by Keshav Malik
as I think of Manohar Kaul and his work, I cannot seem to put aside the
album of my personal memories of him (and Kashmir) and be simply 'objective'.
I relive with
him his early days in Srinagar. I too nostaligically remember Sir Amar
Singh Technical Institute and the bucolic Principal J.C. Mukerjee. Then
one goes on to remember Amar Singh College and the vivacious Prof. Madan,
for instance. One remembers the springs and summers, autumns and winters
of Hazuribagh with its long lines of Chinars (cut down to make a sports
stadium); the merry mulberry trees, and the silk worm by the silk factory;
the snow-line and the moving waters of Vitasta; the smell of wood in the
doonga (freight boat) carting logs; flower and grass growing roofs; Hari
Parbat at dawn and dusk; the seven bridges: vistas of populars; ruins of
the marvellous black-lime-stone temples of Avantipora, Martand and others;
saffron fields of Pampore in autumn; the holiness of the waters of Sheshnag;
gubbas; namdhaas, papier mache and the wood crafts; walnuts, almonds and
the slow pheran walk; the limpid lakes; the concentric circles on the waters;
the gay exhibition grounds; Mahjoor, Azad and Nadim.
undying the nostalgia. Does not sentiment become sentimentalism! But then,
in the hands of some of the artists - Somenath Butt, D.N. Wali, P.N. Kachru,
Trilok Kaul and others, the nostalgia led to art.
So, too, Manohar Kaul. What he was nursed on got deep into his blood stream; the mountain
ranges became a part of his breathing. Here was transmutation of nature
into art. One did not know this unfolding then. So the more pleasant the
surprise. His art as well as his ideas on art developed, culminating in
his volume on art - the first ever that really touched on the modern period.
And thus all through the fifties and sixties he pondered and wrote on ancient,
medieval and the modern periods - reviewing art books for newspapers and
journals. The processes of the creation of folk art, as also those of general
culture and aesthetics came in for his scrutiny.
prove that Manohar Kaul was neither 'anti' west nor overly 'pro' east.
All he had was horse-sense in ample measure. For him only that art could
be meaningful which was born in response to the given environment.
On his Trends
in Indian Painting (published by Dhomimal's) said Vijayatunga in The Sunday
Standard of November 17, '61 "He (Kaul) challenges and questions alian
values. Either we agree or disagree with the author. He has fulfilled the
task that had to be done."
Kaul's views in his reviews and articles of the fifties and sixties invariably
have that same challenging feel as above. He was wisely able to, thus,
evaluate contemporary art trends in the light of the earlier arts (Ancient,
Folk, Moghul, Pahari, Rajasthani); and this was a far better perspective
than an aesthetic of a pastless present, as with many others of the day.
briefly, as far as the writer in Manohar Kaul is concerned. And now the
artist in the man. One could not have decided as to the virtues or otherwise
of this apparent oddity one way or another, except by 1004ing at the actual
work done by the artist during the four decades and more. Yes, Manohar
Kaul risked being forgotten as a painter by the artistic community as well
as the general public; or else to be remembered only for his paintings
- the mountainscapes.
If that were
all to show or if there were no artistic development, there would be little
point to pen this piece. But, as it proved, the body of the artist's recent
work testifies to the fact that the man had been labouring all through,
and steadily and he has grown out of his simplistic mountainscape to compelling
studies of forms and shapes of the world. The nature in his mind's eye
had become increasingly more refined - each new work climbing upward on
the shoulders of the preceding one. Here was no 'made easy' landscapes
but distilled essence. The artist tried to catch the gravity in what met
his eye; not large views but delimited ones - closeups; stone and crystals;
the rocky substance of the planet earth; glacial purity; the flowing white
between dark rock; piled up volumes; in all their ebony and ivory immensities;
the contrasting red and white of the stone flowers; slices of sky; crisp
inscapes of narrow gorges; the soft of green vegetation against sharp geologic
nibs and 'tombs' stones; nature's pyramids; white against mist; the geometry
of ranges, spectral light; the near humanized vertical rising stalacite
forms; the wrapped up presence of inscruitible lingams; chaste snows; winding,
cloud-enveloped peaks; rare altitudes; the snowy moon; the contrasts of
hard and soft colours; mysterious air; pertified mythic forms; oval shapes
of jade green stone; occult gypsam forms; the majesty of denuded trees
set against optical patterns and designs; divinity lurking in the recesses
of rocks; cold waters and the new moon;
senses insist that the world is a stranger
breathing of gods
That is what Manohar
Kaul's work, at its peak conveys through the usual craft of brush and easel;
the sensuous element is employed to communicate life truth; to convey the
presence at the heart of the world of something profound; above the din
of mundane existence, the ice-cold light:
arrive at the flaming circle of vision
when at once
is touched the centre
of my live
comes via the hardest of material - sculpted rock and ice. There is, surely
nothing wishy-washy in such aspirations:
the arms of trees
an earth that
to face the
A miraculous prospect,
one dreams it like a blissful dream; the mystery of reality - the heart
of solitude. It is a sort of self-surpassing that the seer hankers after,
a self surpassing that makes the seer, composed and calm and wise. The
holiness of the painter vast ranges is suggested in these lines:
shout heard -
at most a
an alpine bird in the quiet
these no third
At this point
in time Manohar Kaul had a clear conception of what art was all about,
as of its place in human life. He did not accept things dociley but argued
the pros and cons carefully.
of mind as well as the tenacity to hold on to native points of view were
refreshing; to agree or not with his views being only secondary matter.
Manohar Kaul may well have been taken for an aesthetic reactionary or chauvnist
then, if so, the indictment appears wholly unfair. In case he erred in
emphasizing the importance and value of earlier art, the meaning of his
emphasis becomes palpable even as we are now rudely made aware that today
it is the Indian artistic tradition which is disadvanaged, not western
implantations in India.
While the Rodin
show in Delhi a while ago was visited by the generality of artists, quite
as they ought to have done, the superb, all important show of South Indian
Bronzes, at the National Museum, was hardly seen by most-art-minded locals.
Surely, those bronzes are a high water mark of Indian genius and aesthetic
sensibility. But apart from some discerning 'culture' people - Indian and
foreign - others were unaware of the riches in their midst. No wonder.
After all, schools, and colleges of art do not any longer offer lessons
in line with the older methods and only go for life modelling. Necessary
as the last are they are all too limited. The non-muscular human body is
no longer understood by the public, and even some artists. One sees people
hankering and doting in museums over second-rate copies of Greek art for
their virtues of life-likeness than on the imaginative, only suggestive
freizes of Indian temples. It appears, the 20th century foreigner may have
a deeper understanding of a subtler art than the native does. In his sense
Manohar Kaul foresaw artistic piffalls ahead-of most of us. His insistences
were understandable. There were those, then, who leaned heavily on the
side of the international ovement and others who went straight for an imitative
Indianism. Manohar Kaul did not over-do this Indianism. To quote him from
his piece in 1962 on Satyen Ghosal's work: Endowed with a balanced mind
Ghosal withstood, rocklike, the buffets of the swelling trends from the
East or the West, but felt and tested each one of them, and assimilated
their individual essence into synthetic pattern of his own."
He after having
a solo show in fiftees, he put up a group show in 1983 covering his works
of three decades. After this there was no doubt non stop creative works
of the artist.
like all nature poets knows:
is a singer at the heart of the old earth.
ever the sun shimmers upon inland peaks and lakes
the moon waxes
silver in his dark wake;
there is some
one, a spirit,
is the infinite......
And he has therefore
struggled to express only:
and the diamond
on sub-blinded Wulars.
genre is of course varied - except for some portraits. The painter has
struck to his original inspiration, he has been only true to himself. His
is a work only of joy, but perhaps, joy is the supreme quality in art.
Manohar Kaul's highest peaks are likely to remain unshakably secure in
the mind's eye. Recently he has introduced light in his Works and has also
stressed on the changing effects of the environment and atmosphere.
It may be interesting
to add that the painter has also put his inner knowledge of colours and
precious stones to curative uses. He brings the healing touch to those
who come into his contact.