Manohar Kaul - The Artist
Even 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.
Infinite and 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.
These words 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."
Yes, Manohar 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.
That much, 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;The senses insist that the world is a strangerThat 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:
seeing immensities in mist,
hearing the breathing of gods
in recesses of rocksI arrive at the flaming circle of visionSuch revelation comes via the hardest of material - sculpted rock and ice. There is, surely nothing wishy-washy in such aspirations:
when at once is touched the centre
of my live nerve
with blinding revelations.rock, true-packedA 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:
with substance; the arms of trees
twisting in mortal effort;
an earth that continually
to face the presiding sunNo shout heard -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.
at most a soft pin-drop,
or perhaps an alpine bird in the quiet
but outside these no third
The growth 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.
Manohar Kaul, like all nature poets knows:There is a singer at the heart of the old earth.And he has therefore struggled to express only:
and that: ever the sun shimmers upon inland peaks and lakes
the moon waxes silver in his dark wake;
there is some one, a spirit,
whose joy is the infinite......the tallest rangesManohar Kaul's 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.
and the diamond fires
on sub-blinded Wulars.
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.