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Multiple Originality: The Journey of Indian Printmaking Posted July 2014 by Jitendra Suman

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Technically, printmaking is an impression of an image from one surface to another resulting in the multiplication of an image. We could say that it’s a medium which helps in the wider dissemination of unique artistic creativity. Printed images are known from the earliest of times. In some eastern countries like in China and Japan it has acquired uniquely significant growth. But the present printmaking art as a branch of fine art took its original shape in Post-Renaissance Europe. Making a print required that initially an image be made on a piece of wood, metal sheet, or screen which was then transferred or impressed onto another surface. We can divide printmaking broadly into two processes; relief and intaglio although with the growth in visual technologies new methods are also emerging. In the relief process a print is taken from the relief area of the block. The raised image is generally made by cutting away the non-image areas which stand out from the background. The raised area is inked by a roller or by smearing print ink. Woodcut, linocut and wood engraving are the most exploited forms of relief printing. Intaglio is just the reverse of what operates in the relief process. In the intaglio process an impression is made from the incised area of the matrix or plate. In it an image is incised into a surface and the incised line or sunken area holds the ink. Intaglio techniques include engraving, etching, mezzotint and acquatint. Another method known as planographic printing uses a technique where the matrix retains its original flat surface, but is specially prepared and or inked to allow for the transfer of an image. Lithography is an important planographic technique in which lithographic limestone works as a matrix.

Printmaking in India

No other medium has influenced the core of Indian mass consciousness as printmaking has done. When Raja Ravi Verma established his printing unit at Girgaon Mumbai, Maharashtra in 1894 to create oleographic prints of his Indian mythological figures he didn’t realized that he was going to change the core of Indian consciousness, its religious imagery. Ravi Verma with the help of two German printmakers made thousands of copies of his paintings which later on became a household identity in every Indian home.

In India printmaking arrived first in Goa when Jesuit missionaries brought a printing press to disseminate the biblical message. But its more organized growth happened in Bengal an Eastern state of India. In Bengal printmaking arrived with the European settlement. European artists came to India to paint its human and natural landscape which later on converted into printed copies for the European audience. When and how Indian artists learned this medium is not clear but Indian artist’s names started appearing with prints during the initial decades of the 19th century. Later on in the celebrated house of Tagore, harbingers of cultural renaissance in Bengal, printmaking techniques became artistic by the example of European and Japanese artists. Gagendranath Tagore applied printmaking for the creation of his satirical work in his pun book Vichitra Sabha. Later on Nandlal Bose perfected the technique of printmaking by learning from travelling European artists. After the establishment of a printmaking department at Kala Bhavan in Shanti Niketan, printmaking got a real institutional set up in Bengal. It was transformed into a premier printmaking center by the celebrated works of Somnath Hore, Mukul Dey and Bishprup Das Sanat Kar. Printmakers in the Bengal School worked on various subjects but they are known for native themes from Kalighat painting and the miniaturist school of Kishangarh. It gave them a true identity but at the same time decided their future demise.

In the post-independence Indian art scene printmaking witnessed significant growth. This growth was determined by two important factors. First printmaking as a medium required certain basic infrastructural set up which in turn necessitated capital investment. In the beginning due to the paucity of funds printmaking workshops in India were largely maintained under the institutional guidance of Government Universities which after seven decades remains largely unchanged. Due to this, contrary to painting, printmaking became a collective activity where innovation is slow and less individualized. Secondly, due to the impact of the first factor, printmaking always remains aligned with painting, which is considered a higher art. Still, printing holds unique attractions for the artist. It always attracts those artists who want a Chiaroscuro effect in their work or who want calligraphic fluidity in their images. With the advent of viscosity, a technique brought by the Krishna Reddy in India, artists turned towards printmaking for acquiring multiple layers of color in their work.

During post-Independence the Indian art scene was characterized by the feeling of enormous possibility of newly achieved Independence. This transformed into a charismatic inspiration to build a new nation, a new society. Artists wanted to shed off colonial European influence and Eurocentric art forms. They tried to create something from indigenous matter while at the same time maintaining the modernist humanist ideal of the realization of Individual freedom.

In 1958 Somnath Hore became head of the printmaking department at Delhi College of Art. Hore, himself a well-known printmaker of India, helped mold a new generation of artists. Due to the enormity of his contributions he is sometimes called the father of Indian printmaking. A close associate of Somnath Hore, Jagmohan Chopra founded Group 8 a printmaking collective in New Dehli in 1968. Members of the group like Jagdish De, Prashant Vichitra, Yogshakti, Surinder Chopra, Umesh Verma and Anupam Sud later on donated brilliant pieces of work to two western Indian institutes, one at the Graphic Arts Department of the faculty of Fine Art in Baroda University and the second at the J.J. School of Art in Mumbai, Maharashtra which enormously encouraged younger generations to adopt printmaking as their artistic career. At Baroda under the Guidance of V.S. Patel, Jyoti Bhatt and P.D. Dhumal an illustrious batch of print artists emerged in the art world. Some well-known artists who trained here were Pryag Jha, Siddharth Ghosh, Walter Dsouza, Ajit Dubey, Jayant Gajera, Dattreya Apte and Kavita Shah. At the J. J. School of Art, Professor Y.K. Shukla initially gave guidance in printmaking and later under the supervision of professors B.N. Sukhandwalla and Pranab students learned the intricacies of printmaking. The technical improvement in the different printmaking mediums got added impetus by the workshops conducted by Paul Lingerman. Many contemporary stalwarts in Indian printmaking got their initial training in this institute. Like Lalita Lajmi, Paul Koli and Kashinath Salve made their names at the national and international level.

Despite the predominant role played by the Government controlled university departments, some private artist’s workshops also played an important role in the growth of printmaking in India. Like CHHAP, the Baroda Printmaking Workshop started on a cooperative basis in 1999 to promote printmaking techniques by providing a studio facility to artists. It was promoted by Vijay Bagodi, Ghulam Mohammed Sheikh and Kavita Shah. Some senior artists also run private workshops where young artists learn by the display of printmaking processes.

In the present Indian art world the art of printmaking is witnessing enormous transformation. Techno-craftsmen with their fast changing technological expertise are engineering the illusion of creativity. Printmaking has its own poeticism in terms of artistic expression. One cannot deny that technology and its commercial use always dwindles the beauty of human creativity in modern art but at the same time one has to accept that in the end within every human creation the indomitable spirit of human expression emerges from the background.

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