"People often ask me about the meaning of my pictures. I remain silent even as my pictures are. It is for them to express and not to explain. They have nothing ulterior behind their own appearance for the thoughts to explore and words to describe, and that appearance carries its ultimate worth."
Born into a wealthy land-owning family of Bengal, Rabindranath Tagore was initiated into art fairly late in his life, at the age of 63. He is thus better known for his literary achievements (for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1914) though he has painted close to 2,500 paintings during the few years he was an artist. Over 1500 of these are preserved at the Vishva Bharati University, Santiniketan.
Tagore was attracted to the sketches drawn by his elder brother Jyotirindranath. In 1924, while writing "Purabi" he started doodling on the pages of his manuscript. He also had a habit of crossing out and covering the rejected lines and phrases of his poetry with various kinds of scribbled ink lines. At a certain stage he noticed that these - taken individually or together - had a special rhythmic presence, and a little more doodling transformed some into flowers, others into birds or strange astonishing creatures seemingly with a life and body of their own.
Plus, he being a perfectionist couldn't stand anything untidy, therefore the crossed out lines had to beautified using various means, and that's how he started to paint.
Though he lacked a formal training in art, he used this lack of knowledge to his advantage, which opened new horizons in the use of line and color. In fact, through his work it is evident that his art was a search for a newer form of expression; he was trying to express through his painting all that he couldn't in his verses. If he was seeking peace and enlightenment in his songs, he seemed to explore darkness and mystery in his drawings. Tagore once said, "The world speaks to me in colors, my soul answers in music". In most of his paintings, one notices the use of dark colors and an illumination.
For him, painting was almost like a volcanic eruption of his new found freedom, and thus he used various mediums. Tagore's preferred mediums were ink or watercolor, unlimited crayon, pen and also fingertips. Form, composition, rhythm and a throbbing vitality were an integral part of Tagore's pictorial vocabulary.
Tagore, in his article 'My Pictures', explains his paintings: "The world of sound is a tiny bubble in the silence of the infinite. The Universe has only its language of gesture; it talks in the voice of pictures and dance. Every object in this world proclaims in the dumb signal of lines and colors, the fact that it is not a mere logical abstraction or a mere thing of use, but is unique in itself, and carries the miracle of its existence. In a picture the artist creates the language of undoubted reality, and we are satisfied that we can see. It may not be the representation of a beautiful woman but that of a commonplace donkey or of something that has no external credential of truth in nature but only in its own inner artistic significance.
Love is kindred to art it is inexplicability. Duty can be measured by the degree of its benefit, utility by the profit and power it may bring, but art by nothing but itself. There are other factors of life, which are visitors that come and go. Art is the guest that comes and remains. The others may be important, but art is inevitable."
In 1930, through a series of exhibition in Paris, London, Berlin, Moscow and New York, the world discovered the poet Rabindranath as an important modern painter. Subsequently, his works continued to be exhibited both in India and internationally. He is known to have commented that Indians were not ready to accept him as a painter, and thus he exhibited more of his works abroad.
His reputation as an artist has continued to grow even after his death in 1941. Tagore's contribution to the art of India remains one of the most important to date.
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