Do you know what printmaking is? Simply put, it is the process of creating works of art by printing, usually on paper, though one could also use fabric, wood, metal and other surfaces. Whether you are an art student, a connoisseur or simply curious, the ongoing exhibition at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) on the works of master printmaker Devraj Dakoji will be an eye opener on this art form.
Curated by Darshan Kumar YU, Amrutha R, Subarna Patro and others in the NGMA team, the exhibition titled ‘Master Printmaker — Devraj Dakoji,’ is a retrospective that captures the oeuvre of one of India’s foremost printmakers.
Eight months in the making, this exhibition showcases close to 500 of Devraj’s works selected from over 3,000, and includes paintings, etchings and prints created using various techniques such as intaglio, lithograph, chine colle and more. There is also a section dedicated to Devraj’s collaborations with Ghulam Mohd Sheikh, MF Hussain and Zarina Hashmi as well as international artists such as Juan Sanchez, Lenore R.S. Lim, Chakaia Booker and others.
“In a day and age, when prints are just a mouse click away, the importance of printmaking cannot be dismissed,” says Darshan Kumar, one of the curators of the show. He adds, “Printmaking not only produces many copies, it also creates different copies; when artists adopt this technique, the copies are called editions or limited editions.”
While it is common today for artists to directly create prints of their works, master printers usually collaborated with an artist. “Devraj collaborated with MF Hussain; they would discuss which kind of printmaking would suit his art, how to execute them and the number of editions required. It is a collaborative effort between the artist and printmaker,” says Darshan.
Apart from his collaborations with many Indian and international artists, what sets Devraj apart is that he is an artist in his own right. “If he remained a master printmaker, he would be seen as a skilled copier — all his skill and experience would have been applied in collaborations where there are restrictions from the artist. However, all his experience brought on a different dimension to his own work. His understanding and skill give his own work a different perspective,” he adds.
According to Darshan, the understanding of fine art is minimal in India since we are culturally rich as a nation with a high sense of aesthetic. “Fine art needs a connoisseur connect; hence while most are able to understand paintings, they find it a little difficult to understand prints. But in other countries, it’s easier as people are aware of the technique.”
An atelier is a printing studio where editions are created and NGMA has a section with works from ‘edition studio 2221,’ an atelier set up by Devraj and his wife Pratibha in New Delhi during the late 90s’. It helps one understand contemporary printmaking practices and as well as collaborative printmaking in India, says Darshan.
“Apart from being a teaching aid for fine arts, the exhibition educates the public on the importance of printmaking and its indigenous history in India, as well as how one can upgrade to affordable art,” he adds.
While the artist’s Pranamu series could take viewers to a simpler time of fables and forest animals, his LIRR (Long Island Rail Road) series executed on eight years’ worth of ticket stubs while he was commuting in the United States, reveal his prowess in small format works too.
Artist and master printmaker Devraj Dakoji will conduct a gallery walk on September 29 at 3pm.
The exhibition titled ‘Master Printmaker — Devraj Dakoji,’ will be on display at NGMA Bengaluru till October 10.
India’s master of prints (optional)
As far back as 1894, legendary artist Raja Ravi Varma wanted to make art affordable, so he began creating lithographs of his works so the common man could buy them. As a result, almost every home had a Ravi Varma depiction of gods and goddesses as adapted from the Mahabharata, Ramayana and Puranas.
Chromolithography was a painstaking process back in the day — images were first painted on stone and then transferred on to another surface after being treated. Artists had to create different colour palettes or different stones for every colour present in the original. If there were 15 colours on the original work, 15 surfaces would be prepared and subsequently transferred onto the canvas or paper to create a print.
Ravi Varma operated his printing press out of Lonavala in Maharashtra and even though in later years, it was a commercial failure and was eventually destroyed in a fire, the Ravi Varma press was way ahead of its time and its lithographs continued to be in circulation for decades after.