Abstraction is sometimes known as the spiritual form of art where artists deviate from the concrete forms of reality and improvise it through his artistic creation and imagination. He depicts reality as to how he perceives it, not by the conventional terms and principles. This is the reason why it is known as non-representative art. Impressionism and Cubism have also collectively contributed to the development of Abstractionism as a distinct form of Art.
In India, before independence, the semi-cubist form of paintings influenced the initial development of abstraction. This is widely observed in the paintings of Gagendranath Tagore. In ‘The Paths of Abstraction’ Jaya Appsamy said, “The earliest artist to create paintings without a specific or clear subject matter was probably Gaganendranath Tagore whose strange black and white compositions were precursors of the art of today.” He was one of those artists who was well aware of the revolution which was storming the world of Western art.
There is a pinch of ‘Derivative cubist form’ in his works which show a rare ingenuity. The Black-ink paintings– a feature singular to the paintings of Gagendranath Tagore, have an appeal that stirs the inquisitiveness of the spectator. There is no portrayal of any object which resembles anything in real form but there is a graphic representation of a space created by black and white patterns on canvas.
It is believed that this style was inspired by the Japanese brush style, Sumi-e-black ink, Chinese Ink Paintings, Wash techniques of painting, etc. Initially, he used to paint the landscape by using oriental wash techniques. The singular characteristic of these paintings was that his landscapes did not have any human presence. The period in which his art morphed into something subtle and yet so out worldly was the period of nationalism.
His approach toward the depiction of art was heavily influenced by eastern styles. He represented the subject matter of the paintings in wide-angle through single or mellow colors. ‘The Blue Mountain’ and ‘Gauri Shankar’ are apt examples of the abovementioned explanation.
He also experimented with the tones of colors that depict light in his work to play with the light effect. Due to his unconfirmed and lame dedication, his works like ‘Sun above the Sea’, ‘The Bridge’, and ‘Storm ahead in Padma’ can’t truly be ascribed as impressionists. This shows his strong inclination towards the paintings of great landscape painters like James Abbott McNeill Whistler and Joseph Mallord William Turner. His works were the marvelous epitome of marriage of different and distinct techniques of innovatory European art and revivalism in Bengal School of art.
Despite the fact that his family was closely related to Revivalism, he refused to bow down to the condescending and orthodox nature of Indian modern art paintings. He never identified himself as an artist who confines himself with the static rules of academic painting. He was freed from the shackles of principles and followed his gut feeling. He let himself drown in the surge of artistic aestheticism which came from whichever direction. He treated all styles of art equally, foreign or indigenous. With that he tried to show the hypocritical society around him a mirror.
Rabindranath and Gagendranath Tagore are considered as harbingers of Modern Indian art. Indian modernism has a touch of cosmopolitanism, nationalism, objectivity in adopting the modern European art culture. The definition of modern art paintings in India revolved around these.
In the 1920s, Gagendranath Tagore slowly emerged as a painter of derivative style under the heavy influence of European cubism and futuristic movements. He is popularly called as an artist of ‘Modern Metaphors’. By chance, in December 1922, an exhibition of German Expressionism was organized in Calcutta for Bauhaus artists. This exhibition was the first exhibition for Artists of Bauhaus outside Germany. Gagendranath Tagore helped his uncle, Rabindranath Tagore and Stella Kramrisch in arranging for the exhibition.
His works were exhibited many times in various places at different exhibitions. In 1914, his works were displayed at the 22nd event of ‘De Societe Des Peintres Orientalistes Francais’ in Paris. London, Holland, and Belgium come under the list of those countries where lovers of his art used to reside. His oeuvres also graced a traveling exhibition organized by the American Federation of Art and ISOA(1924)in London and Germany. His works were also displayed in 1928 at Athene Gallery which is situated in Geneva.
He was a marvelous and prolific painter. His paintings were way ahead of his times. It seems as if he could see the future and paint because he foresaw the destiny of Indian art. He was significantly inspired by the Japanese Wash techniques and other western and oriental practices. He will be remembered by the world of Indian art as a painter who introduced palpable feeling of enigma in his art through shades of black.