Celebrating a sharing of cultural influences

Adivasi artists have adorned some of the walls of the Valley school with their paintings.

Adivasi artists have adorned some of the walls of the Valley school with their paintings.

When visiting the Valley School as a guest of my good friend Satish, trading a little teaching for the quiet and comfort of a forest life, I am always pleased to find myself amongst creative people. The Valley acts as a magnet to artists, musicians, dancers and poets and my stay this time coincided with that of a Dutch musician and sculptor who was giving some remediation to a work he installed in the grounds a few years ago. Also in attendance were an English story teller, who entertained a willing audience beneath the stars late into an evening, and two classical Indian percussionist who were working with groups of enthusiastic children.

The Valley school staff are committed to celebrating and disseminating the art and culture of India as well as exposing their pupils and the adult community to that from elsewhere in the world. Whenever I walk through the extensive arboreal grounds of the Valley there is evidence of the work of local and tribal artists, potters and sculptors. This sits comfortably alongside the work of children and staff from the school community and that produced by visiting artisans.

The regional variations of tribal art, examples of which can be found on the walls of this environment are a fascination that I have acquired in recent years. At home, a beautiful black and white depiction of birds in a forest, skillfully produced by a Madhubani artist from Bihar hangs in our lounge. My interest in these works meant that I was particularly delighted following my session at the CISCE conference for  school principals, to be presented with a Pithora painting by a tribal artist Rathya Najroo Shekla Bhai from Gujarat.

There is a childlike quality to this work which may understandably be categorised as naive. Yet the picture tells a clear and moving story, depicting life in a tribal community entered through the gateway at the foot of the picture. Here are portrayals of people, animals, birds and activities that typify and shape the culture of these distinctive and dignified people. All of this is surrounded by an intricate border formed by a filigree of patterns and shapes.

A Gujerati tribal painting on canvas portrays the bustle of village life

A Gujarati Pithora tribal painting on canvas portrays the bustle of village life

In enjoying this work and others like it I am aware of how this, and similar tribal art from around the world has influenced that of European artists. The Russian painter Marc Chagall projects a similar naivety in his depiction of animals such as the donkey in his painting “L’Ane Vert” (the Green Donkey) as is achieved in the creation of camels and horses in the Gujarati picture. The tiger in Rousseau’s famous “Tiger in a Tropical Storm” is not so far removed in his simplicity from those magnificent felines at the gates of this work.  Other artists, including Picasso and Matisse were openly influenced by tribal patterns and motifs and could see the underlying spirit of their apparent simplicity and the importance of the stories that they tell.

Just in case you should believe that artistic influences have travelled in only one direction, it is evident in the works of many of today’s Indian painters that they have drawn inspiration from the west. Jaii Deolalkar a talented artist who also works at the Valley spoke to me of her association with the works of Paul Klee, which is evident in a series of her paintings produced in recent years. Her works are untitled, enabling the viewer to see what they may in her art. Her work below with its furious reds and ochres and a depth of field created by brush strokes and shadows, demonstrates how the work of modern Europeans has shaped the thinking of an artist here in Bangalore.

Bangalore artist Jaii Deolalkar draws inspiration from, amongst others, Paul Klee

Bangalore artist Jaii Deolalkar draws inspiration from, amongst others, Paul Klee

This sharing of artistic styles and traditions must surely play a part in helping those of us who are devoid of creative talent, to understand the cultural influences and interpretations of those who have such gifts. The children who learn in this environment are certainly placed in a position of advantage.


6 thoughts on “Celebrating a sharing of cultural influences

  1. Thanks for this latest post, Richard. I read this with interest as I have long been interested in this concept of ‘naive’ art and how various artists such as Picasso, Chagall and Rousseau have been influenced so I was pleased to see the work of Jaii Deolalkar who has been influenced by European artists. It was wonderful to see examples you have either bought or been presented with whilst in India. I’ve just bought my wife two ceramic pieces of British contemporary ‘folk’ art from the Tate shop by the artist Mark Hearld: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=byG6w2qaWnw
    This video introduces his work and influences which, coincidentally, overlap significantly with my own- all very much in the 20th century landscape genre- Bawden, Ravilious and John Piper, who, of course, all drew on influences from their past. It made me realise how much we are all influenced to one extent or another by others and how important a vibrant art education is. I’d love to visit the Valley School with you one day to celebrate in this creative community and maybe to share some of my own artistic passions with the children and adults there.

    • Hi Sorrell,
      Warmer here than there I guess. I could arrange a vist, or indeed a residency at the Valley for you at a minutes notice. You would be made very welcome and find a sympathetic group of people who would be very enthusiastic about your printing skills.
      John Piper is a particular favourite of mine, a true renaissance man. His design work for Benjamin Britten, paintings, music, covers for the Shell guides and recording of the city of Coventry were a great inspiration. I assume you know the wonderful biography of Piper and his wife Myffanwy?
      Shared influences in art, music and literature interest me greatly. Let’s get together and discuss. Just as it was a privilege to celebrate your art on this blog, so is it a pleasure to being the work of Indian artists to the fore.

  2. I love the painting of life in the village – it reminds me of that huge textile hanging in New Walk Museum, Leicester. I’ve often sat and looked at, or drawn from it – there’s so much imagery, activity and interest in it.

    • Hi jean,
      I know the tapstry well. This also comes from a Gujarati Pithora tradition. In addition to their depiction of daily life, the authors have also represented sacred and spiritual influences. You should visit India, your pencil would never rest!

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