Gulammohammed Sheikh is an Indian painter, writer and art critic who has been a major figure in the Indian art world for half a century. His artistic career is closely associated with the renowned MS University of Baroda in Gujarat where after gaining his Master's degree, Sheikh went on to teach in the Faculty of Fine Arts, and where he was appointed Professor of Painting in 1982.
It was after George Birdwood. And Birdwood Library is also very central to my education. I read everything, whatever that was, I mean, I couldn’t read English books, but it had best of journals, including some Hindi journals, and I became well versed in Hindi. I even passed Hindi examinations during that time. And so I came to know about work of Shrikant Verma,Sarveshwardayal Saxena [sic – should be Nirmal Verma], many other Hindi writers, while I was in school. But there was another, a kind of an encounter which is very central to my life as an artist. Ravishankar Raval I mentioned is known as the great teacher, Kalaguru of Gujarat, the writer, he had written his autobiography, and I think it’s quite remarkable, from late 19th century until that time, he became editor of a journal around 1920, a journal called Vismi Sadi, which means 20th century, and he was art editor. It was not known in those days that you could have an art editor. And he then started a journal called Kumar, which is still running some 80th year or so. And we all grew up on Kumar, that magazine. It was sort of a digest but it had world literature. It would have information on history and, you know, they would reproduce a colour... painting in colour in every number. Like there was an English journal from Calcutta called Modern Review. So, Ravishankar Raval was, you know, the founder of that journal.
This was in Gujarati?
Gujarati, yes. Well, what I’m talking about is all Gujarati. Well, Ravishankar Raval had contracted either, something like TB, I don’t know whether it was TB or similar, and he was advised to go to a place with dry weather. Now, his son was a public servant in, he was an IAS (Indian Administrative Service), and his son was posted in Surendranagar. So, Ravishankar Raval came to Surendranagar for a few months to sort of, you know, recuperate. Well, he, because he was a man of both art and literature, he would visit the library. The librarian was a very fine, very nice man and his son was my classmate. So, I was introduced to Ravishankar Raval that here is a young artist. So, Ravishankar looked at me and he said, ‘Ah, let’s do something together’. I said, oh, what is this great man asking me to do together? He said, ‘On the outer wall of the library we will do history of the world, history of civilisation’. I said, ‘How do we do that?’ I don’t, you know, I didn’t know what to do. He said, ‘We’ll do silhouettes’. And then he took out pictures from books and things like that and then, it was a great experience. I still don’t remember what I did and how I did and whether it was worth anything, but we did that. Then Ravishankar Raval became, it looked that he became quite fond of me. When he left he said, ‘Write to me a postcard every time, a reply postcard but with a sketch in it. If you don’t sketch, I won’t answer’. So, I made lots of... I must have done lots of sketches for him. And we continued a dialogue, you know, that correspondence for several years, and I remember very vividly that he sort of, you know, whatever little that I was painting in the magazine or the school magazine, whatever that I showed him, he said, ‘You must go and study further’. So, I said, ‘I don’t know how’. But then it reached my father and my father said, ‘Yes, well, I can’t afford your college education’. Because he had educated three sons. He said, ‘But can you manage by yourself?’ I said, ‘How do I manage?’ But my father was very helpful. He said, ‘Look, if you apply for a scholarship or something, I’ll help you’. And his English was okay, quite good. Because he had dealt with business, he would help me write applications. So, I said, ‘Why not?’ And in my last year in school I remember I was feeling very disheartened and it got... it came back to me when I discovered those few postcards that I had received from Ravishankar Raval that he had written to me. He said, ‘Don’t be disheartened’. You know, I have still these postcards with me. ‘I have made even people who were in thrice worst condition than you to get educated. This man is now a collector, this man is doing that. If it is in you and if you fight, you will make it’. I was, I must say that it must have been a great thing. Then I said, okay, I’m going to go out and study further. Well, that is one experience which is associated with Birdwood Library. You know, that is where it happened. And he remained my... as kind of a benefactor.
Timothy Hyman is a graduate of Slade School of Fine Art, London, in which he has also taught. In 1980 and 1982, he was Visiting Professor in Baroda, India. Timothy Hyman has curated many significant art exhibitions and has published articles and monographs on both European and Indian artists.