We do not have to understand art to like the paintings of Jamini Roy. There are some paintings that are so magical that they would simply touch your heart and you would never know!
The paintings of Jamini Roy is so ubiquitous in a Bengali household, that a layman may almost think its simply Bengal’s folk art. True it is Bengal’s folk art – but had it not been for Jamini Roy’s creationism – the world would not have known of it so well.
Jamini Roy single-handedly transformed the folk painting of Bengal into an international artwork.
Jamini Roy had humble beginnings. Born in a small village in Bankura called Beliatore, he came to the big city Kolkata at the tender age of sixteen.
With dreams in his eyes, he joined the College of Art in Kolkata. There he also met Abanindranath Tagore and was influenced by him.
As was the norm in the art college at that time, he was predisposed and taught to draw paintings that were of European influence only. But he wanted more than just making oil paintings of ‘classical nudes’ and ‘impressionist landscapes’.
At that time, fate took him to the Kalighat Temple. There nearby he saw the paintings made by the village folks and tribals. He fell in love with the Kalighat Pat. He wanted to paint that, now he knew what he wanted to do.
But there was a problem – no one cared much about this kind of indigenous art. But his heart was into it. He wanted to paint what he liked!
Thanks to the stars he did. But at first others would think he is going off the path and wasting his immense talent. People did not care much at first as to what he painted. But Jamini’s passion did attract attention eventually.
When Jamini Roy made an exhibition of his paintings in 1938, his paintings came as a pleasant surprise for the art connoisseurs in Kolkata mainly from the European community and a section of the Bengali society.
In an all-India exhibition of his work, the then Viceroy Lord Willingdon presented him with a gold medal. Later he held an exhibition in London.
After independence of India, he was asked to have an exhibition in New York. In 1955, the Government of India honoured him for his work and bestowed the Padma Bhushan on him.
His passion led him to create masterpiece after masterpiece. Even today his paintings are sold at a high price in auction houses in London.
Jamini Roy was a trailblazer – he experimented with everything. He would paint Madonna and Jesus or The Last Supper – in folk art style. He paved a new way to tell stories. He would try what others had not even imagined.
He would experiment anywhere – canvas, wood, mat or bamboo. He would try out new forms. He was one of the first artists who would mix the best of east and west.
Jamini Roy was more than just a painter and an artist. He was a storyteller – he painted Ramayana across 17 canvasses. Today this mind-blowing artwork graces the walls of the Victoria Memorial.
He showed the beauty of rural Bengal and the unfamiliar tribal people – globally. He showed their dreams and their magic of living in nature.
He made the Bengali commonplace cat and the clay Bishnupuri horse as magical beings. He poured forth the delight of his heart into his subjects.
Today Jamini Roy is no more in the body but he is with us in spirit. He looks at us through the eyes of his creations.