A new retrospective of the late Sachida Nagdev is now on view at Delhi’s IGNCA, featuring around 150 paintings by the artist who created his signature style by combining elements of abstract expressionism and miniature art, writes Bhumika Popli.
One look at the biography of Sachida Nagdev and you understand that his entire life revolved around art. He started painting at age nine, and didn’t put the brush down until his death last year at 77. His commitment to painting didn’t wane even in the last two years of his life, when he was gravely ill.
The inauguration of the Sachida Nagdev retrospective, now on at the Twin Art Gallery of Delhi’s Indira Gandhi National Centre of the Arts, coincided with the artist’s birth anniversary, 25 October. Organised by the Dhoomimal Gallery, the exhibition comprises around 150 paintings, giving us the complete trajectory of Nagdev’s five-decade-long artistic career.
The exhibition, entitled Rang Smriti-II: A Tribute to Sachida Nagdev, includes artworks of various styles and forms. Many of these combine elements of abstraction with miniature art in a single frame, which became Nagdev’s signature style.
The painting titled Niharika is a good example of his approach to art. It depicts a dark, cloudy and stormy evening, with a woman, a peacock and two birds in the foreground. A lone temple stands in the landscape. The sky, painted in multiple shades of greys and blues, is the abstract half of the canvas, while the figures below remind us of Rajasthan’s miniature tradition.
A few other paintings in the show are also done in the same vein—uniting abstract and miniature styles. And each of them glows with vivid colours.
“The most striking aspect of Nagdev’s works is his aptitude for using colours,” says curator Prayag Shukla. “Born in Ujjain city of the Malwa region, the painter was familiar with colourful and rich flora and fauna of the area. The place is culturally diverse. Kumar Gandharva, the renowned musician, was also from Malwa, and the poet Naresh Mehta also lived there. The vibrant colours on Nagdev’s canvases come from there.”
It was also Nagdev’s visit to the Bhimbetka caves that helped him develop an understanding of primitive art. Nagdev was among the first visitors to this heritage site. The caves were discovered by his mentor, the renowned artist and architect Dr V.S. Walankar. Nagdev was 14 years old when he copied the art he saw at the Bhimbetka caves, and his efforts got him some recognition.
Nagdev is also known for bringing Bhopal on the Indian art map. He helped organise many programmes at the Madhya Pradesh Kala Parishad in Bhopal, inviting a number of artists to exhibit their works at the centre, S.H. Raza being one of them.
About his own works, Nagdev once said, “I was always fascinated by the changing phenomenon of nature and expressed it with intensity on canvas. Indian miniature paintings with their fine lines and rich colours have always been my inspiration. The age-old prehistoric paintings and gigantic colourful rocks have been my inspiration. Indian classical music is my love.”
Smita Nagdev, the artist’s daughter, who is herself a famous sitar player, spoke to Guardian 20 about her father: “We practiced in the same studio. I used to play the sitar while he painted. Sometimes he would just stop his work and simply listen to me. It was like music was giving directions to his brush.”
Nagdev was a child prodigy. At age nine, driven by an innate desire to learn painting, he reached out to signboard painters. At 14, he copied the murals he saw in the Bhimbetka rock caves. At 18, he left home with little money to Kashmir, as he wanted to paint the hilly landscapes of that region. Smita says, “He was stuck in the floods in Kashmir at that time and our family thought we would never be able to see him again.”
But his explorative nature, his idea to experience the world of art, didn’t stop there. At 33, he travelled to Europe, spending two months there, intending to see every canvas he could by the Old Masters. “He didn’t have much money. He sold his artworks on the streets, ate peanuts and most of these times didn’t know how was he to survive the following day,” says Smita.
Nagdev was a curious learner. Throughout his life, he looked to imbibe all that he came across and often made several attempts to go beyond his reach to experience art. Senior art critic Vinod Bhardwaj says, “Nagdev was an accomplished abstract artist with deep roots in temple traditions, rituals and the landscape of his hometown Ujjain. Good Indian abstract artists never follow glamorous American abstract style. They have humble Indian roots.”
The show is on view at Delhi’s IGNCA till 4 November