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Jogen Chowdhury


Somnath Hore
KG Subramanyan Artist
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How I met Somnath Hore is in a very strange way. I didn’t know him in the beginning, for a long time, though he was elder to me, and he had been an artist on the scene much earlier than I was. I met him in Delhi. I was returning after doing a mural in Lucknow on what was called the Rabindralaya, that is the Rabindra Memorial Theatre, which showed a terracotta mural on the front. Then while I had photographs of them and while coming back I was staying for a night in a friend’s house and there, Somnath was there. He was at that time teaching in the art department of the Delhi Polytechnic. Somehow, we took to each other very soon. I think the next day I was still in town and I went to his studio, he showed what he was doing, then I found that he was a man who was completely taken up with doing his own work, and he lived almost like a sort of a poor man, by conviction. I mean it’s true, he was not earning very much, but then I later came to know that it was also because he started as a Marxist, and he wanted to live and even wear clothes like an ordinary worker. And it, I mean I was very much impressed by a certain man’s determination and a sort of a devotion to a certain ideology. Then I found that he had a very sensitive way to draw things, and a kind of a sense of tragedy in whatever he saw, and that continued throughout his life. Of course I sometimes used to think isn’t he overdoing it a little? He called all his works wounds, and all this came out of his experience of working for the Marxist Party when the peasants were trying to claim their rights and were beaten down by the landlords. That was even before he went to the art school and started studying art. Recently those sketchbooks have been published by The Seagull. When I did the, when I went to Santiniketan and showed him photographs of these terracottas I had done, then he was terribly struck by them. He said I am also trying to do something, so he was at that time doing what they call pulp prints on the surface of moulded cement, and then sort of showing them as graphics. But on the side he was also trying to work in wax, and what did he, what work he did in wax came in a certain sense close to what I was doing with clay. So that attracted him to my work in clay, and it was the time when Bangladesh became independent. He was a Bangladeshi, he came from Chittagong, he spent all his childhood there. He had close friends in Bangladesh, in fact, one Brigadier Osman, who was behind the movement as one of the men of their kind of an organised militia. He used to come and visit him apparently from time to time, under cover. Then he made an offer, will you give me a photograph of one of your murals which I thought you have done it at the time of this Bangladesh war, whether they would like to use it for a memorial. Then he did give the thing but it didn’t come through, and I know even if it had come through I would not have been able to do it there by translating what I did in clay into bronze. But thereafter I thought that he was a sort of a special person, and he was very unwilling to travel from where he was, and he and his wife were greatly concerned about each other’s health. Then I brought him somehow to Baroda and he spent about 3 months here later. At the beginning he came for a few days, then he liked the place, then he came for 3 months, and he did a lot to tone up the activities in the graphics studio. Then, when I went to Santiniketan in ’80, he became my close, close friend, and we always sat together and discussed various things, and our associations were long and quite intimate. Even today when I go there, I visit his wife, who is not in terribly good health, and his daughter has become an artist of some value. She is a young one who studied there. She has some kind of success now. I really miss him. I mean he died only about a year back, or two back. When I go there I do miss him. That kind of company I can’t get with anybody else. He was very shy. He deserved many awards, but he always shied off any offer. So I remember when there was an LJ Gupta Award offered by the LJ Gupta Trust in Hyderabad, I was on the committee and I said this is one man who should get the award, and people agreed with me. When I told him that you have got the award, will you go, he said no, no, my health is too bad, I cannot go. I had to almost push him off and he went and received the award, and while coming back he said travelling is not that terribly bad. Then in the next 2 months I think he decided to go and have a trip and see the Sanchi stupas with his wife and all. But then to get him into that mode, it took some effort. He was a very nice man, and he was a great influence on us, and if there is some kind of special quality amongst the printmakers of Bengal, his influence has been considerable. He is the only person that I have known in printmaking, the quality of whose prints concept level of the best in spite of his not going, knowing... going out of the country or knowing Hayter and things, people of that kind.

KG Subramanyan (1924-2016) was an Indian artist. A graduate of the renowned art college of Kala Bhavana in Santiniketan, Subramanyan was both a theoretician and an art historian whose writings formed the basis for the study of contemporary Indian art. His own work, which broke down the barrier between artist and artisan, was executed in a wide range of media and drew upon myth and tradition for its inspiration.

Listeners: Timothy Hyman

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.

Duration: 8 minutes, 1 second

Date story recorded: 2008

Date story went live: 10 September 2010