Sunday, January 1, 2017

A.A.Almelkar—Inspiration and Impact ; Published by the National Gallery of Modern Art ; Pages  240.

When I was young , we had in our house a beautiful Voltas Calendar displaying twelve paintings of one A.A.Almelkar. Who was Almelkar ?

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A.A.Almekar was a significant artist of the post-independence period who was inspired by the concept of Indianness in Modern Indian art. He is known for his own distinct “Almelkar” style inspired by Indian miniatures. He was obsessed by traditional values. His style was dismissed in derogatory terms by the Progressive Group. The art movement was divided into streams, one led by radical reformists like Souza, Husain, Raza and the other explored by traditionalists like Almelkar.

Almelkar created his paintings by making a skillful use of luminous colours preferring cardboard to canvas. Often he applied colours with his fingers instead of brush. Texture created by jute, comb and rags was the hallmark of Almelkar’s style. His paintings were completed after defining the contours with lyrical and tender black lines. He started creating paintings based on kings and consorts, heroes and heroines and raga-raginis of Hindustani music. Later he was attracted to the primitive world of adivasis. The Indian villages full of diversity and rich culture along with nature, burds and animals proved to be a great inspiration for him to paint pictures.

Almelkar hailed from Karnataka and his ancestors were Brahmins. One of his ancestors Ttyasaheb had four wives but no children. He was advised to pay a visit to the Dargah of Ghalibshahid Sant Sahib and pray for a child. Tatyasaheb followed the advice loyally ans by a miracle three wives became pregnant within six months. One delivered a daughter and the other two sons. He named them Galib and Shahid and he converted to Islam in a mosque. Abdul Rahim  Appabhai Almelkar was born in this family in 1920 in Ahmedabad .
He was deeply impressed by the paintings of Shubray  Maharaj of Solapur which sowed the seeds of divine faith in the Almighty and the ageold values of Indian Art.Abdur Rahman got admission in the Notan Kala Mandir in Bombay which was started by Shri S.Dandavatimath. His students included K.K.Hebbar and S.M.Pandit.Almelkar became his disciple and started goung to the villages to be closer to nature and prepared his sketches there.

Almelkar came to Bombay and was influenced by  Walter Langhammer, N.S.Bendre. He submitted a painting to the Bombay Art Society. He was awarded Governor’s Prize in the annual exhibition of the Bombay Art Society held in 1946.The same Society gave him a Gold Medal  for his painting " Full Moon". Meanwhile he was employed in Express Block and Engraving Studio where he worked for twelve years. He became an established artist and his paintings were in demand. Greeting card companies started printing his paintings on greeting cards and they became popular.

Disaster struck in 1954 when a devastating fire destroyed his studio, paintings, medals, etc. Governor of Bombay immediately gave him another house nearby. Bombay Art Society gave a new Gold Medal in place of one which was lost in the fire.Voltas Company commissioned him to prepare twelve paintings for their calendar on the subject Wildlife of Animals. Almelkar was hailed as ‘The Phoenix of the Art World’. He received the prestigious Patel Trophy from the Art Society of India in 1955. Lalit Kala Akademi gave him an award for the Best Painting in an exhibition held by them. He held 25 exhibitions of his paintings. He prepared a huge  6 x 28 feet mural for Air India’s Nariman Point Office based on the theme of Rajasthani villagers going to market. In December 1982 he was participating in the Anniversary Day celebrating of Mobos Art Gallery he sustained a severe heart attack and passed away the same evening.

The National Gallery of Modern Art arranged a show of Almelkar’s sketches and paintings. This was a fitting tribute to the truly deserving artist who has not been given the due recognition that he richly deserved. The NGMA  has brought out this impressive publication which leads us on the wonderful world of Almelkar. Almelkar was influenced by the Ajanta and Ellora Buddhist murals, frescoes and sculptures.His works bear true signs of his perfect and minute observations which can be witnessed in his works on plants, animals, birds, hills, mountains, rivers, towns, villages,etc.

Almelkar was married to his first wife who gave him a son. Unfortunately this marriage was a failure.His second wife bore him four daughters and one son. He lived with his family in Bombay. 

The volume is very well illustrated and is a wonderful introduction to an eminent Indian artist.

Some incidents in Almelkar’s life.

1.  The mural he painted for Air India was —6 feet by 28 feet.At the time of his delivery Almelkar roled up the canvas, inserted into the roll an eight feet long bamboo for support. Almelkar took one end of the bamboo on his shoulders and asked his student Godkar to lift the other end and put it on his shoulders. The procession started from Girgaum, then Marine Drive and finally Nariman Point.Almelkar was singing Koli songs all the way.
2.  Almelkar won around 20 gold medals and 24 silver medals  his incredible art . He held  40 solo exhibitions at his credit which were not only in India but in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Ceylon.

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