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Jamini Roy

Indian Modern Artist
Born 1887, Bankura, West Bengal, India
Died 1972, Kolkata

Lived and worked in Kolkata

Jamini Roy epitomises as the father of folk renaissance at a time when the search for identity became a crucial question in the midst of an anti-colonial resistance. He imbibed the spirit and culture of folk, reinterpreting and reviving the tradition as a modern Indian identity. His works signify a primitivist idiom, done with expressive lines and a simple colour palette.



Diploma in Fine Arts, Government School of Arts and Craft, Kolkata, India

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Jamini used folk art to forge a new modern Indian identity

Jamini Roy made a conscious effort to move towards the countryside to explore a simplistic return to a form that is indigenous. In this quest he found the richness of derivations from folk traditions and culture which he started ingraining in his art. His vision was to locate the modern Indian identity in local forms while instituting an anti-colonial agenda. Art for him needed a collective character rather than a singular identity, something other than what the contemporaneous Bengal School was attempting..
Even though he was trained in the Western form of academic painting, he made a radical move going beyond his own training to create a simplistic process. His process was a slow and neat movement, first mimicking the artisanal ways of Kalighat painters. Soon thereafter he chose to reject the Kalighat artists and then embarked to the countryside to collect folk paintings himself, and learn from them. This would mark his conscious move towards a primitivist visual language in his paintings, a final discovery and arrival at the roots of folk culture.

Jamini Roy, Four Drummers, tempera on card, 16 x 11.5”.

His work was inspired by the simplicity of everyday life

Jamini Roy was able to communicate between myth and reality, in search of his own personal identity as a painter. He tried to revive the folk idiom to communicate in a symbolic, yet recognizable language that possessed universal validity. He explored ways to create collectivism in art that would be at polarities with the Western notions of individualism. He reacted to the search for a modern, urban identity by rooting for a rural return. The simplistic formalism along with his past Western academic training enhanced the volume, the rhythm, the decorative clarity and monumentality in his work.

In his formative period of the 20s he took a turn to painting images of tribals, enveloping his work with highly romanticised renderings of Santhal women, like in A Divine Moment, 1920. Even though he moved to his primitivist idiom with more expressive simple lines, his influences were constant, drawing from the simple rural lives or tales of mythology that circulate within.

Jamini Roy, A Divine Moment, 1940s, watercolour on paper.

The primitivist visual idiom incorporates Christian imagery in his works

His intention was to use the techniques he had acquired in a new context. He pondered about whether it would create a similar impact and effect with a subject remote from his own personal life. So the Christian myth offered new vistas for his experiments with ‘foreign’ contexts within his indigenous idiom.
Roy’s The Last Supper, 1940s, shows an interpretation of the scene from the Gospel in a primitivist form different from the imitative form of Da Vinci’s original mural. The last meal between Jesus and his twelve disciples is depicted in Roy’s idiomatic straight, thick brush strokes and pale colours. Likewise, Madonna and Baby Jesus, 1940s, shows the striking simplicity in outlines and pastel hues to depict the otherwise vividly decorated and widely circulated images of Mary and her child Jesus. The architectural and decorative motifs that usually accompany the image of Madonna are stripped down, while just the essence is conveyed in his quintessential simplistic form. Crucifixion is painted with similar stoic features with a neat harmony running through.    
The portraits convey a new found tenderness and human warmth with his idiomatic featuring of the eyes, the mouth and the beard, and the background’s earthy tone maintains closeness to the countryside.

Jamini Roy, The Last Supper, 1937-1940, oil on cloth.

Jamini Roy, Madonna and Baby Jesus (after a Byzantine painting), 1940s, gouache on board.

 Jamini Roy, Crucifixion, tempera on canvas, 28 x 38”.

He employed simplicity in every facet of his art

Jamini Roy, while aligning himself away from his contemporaries, developed his characteristic visual language by studying the Bengali village scroll paintings or pats.This traditional form allowed Roy to narrativise his visual elements in a simple order, much different than the elaborative nature of academic realism. The Western naturalism that he was initially trained in was left aside to delve in a bare visual language, an effort to concentrate just on the essence without any paraphernalia. This was not to reduce any meaning but retain just the pure form and essence.

In a marked effort towards making his works more indigenous, he resorted to making his own canvases and often painted on jute mats and cloth. He even used tempera and the cheap materials of village craftsmen. His palette was usually limited to only seven colors, Indian red, yellow-ocher, cadmium, green, vermilion, grey, blue and white, made from organic materials like rock dust, tamarind kernels and common chalk.

Jamini Roy, Crucifixion with Attendant Angels, 1955, opaque watercolour on woven palm-fiber mat and paper