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Figuration to Abstraction to Surrealism

Figuration to Abstraction to Surrealism

Figurative art can be defined as any form of art where the subject matter is recognizable from the real world. It shows a “likeness” to the real world.  

India has had a long tradition of figurative art since ancient times. The most exclusive example of this would be the paintings and sculptures in Ajanta and Ellora. These are highly expressive and they present emotions through gestures & form. Figurative sculptures in bronze and other metals were also found in the Indus valley excavations.  

Most of the Indian schools of painting that emerged under the various empires come under figurative art form like, Mural paintings, Miniature paintings, Madhubani paintings, Pahari paintings, Mughal paintings, Rajput painting, Mithila painting, folk painting, Gond painting, Pichwai painting, Patachitra painting, Marble and silk painting, Mysore painting, Warli paintings, Phad painting, Kerala murals and Tanjore paintings. All these paintings have human forms, landscapes, animals or some recognizable form in them. Although the style of these schools is decorative figurative, they present imaginative leaps taken by the artists. 

Reception for new figurative art has waxed and waned over the past half century or more. 

Figurative art in India has always dealt with Indian subjects and Indian concerns. Colonial period in India, the aftermath of partition, have been the subjects of artists during this period. 

The Pandemic urged us to see around and pay attention to the forms, the faces, the figures around us. Portraits & Figurative art ruled the art scene in these difficult times.                                                               



 Abstraction, which started coming into Indian art in the 1960s, stayed here with many artists experimenting with it and is still a favorite with many collectors. Modern society was built on the foundations of science and rationality, and interestingly enough Modern art was appallingly opposite to it. Modern art rested on communicating ideas that felt subliminal, hidden and subconscious. Abstract artists had their own ways of seeing which turned them away from figurative art as merely representative, towards abstraction that was a proper manifestation of what could be real. The next time then if you find yourself staring at a circle, remember - it can just be something much more than what ‘even a child could make.’

Abstract paintings first emerged as a departure from Classical and traditional academic painting in Europe during the late 19th and 20th centuries. Earlier, artists would paint using methods which used realistic perspective, shading and other techniques in order to create historical scenes and subject matter. Emphasizing an artwork’s formal qualities over its representational subject matter, abstract artists experimented with new techniques such as using vivid yet arbitrary colors, reconstructing shapes and rejecting realistic three-dimensional perspective that were taught to them. 

Abstraction is a term that can be used to describe art that rejects realistic representation in favour of schematized or over-simplified forms, focusing on colour, lines, composition and shapes to invoke emotion. The philosophy behind abstract art includes the 'art for art’s sake' argument, and also draws on the similarity between art and music. Similar to how music is composed from patterns of sound, art too should be a composition of pure patterns of colour and form.


 Towards surrealism

This revolutionary idea sparked in Paris around 1924 that prioritized the unconscious and dreams over the familiar and everyday is trending again and becoming popular with collectors across the globe. While Surrealism has generated poetic and even humorous works, it has also been deployed by artists around the world as a tool in the struggle for political, social, and personal freedoms.

Surrealism is an expansive, shifting term, but at its core, it is an interrogation. It refers not to a historical moment but to a movement in the truest sense; inherently dynamic, constantly changing and progressive, it has travelled and evolved from place to place and time to time, and continues to do so even today. Its scope has always been transnational, going beyond national borders as a unified call for liberation, while also acquiring specific and local conditions. 

Surrealism depends upon a collective body committed to going beyond what can be done by the individual in isolation often in response to political or social concerns. Viewed across time and place, this quality has manifested in group exhibitions and demonstrations, co written manifestos and declarations, and broadly shared and circulated values. 

Surrealism opened artist’s minds to the power of the subconscious with its focus on dramatic imagery and its rejection of conscious logic. The surrealists sought to display the realism of the unconscious mind and a superior creative reality. It profoundly influenced the abstract artists to experiment more with techniques, mediums and methods that might connect them more directly to their unconscious selves. 

Surrealism is not an artistic style but a state of mind. It aims to destabilize reality. To find the uncanny and other-worldly feeling in the everyday. To tap into our unconscious desires and bring dreams to life. For many artists around the world, it has been a way to challenge authority and imagine a new  world.               



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