Man who wrote in colour

Name of book : Art in Kashmir and Mohan Raina The Creative Genius
Ashok Ogra
There aren’t many artists nowadays who let their work be noticed and not themselves. Mohan Raina (1928-1983) was one such artist who was not too keen to announce his arrival. He preferred to function not through words but through colour and line. He felt deeply but expressed himself sparingly; his gentleness visible even in his paintings.
It is, therefore, heartening that his son, Sudesh Raina, has come out with a definitive semi-pictorial biography ART IN KASHMIR & MOHAN RAINA THE CREATIVE GENIUS. The author has managed to put together a book that is very interesting and offers many new and rare insights into the man who excelled in almost all forms of art – creating over 1000 landscapes, abstracts, portraits, monograms, logos and many more. However, in his widening oeuvre, alluring landscapes became his hallmark motif.
Sudesh writes: ‘I wanted to build a narrative of the life of an unsung artist who was an ocean of creative talent with big dreams.’ The author introduces readers to the artist’s voluminous oeuvre – some of which is made known to the public for the first time. He has left nothing untouched. His treatment is comprehensive in its width and depth of research. The book is beautifully illusrated with artist’s work across various media.
The family belonged to Badiyarbala, Srinagar- an area that was the epicentre of art and cultural activities. Mohan Rain’s grandfather Pt. Narain Joo was an accomplished artist of miniature paintings; his father Pt. Shiv Mohan Raina was a reputed drawing teacher, painter and sculptor. Shiv Ji is credited with establishing the first Art gallery in Habbakadal, Srinagar. Both Ghulam Rasool Santosh and Suraj Tiku were his students in their formative years as artists. Mohan grew up in such an environment. His father became his Guru as he started exploring visual art forms. He would also play sitar and listen to semi classical music. After studying art from Amar Singh Technical institute, Srinagar, Mohan went to City & Guilds Institute, London to further hone his skills in paintings and textile design. He also studied contemporary painting and art history from University of Illinois, and also earned a UNESCO scholarship. He joined the state’s Information Department and ended up doing prestigious assignments including designing the state emblem, logos for reputed institutions, brochures, tableaux and posters. Simultaneously, he embarked upon his odyssey of self-discovery and started painting.
The author describes the pre independence art scene in Kashmir- dominated by Maheshwar Nath Dhar, Shiv Nath Raina, Som Nath Khosa, Jagar Nath Sapru, Dwarka Nath Gigoo and Sat Lal Kampasi, Dinanath Wali and many others. Soon after the independence, P.N.Kachru, S.N.Bhatt, Triloke Kaul and G.R.Santosh established Progressive Artists’ Association – aimed at promoting art and culture in the valley.
S.H.Raza known for his fascination with Bindu (dot) and triangles, visited Kashmir in1948, and exhibited paintings of Kashmir – leaving an indelible mark on many of the local artists. On seeing the work of aspiring Mohan, Raza is reported to have said: ‘Mohan is a great versatile artist in the making.’
No Indian or western masters overwhelmed young Mohan. However, Rembrandt for his style of portraiture and Raja Ravi Verma in the way he depicted scenes from the epics- exercised a great influence on him. He also liked Paul Cezanne for his varied painting style. Mohan preferred structured compositions and recreating nature and not its substitutes. In the landscape painting SPRING IN KASHMIR, one notices spatula style, gentle brush to retain subtlety of colour to depict snow, sunflower, green fields. Serenity pervades the canvas.
Dream like clouds define the SUNSHINE AFTER RAIN – with the artist breaking the monotony of the landscape with a lone tree in the centre. Muted colours remind one of renaissance period. To Avtar Mota who is a keen observer of art, the mystery of the deep blue sky and the Bindu in it, HIDE & SEEK:A ROMANCE – has the artist’s Van Gogh effect. One of the most imaginative works of Mohan is BACK TO HOME in which the artist uses contrasting colours and rearranges the canvas almost in cubist style-delivering a composite canvas. All elements of nature – hills, water streams, green fields, a tree in the foreground – are all woven together for maximum impact in the landscape JAMMU ON THE OUTSKIRTS – capturing artist’s fascination with nature. In both the paintings – WINTER:TIME AFTER SNOWFALL and SNOWY SPLENDOUR- one can clearly see the influence of Monet in the variations of colour and light by the daily and seasonal changes. He also created wonderful paintings in Ladakh including GOMPAS & MYSTIC LADAKH. No artist remains immune to the influence of his contemporaries? It is therefore only expected that the biographer duly acknowledges Nisar Aziz Beg, Umesh Koul, Bansi Parimu Suraj Tiku, M.Sadiq and Manohar Kaul – all of whom achieved great fame in Kashmir and outside. Mohan also produced fine portraits. The one of his father is superbly majestic and regal like. His half-finished self-portrait – (he died before completing it) – has a horse and a lady in the nude with Mohan dominating the frame with his signature tobacco pipe – almost giving it a hypnotic and magisterial feel. I shall refrain from speculating what he intended to convey.
The biography contains four parts: i. Development of Art in Kashmiri, ii.Mohan Raina, Journey & Contributions, iii.Mohan Raina – The Man iv.Exodus, Exile and the Colossal Loss.
Sudesh has taken pains to reach out to many colleagues/ friends of Mohan and reproduce their reminiscences. In the words of Prof. K.B.Razdan, Jammu University: the narrative can make any discerning reader feel to be sitting with Mohan Raina, face to face. It is a must read.
Mohan not only took part in exhibitions to display his work but also was active in organising art camps etc. He received several awards and recognition for his contribution to the art scene in the state. He also engaged in diversified forms of artworks including designing the book cover and illustrations for Rubaiyat -e-Omar Khayyam by Ghulam Nabi Khayal.
What emerges from the biography is Mohan’s natural inclination towards expressing a certain calm, quietude and harmony in his work – a disciplined approach towards paintings. However, in KASHMIR AUTUMN he indulges in vigorous bold and rapid strokes to create luxuriant landscape. The question that arises is how the artist would have responded to trauma of migration had he been alive. Wasn’t Kashmir the inspiration that gave birth to his art? Was he fortunate to have left us as he lived, without experiencing the pain of seeing his studio and work destroyed in 1990.
Life lavished more recognition on him than money. But he never became a vogue painter whose work was snapped up even when the paint was wet. He evoked respect among art connoisseurs. No wonder, he is remembered even after 40 years of his early death as a prolific and versatile genius.
This excellent biography by Sudesh will immortalise him for ever – so that Mohan Raina’s lines and colours will continue to sing and dance.
(The author is Advisor (MC), Apeejay Education Society.)