A tale of two extraordinary artists

Jamini Roy (1887-1972) is undoubtedly the father the Indian folk renaissance. His show, Journey to the Roots which is curated by Ella Datta exemplifies and shows why he is regarded as one of the earliest modernists.

21 Jul 2015 | By Krishna Naidu

A lazy Sunday, left me riveted with his use of East Asian calligraphy. Plus his control over the brush. As one climbed the floors of the NGMA in Mumbai, I was moved by the folk-style paintings of Jamini Roy and his pointillist brushstrokes.
Amazing, visual language.
Hop skip and jump away from the NGMA is the Artisans Studio in the Kala Ghoda District.
Here on view are 90 vintage prints which showcase how Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906) has impacted the imagery of advertisements, calendars and Bollywood posters; and even matchboxes and playing cards.
Today, most of RRV's creations, especially the Hindu gods and goddesses are part of popular art. They became, “the best-loved visuals in India”, adorning nooks and corners and puja-ghars of innumerable homes.
What is interesting is, Raja Ravi Varma started a printing press in Ghatkopar, Mumbai in 1894. In 1899, he shifted his unit to Malavali village near Lonavala. In 1901, the press was sold to a printing technician from Germany. Later it was destroyed in a fire and shut down.
Even today, a visit to that village, prints can be traced that came out of the Ravi Varma Fine Art Lithographic Press. Plus one can find the original litho stones which used to print cheaper versions of Ravi Varma's oil paintings. The original oleographs, which bear Ravi Varma's signature, can cost between Rs 5,000 and Rs 10,000.
The pictures carried the names of press: The Ravi Varma Press Ghatkopar, The Ravi Varma Press Malavli, The Ravi Varma Fine Art Lithographic Press Bombay (FAL Press), The Ravi Varma Press Karla, The Ravi Uday Press etc.
Some of this extraordinary legacy has found a permanent resting place at the Hasta Shilpa Trust’s heritage village in Manipal.
The museum owes its heritage to Vijaynath Shenoy who heard of the Malavali story and made a trip. He bought 100-odd lithographic stones, with prints of the paintings intact, along with the original oleographs and the lithographic machines. Furthermore, he selected calendars, posters, labels of consumer products, greeting cards, playing cards and matchbox labels with Ravi Varma's prints on them. All of these are now on display at the Gallery of Cultural Legacy of Raja Ravi Varma, a part of the Hasta Shilpa Trust, which is a heritage village project in Manipal.
In this way, a little bit of legacy of one of the greatest painters (and printers) in India has been preserved.