revisit and capture the bitter, blind and aged truth that war has left behind - a very powerful photo journalistic statement made by this acclaimed photo journalist.

Here are a few of the pictures from his series ‘Relics of the Cold War’ (Martin also has a book with the same name)

Martin studied photography at the Academy of Arts in Enschede, in the Netherlands. His photographs have appeared in numerous publications including The New York Times, Newsweek and The New Yorker. His work has been exhibited widely and is held in public collections including the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. He has received awards and recognitions including two World Press Photo Awards.

Martin is Represented by Panos Pictures, London (Worldwide), Hollandse Hoogte Photo Agency, Amsterdam (The Netherlands only) and Laif Photos & Reportagen, Cologne (Germany only).

His website:

My sincere thanks to Martin for permissions and his picture which he has shared with this blog!