Relentlessly Inventive

The description, by Aveek Sen in yesterday's Telegraph of the book Maqbool Fida Husain by K Bikram Singh and published by Rahul & Art in New Delhi made one sit up for more than one reason. One being the price. Rs 9999 plus shipping makes this the most expensive book we have considered listing the Scholars site. The other being the fact of Husain himself. Prolific and controversial, he is one modern Indian artist who has managed to cock a snook at every establishment, including the politically very correct. Bringing together reproductions of his important works makes the book valuable, if expensive.

In his review, Sen says "This massive tome by K. Bikram Singh, — a civil servant, lecturer in history and film-maker — brings together many reproductions of Husain’s art (most of them of excellent quality) from every phase of the artist’s enormously prolific career. These pictures illustrate 12 chapters of informative, jargon-free and often insightful commentary. But the book could have done with some ruthless editing, curbing Singh’s copiousness, making the volume less difficult to hold in one’s hand and read.

Singh’s method is a fairly readable combination of biography, historical context and a form of interpretation that often abandons chronology to provide a sort of motif-index to Husain’s vast and varied corpus. The elements of Husain’s visual lexicon are identified, their evolution mapped through relevant illustrations, and their ‘meanings’ pieced together by teasing out connections with biography and history. Singh quotes rather more regularly from academic critics than he need have. He has his own, semi-formal way of writing about art and artists, and their contexts, which is substantial enough for the intelligent, lay reader whose interest in art is not rigorously academic. Besides, Singh’s love for Husain’s art gives him a personal access to, and familiarity with, the work that have their own value, even if one finds oneself expecting more concision and sharpness in this kind of a documentary and critical endeavour.

... This book is a testimony to Husain’s relentless inventiveness. It reproduces some 350 works out of a growing corpus of more than 10,000 paintings, apart from murals, toys, films and designs for jewellery and nursery furniture, and the cinema hoardings that were his initiation to painting. Husain’s sumptuous palette is amply represented in Singh’s book, the scandalous price of which does manage to stand good taste on its head — a feat that is not beyond its subject’s skills."

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