Formal order: This forgotten artist was as talented as he was versatile

Formal order: This forgotten artist was as talented as he was versatile

By BHUMIKA POPLI | | 14 May, 2016
(Clockwise) Brij Mohan Anand, Muse of the Artist, scratchboard, 1968 & a book cover designed by Anand.
Three decades after the death of artist Brij Mohan Anand, a memorial exhibition on his life and work aims to revive public interest in this unjustly neglected figure who was always reinventing himself by dabbling in multiple forms, writes Bhumika Popli.

An accomplished artist and commercial illustrator of newspapers, novels and educational books, Brij Mohan Anand  (1928-1986) was known as an “anti-establishment” painter and remained a committed socialist. On 12 May, an exhibition titled Narratives for Indian Modernity: The Aesthetic of Brij Mohan Anand opened at the India International Centre (IIC) in Delhi, with the aim of popularising Anand’s work. A monograph, carrying the same title, has also been published by Harper Collins, as textual accompaniment to the main exhibition. It is co-authored by Aditi Anand and Grant Pooke, with a foreword by art curator Alka Pande.

The exhibition features 90 select pieces by the artist. There are five ink drawings, three scratchboard sketches, six red-cross posters, five oil-on-canvas paintings, 35 sketches, 14 scratchboards and 23 book covers in all.

The monograph suggests that Anand lived his life on his own terms. His scratchboards offered a polemical commentary and a highly personal perspective on a range of postcolonial conflicts, from the politics of Cold War and the Vietnam War to India’s assumption of nuclear power under the aegis of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

He also experiment freely with form, dabbling in landscapes, pen-and-ink compositions, watercolours, poster designs and book covers for novels. 30 years after he passed away, the exhibition and monograph aim to put forward the great vision of an artist who witnessed India’s journey towards modernity.

Anand’s life intersected with some of the foundational events which have since defined and mediated the modern Indian consciousness, shaping the convictions that drove his own practice. From the bitter family legacy of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, to the trauma of Partition and the post-Independence realpolitik of Congress and Communist Party mandates, he recognised the self-deception and vanity of power and the complicity of the élites through which it was exercised. Anand’s legacy registers a singular consciousness, a profound human belief in a socially redemptive aesthetic and the agency of ordinary men and women to realise and to fashion their own futures within a contested modernity.

Anand, through most of his life, remained an unknown figure in art circles but that somehow helped him in his artistic endeavours. His fearless sense of aesthetic helped him develop an substantial body of artworks. The artist’s oeuvre remains important enough to be archived. His works are influenced by a series of events that he encountered during his childhood and thereafter. He lost his elder brother in the Jallianwala massacre. In 1935, his family was framed by the government in order to humiliate Anand’s father, Mani Ram Anand. The family then moved to Nagar in the Kullu Valley. While in Kullu, Anand was greatly influenced by the  works of the Russian artist Nicholas Roerich. Anand tried to model some of his early works by imitating Roerich’s techniques. Orphaned at the tender age of fourteen, Anand’s early years were spent travelling extensively throughout the Indian subcontinent — living with one relative for sometime and then with the another.

Anand’s life intersected with some of the foundational events which have since defined and mediated the modern Indian consciousness, shaping the convictions that drove his own practice.

Later in his life, Anand was invited to Kashmir to contribute to the National Cultural Front along with S. H. Raza, Amar Singh, Ghulam Hassan and others. Here, he once got into trouble for displaying nude artworks. An arrest warrant was issued in his name, but he managed to escape from Kashmir unscathed. But this did not deter him from his artisttic determination, as he continued to draw and paint nudes in academic style throughout his career.

In 1974, in response to the Pokhran tests, Anand made a painting to be presented to the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, protesting against the tests. The painting is sadly no longer traceable today. Anand’s wife, Sunil, describes the work as representing a large cloud of smoke from an atomic explosion juxtaposed with an image of Indira Gandhi releasing a dole of doves — the universal signifiers of peace. It remains unclear however, whether the painting was ever given to Indira Gandhi.

A self-taught artist, Anand designed book covers for popular genres of Hindi pulp fiction or “pocket books”, finding great success. He designed the covers of books on a range of subjects from crime, espionage, romance, to stereotypical thrillers about buxom women and street-smart detectives. The books went on to become very popular, thanks in no small part to the the artworks they carried.

Anand also produced sketches chronicling his travels, experiences and the people he met. For many years, he worked for the pioneering graphic agency KBK, named after its founder Kul Bhushan Kumar. He also made graphic illustration for the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT).

Anand’s daughter, Kriti, mentions in the book that it was his appreciation for simple things, affection for those belonging to the lower strata of society and his generosity towards all he met, that made him special and extraordinary.

The exhibition will be on view till 22 May 2016 at the Art Gallery, India International Centre, Delhi



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