PROPERTY OF A MUMBAI FAMILY
Oil on canvas
40 x 47 in. (101.8 x 121.5 cm.)
Signed and dated 'Hebbar / 62' lower left
Many of Hebbar's paintings are instinctive, immediate responses to the world around him. Often, as a young boy, he would draw from memory with whatever medium was within his immediate reach. He loved nature, especially trees, and the palm trees of Mumbai where he lived for several years would often feature prominently in his works. He had a large garden at his Kalanagar home, and he would spend a lot of time planting various trees that he would then look after with great care.
Hebbar's visit to Europe in 1949 altered his technique of painting. 'A new world of form was opened before him... So far he had tried to express Indianness with the technique of Western painting but... after seeing the techniques of the Modern masters,... Hebbar's paintings became free of chiaroscuro... The shaded portions of his compositions now became virtually coloured passages from dark to light and from hard to soft colour orchestration.' (V.R. Amberkar, Hebbar, Lalit Kala Series of Contemporary Indian Art, New Delhi, p. iii)
The current work is similar in composition and style to Mahim Dargah (1955). Both canvases have been roughly divided into an upper and lower register through the careful placement of houses and structures, and both use lighter pigments to illuminate certain buildings within the cityscape. The ubiquitous palm trees appear in both works, symbolic of Hebbar's attachment to nature and these trees in particular. Both works were created during the time he lived in Mumbai, and used to keenly observe his immediate surroundings in the hope of infusing them with emotion and capturing them on canvas.
In this present work, he has divided the canvas into two rows of structures; the first, a group of small, old fashioned houses, typical of the architecture of the area, and the second, a line of modern building blocks, illuminated with white lights against the darker shadows of the swaying palm trees in-between. The wooden poles in the foreground hint at a construction site, with new buildings set to overrun the charming bungalows that existed, changing the landscape of the city for good. Hebbar had a keen interest in development and progress, and the role man played in altering the natural world around him. His concerns at these ongoing attempts at urbanisation are apparent as he has deliberately kept the old homes in darkness. The painting evokes a sense of sadness, highlighted by his dark palette and the heavy clouds in the sky that seem to reflect his despair.
The entire canvas uses colour and light to create the desired effect. Hebbar was extremely interested in the possibilities offered by applying pigment to the canvas in various ways. His images emerged from layers of paint that were gradually applied upon each other. He used thick paint and was not afraid to use contrasting colours together or layered on top of each other. 'Instead of using impasto solely for textural purposes, Hebbar layered different hues, one over the other. The colours gleam like a thousand gems of smoulder from the embers of a dying fire, scintillating in the light. He loved the feeling of vibrant colours appearing in minute cracks and pin pricks through a thick layer of contrasting colour.' (Veena K. Thimmaiah, 'K K Hebbar Beats & Counterbeats', Hebbar An Artist's Quest, exhibition catalogue, Bengaluru, National Gallery of Modern Art, 2011, p. 27) The current work has bright squares of orange and blue that glow in the darker areas of the canvas complemented by the lighter white pigments that provide a dramatic contrast against the darkened sky and shadowy trees.
'Hebbar's works have certain distinctive qualities such as linear rhythm, spatial harmony and expressive colours. The themes he chooses are earthy and commonplace, but his penetrating insight, sensitive temperament and consummate craftsmanship transform them into sublimity itself.' (K.K. Hebbar, 'Voyages in Images' reproduced in K.K. Hebbar, exhibition catalogue, Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi, 1993, unpaginated)
The painting has been recently cleaned and re-varnished. A 1cm. vertical tear has been repaired with a patch on reverse with associated areas of retouching in the extreme upper left edge. Scattered consolidation of cracks with associated areas of retouching within the sky and on the palm trees onextreme right and left side. Overall fair condition.
About The Artist:
KATTINGERI KRISHNA HEBBAR (1911 - 1996)