MS Murthy’s portraits of Gandhi unfold a story in every frame
The renowned artist’s ongoing exhibition at Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath is an evocative tribute to Mahatma
By Reema Gowalla
Seventy-five frames dot the walls of Gallery №3 at Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath in Bengaluru. Each a canvas of pencil work and watercolour; each a moment in the life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Renowned artist Dr MS Murthy’s latest exhibition is ‘a tribute to Mahatma’. But it’s not merely a visual eulogy. Every painting tells a story and unravels a facet of his personality — some known, some not quite. The paintings are a representation of historical records that connect with contemporary times. On display is a body of minimalist yet profound work that took Murthy — a recipient of Karnataka Sahitya Academy Award and Rajyotsava Award — about seven years to complete.
Select portraits of Gandhi — replicating his different moods and character traits — are put together by Murthy for the showcase. That said, one can easily identify the veteran artist’s inventiveness and the dexterity with which he approaches minute details of the global icon’s persona and nimbly translates that to the canvas. “In one of the paintings, you can see Gandhi with a newspaper, while characters appear in front of you from the report that he is reading. This reflects his psyche. It’s sort of a conceptual treatment to art that I like engaging in a lot. Gandhi’s patience, his calm and composed demeanour, particularly in difficult situations, is the focal point of the portraits,” says the artist. The exhibition is presented by Bhoomi — the Centre for Art Studies.
The exhibition is not all about Gandhi alone, as you’ll also come across sudden and surprising glimpses of greats like Rabindranath Tagore and Charlie Chaplin too, with even Muhammad Ali Jinnah making an apperance in one of the frames. Explaining the thought behind the merging of other personalities, he says, “All art cannot just be about his iconic round-rimmed glasses or his toothless smile. It’s also important to juxtapose that with the complexities of the pre-Independence era and manner in which Gandhi dealt with people and situations. There’s a deliberate effort to visually portray the emotional connect, humanity and positivity resonance in them. The exhibition pays tribute to the ‘Father of the Nation’ — a shrewd politician, who lived a simple, philosophical and practical life, devoid of inhibitions and expectations.”
There’s also a portrait of Kasturba Gandhi, which the artist describes as a visual tribute to a very important part of Gandhi’s life. “I have huge respect for Kasturba. Her cooperation and silent contribution to the making of Mahatma should always be recognised and honoured equally,” he says.
Speaking about why he chose watercolour as the medium, Murthy says, “It’s a poetry of creative expression. Just like Gandhi’s personality, watercolour is a delicate medium and it suits the composition of this set of work. I have also employed the Indian traditional wash painting technique in some of the paintings. It signifies the flow — how amid the clutter, Gandhi is moving forward in a dignified style, with a smile on his face. Meanwhile, the simple pencil drawings give a classic touch to the artworks.” The play of light and shadow in the paintings add an interesting edge to them. The exhibition marks the 75 years of India’s Independence. While in today’s world many may oppose Gandhi’s philosophy and his ideas, Murthy maintains that what he has understood through the response to his exhibition is that people still remember and respect Bapu. “His values are relevant even in the present world,” he says.
As an artist, Murthy’s preoccupation with the element of ‘silence’ is quite evident. In his previous exhibition — titled The Bowl — which took place in 2018 at a city gallery, he showcased a set of abstract frames that formed part of his creations on Buddha’s consciousness. He had been working on them since the 1990s. According to him, the empty bowl is full of completeness. “It’s a metaphor that represents bhiksha, which means you are ready to reduce your ego and embrace humility,” the artist explains. The paintings of the bowl urged the spectator to introspect in silence, extolling the virtues of acceptance, rejection and satisfaction.
In a way, Gandhi also equated the same philosophy of simplicity and modesty in his lifetime. However, in comparison to the abstract paintings of The Bowl, the portraits of Mahatma are more expressive, well-defined and evocative. “Even among the new exhibits, there is a frame in which one can see Gandhi holding a bowl in his hand. That’s how the two sets of work are connected,” he sums up.
The exhibition is open until October 12 (from 10am to 7pm).