Bearing artist's label on reverse
Mohan Samant was a later member of the Progressive Artists Group (PAG) and exhibited alongside F. N. Souza, S. H. Raza, and M. F. Husain. He likewise exhibited with the Bombay Group, which included artists such as K. K. Hebbar and K. H. Ara. Samant also participated in the seminal exhibition Eight Painters: Bendre, Gaitonde, Gujral, Husain, Khanna, Kulkarni, Kumar, Samant, curated by Thomas Keehn in New Delhi. Given Samant's presence in such pivotal exhibitions, Hoskote asserts the artist's significance: ‘I have long suspected that Mohan Samant was the missing link in the evolutionary narrative of contemporary art in India.’ (Mohan Samant: Mixed Media Works, Pundole Art Gallery, Mumbai, 2008, unpaginated).
In the very early phase of Samant’s career, his works had a delicate, almost Jain-miniature-like, quality to them. The body of work that followed immediately after in the late 1950s evokes visions of primitive art, executed primarily in tones of brown with hints of other colours, and exhibiting bold lines and delicate brushwork. The common thread that runs through the entire body of Samant’s work is the romantic freedom which Samant practices. Jeffrey Wechsler stated, ‘Samant’s practice was the antithesis of a signature style. Throughout his career, he delved into divergent materials and techniques and constantly shifted imagery. While some of his processes and forms can be perceived on a regular basis over long periods of time, there was no hewing to a given image, endlessly repeated. He stated that 'I find that stagnation in style and the search for the same forms cause an artist to suffer an immense amount of laboriousness in his work.’ (J. Wechsler in R. Hoskote et al., Mohan Samant Paintings, Mapin Publishing Pvt. Ltd., Ahmedabad, 2013, p. 348)
It might be difficult for those who have viewed the entire body of Samant’s work to imagine that an artist who once painted delicate works influenced by a medieval school, could by the late 1950s be painting works with thick impasto and slashing lines. 'In time, Samant began to incorporate increasingly complex imagery and techniques into his work. Gone were the textured impasto paintings of the previous decade. Samant began to cut into the canvas, folding paper to make dense overlapping constructions that teeter between figuration and abstraction. He began to incorporate hand-twisted wire and readymade toys into assemblages that were painting, relief, sculpture, found object, and wirework construction in equal measure. His inspirations were wide ranging too: from prehistoric cave paintings and Egyptian funerary wall drawings to Indian miniatures and folk art.’ (Jhaveri Contemporary, 'Mohan Samant: Masked Dance for the Ancestors', October 2018, press release). Samant's command over proportion, especially of the human figure, and his arrangement of colour blocks may be attributed to his training and grasp of the miniature style of painting.
Picnic at Paradise Island has been discussed in relation to Celebration of the Dead (painted a year later in 1987): both 'arrange areas of blue and white in a manner that resembles snow, mountains, and water. Each painting includes a disk - suggestive of the sun or moon - and wire figures. It is tempting to attribute Samant's visits to the mountainous northern regions of India decades before as the inspiration for these paintings. It is equally possible that Samant found the diagonal divisions of broad blocks of colour in Paul Klee's Tomcat's Turf... appealing.' (R. Hoskote et al., Mohan Samant Paintings, 2013, p. 274). The influence of Klee on Samant seems likely; Samant is known to have possessed an illustrated book of Klee's work and to have viewed the Swiss German artist's work in exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Picnic at Paradise Island is a tour de force. Its vast size, vibrant colours and dynamic mixed media, are all testament to Samant's daring and visually-gripping artistic style.
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