Review by Hemavathy Guha
November 01, 2018


Rang Smriti-II
A Retrospective Exhibition of Sachida Nagdev’s Works
Spanning Five Decades
October 25 to November 4, 2018
Dhoomimal Gallery @ IGNCA, New Delhi

Dhoomimal Gallery, the oldest gallery in Delhi has brought to the city a retrospective exhibition titled Rang Smriti-II of eminent artist from Madhya Pradesh, Sachida Nagdev (1939-2017). An artist who had worked prolifically, one can see works in various genre, though he excels in gouache on paper. As his son, Alok informed, he began his career at a very early age literally childhood by participating in the then very popular annual event The Shankar’s International Children’s Competition’ and winning an award in it, which was considered quite prestigious at that time. His talent was also appreciated by luminaries like the former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and former President, Dr Rajendra Prasad. Soon after, he started assisting sign board painters and then went on to study fine arts from Bharati Kala Bhavan, Ujjain, under the guidance of Dr V.S. Wakankar, renowned archaeologist and artist. He pursued his art education from Sir JJ School of Art and Vikram University, Ujjain. He also assisted Dr Wakankar, when the prehistoric paintings of Bhimbetka were discovered by Dr Wakankar, in documenting and copying them.

His life journey is like that of many artists of his generation. He undertook travels to nook and corners of India and also to places Paris, Rome, Munich and other European cities with a rich art heritage. As told by his son, his father reached Paris with just $80 in his pocket. He survived by making and selling sketches to make money enough to buy his ticket for the next trip. These visits to various cities and musems opened doors for him to search for his own language in art.

This retrospective shows 100 of Nagdev’s paintings spanning over five decades. The earliest works (1960s) show many sketches and paintings of hillside and the life of the people. In these paintings, which are mostly gouache on paper, he has adopted an impressionist style with bold strokes and bright colours. Some of the paintings of this period are Bread Seller, (1960), Srinagar (1960) and Kashmiri Girl (1960). In the painting titled Kashmir Floods (1956), the depiction is so familiar that we are reminded of the annual floods we have in different parts of the country today.  Two women are shown sitting with a baby surrounded by surging water and the raised hand of a drowning person can be seen nearby. Boats in Jhelum (1959) is a water colour. A small national award-winning painting titled Deep Sleep, displayed in this show, depicts a dark-complexioned woman in orange saree is sleeping on a bench. Although very simple, it captures the characteristics of the working woman, probably a fruit seller, taking rest rather well.

Nagdev travelled to Nepal in the 1960s and many  of the sketches from this trip consisting of street scenes of this region have been displayed in this exhibition.  We can also spot a few small abstract paintings (acrylic on paper), which are quite colourful. Beginning as a figurative painter he gradually turned towards abstraction. There had also been a transitionary period and experimental phase between 1972-76 when he was trying to find his true idiom. Freehand sketches of the sculptures with smooth-flowing lines which he undertook while on a visit to Khajuraho have also been displayed. He had also painted a lot of water colours of his village and city in Ujjain depicting rural life. One of his paintings titled Pratichaya got him All India Tagore Award in 1961.

The retrospective exhibition curated by the eminent art critic and poet, Prayag Shukla, has been displayed with his earlier works in one part of the gallery and his later bigger abstract paintings in canvas in the other. However, keeping up the colour scheme and visual narrative, we do come across some of his later paintings interspersed among his early works.  His major abstract works began from 1993 onwards. While many abstract paintings have been displayed, some stand out owing to their theme. In the painting – Drum Player – an old man in white is sitting and playing the drum. The background is a swathe of yellow and yellow ochre pigments with a minimalist approach. In the painting titled Destruction and Hope which was exhibited in Kobe, Japan on the 10th anniversary of Kobe earthquake (2004), one can feel the destruction and loss of lives by the flaming yellow pigment and strokes in grey and hope in the flute playing girl. In most of his paintings, he merges two contrasting colours by dividing the canvas into two parts, but there is no distinct demarcation. In the painting titled Dawn and Dusk, one can see the beauty of early morning light and the subdued grey tones of dusk.

At the inauguration of this retrospective, Prayag Shukla spoke: ‘In the universal pictorial language of abstract painting, Nagdev did something brilliant by using local ‘malwa’ colours of the region he belonged to. His greens. reds and blues weaved a magic with their rhythmic patterns and sensitive textural quality. These truly evocative works now put together speak volumes about the creator and his art.’

Uday Jain of Dhoomimal Gallery says: ‘Sachida Nagdev is a name synonymous with abstract Indian art especially with the modern art of Madhya Pradesh. He is the only Indian to have won the Osaka Triennale Award in Japan where more than 180 countries were represented by over 30,000 artists. Nagdev was born in Ujjain, a peaceful holy town in central India. Old houses, small narrow lanes, the ghats of river Kshipra, saints, temples and old sculptures inspired him from childhood. He was always fascinated by the changing phenomenon in nature and by the Indian miniature paintings with their fine lines and rich colours.”