From a student to his teacher

Updated: May 20

KS Radhakrishnan & Aashna in a discussion on his upcoming book on SOMNATH HORE

PC- KS Radhakrishnan

There will always be artists who will stay true to their vision and may not acquiesce to commerce. Somnath Hore was one such artist. The mastery of his craft mesmerized generations of students at the famous Santiniketan leaving an intangible mystique long after the dust of the classroom studio was just a cherished memory in their minds.

One of Somnath Hore’s students from Kala Bhavana in the 70s sculptor K.S. Radhakrishnan discusses his close acquaintance with him. Many students got guidance from the master printmaker & sculptor Somnath Hore. And the artist is remembered in his centenary year with an exposition curated by K.S. Radhakrishnan along with a book to be released on his art on that occasion.

As we will learn in the following interview of K.S. Radhakrishnan by Aashna Abrol, Somnath Hore was an exceptional example for the kind of subjects & ideas he dealt with which finds a consistent relevance even today. His empathy for the poor, the meek and the weak were monumental. The theme of “suffering” filled his prints and served as the foundation of his sculptures throughout a career spanning 70 years.

He was a maverick who thought out of the box and experimented with different techniques in an era when experimenting in printmaking may not have been the norm of the day. His diligence, incredible work ethic and the stubbornness to not give up or to lose belief in the importance of his art has stood the testament of time and speaks a volume on the importance of passion, excellence, technique and craft as pivotal components to longevity and the bedrock to realizing success as an artist- even today!

Somnath Hore spent a lifetime as a teacher. He was a professor in the Dept. of Graphics at one of the prestigious art institutes of our country, Kala Bhavana, Visva Bharati at Santiniketan. There he became a close associate of the painter K.G. Subramanyan and the sculptor Ramkinkar Baij as the story has been told countless times.

Former Governor of West Bengal and Author Gopal Krishna Gandhi wrote in “The Telegraph”...

“Somnath Hore was more than an artist. He was a witness of the human drama but a witness with a skill that translated his witnessing into art. In an age when secularism, socialism and peace can be seen- or rubbished- as shibboleths, he knew them to be vital needs. In times when art can become a play-thing of drawing rooms and auction halls, he kept it close to its springs-his human sensibility.”

Title: Untitled

Medium: Drawing

PC - KS Radhakrishnan

K.S. Radhakrishnan, the curator of the upcoming show, recollects Somnath Hore not only for his incisive attention to the lives of the ordinary but also for the man who lived his life for his art.

Somnath Hore is well known for his series of works under the title ‘Wounds’ created with different mediums among them the white on white pulp print in the 70s are highly researched about. His famous Tebhaga series evolved after India's partition in the 1950s and Radhakrishnan points out that Somnath Hore was a radical thinker and a revolutionary throughout his life. Perhaps that is why one might argue his radical extreme beliefs shaped his art. A member of the Communist Party and its ideals in his youth; it is no surprise that his sketches were published in the Communist Party publications 'Janayuddha' and 'People’s War’ Publications.

Radhakrishnan notes Somnath Hore was deeply affected by the effect of politics and influential power groups on the trajectory of social change which would shape the destiny and evolution of Humankind.

According to many scholars and the curator, Somnath Hore was inspired in his youth by the jubilant and confident style of German printmaker Käthe Kollwitz and Austrian Expressionist Oskar Kokoschka. He also gravitated to certain aspects of Chinese “socialist” realism and German expressionism. That is why when one views his work and its evolution, one notices that his art becomes more minimalistic as his ideas and belief become stronger.

His art was a “reaction” to major upheavals and events of his time. The human form has been a constant in Somnath Hore’s figures. His work is bold and the textures are extreme as he uses rough textures in his prints and slits, holes and exposed channels in the sculptures. The exhibition and publication will be a comprehensive documentation of the life and times of one of Somnath Hore the pioneer in the field of printmaking and sculpture which will be sponsored by Takshila Museum of Art.

AA: I know you met Somnath Hore in Shantiniketan, how was your relationship with him?

KSR: I took to sculpting in the third year of a five-year BFA course at Shantiniketan. I was 18 years old when I came from Kerala to Shantiniketan to do an intense art program with a specialization in painting. In the first two years, there is an integrated course where you get to work and explore many genres of art such as woodcutting, printing, lithography, sculptures, besides painting. I decided to take up sculpture as my focus inspired by some of the masters who were part of the faculty.

“Even though I concentrated on sculpting in my third year of the program, I came in contact with Somnath Hore while doing the integrated course to work on woodcuts, and my understanding shifted as Somnath Hore worked on his sculpture’’

Title: Untitled

Medium: Lithograph

PC - KS Radhakrishnan

You carry this guidance throughout your lifetime. Though I wasn't a direct student or printmaker, I must say he influenced my life. At the time, Somnath Hore was larger than life in printmaking on the campus and in India.

Somnath Hore stood out among the teachers and the staff, even among his colleagues. I had a wonderful relationship with him and his presence on the campus was so huge in terms of his drawings, wood-cuts and also prints. Many teachers don’t do their practice along with the students. My relationship was built around that. He was always continuously working in the studio (not his watercolours was the classroom. He was accessible, and he was very concerned about the students and gave everybody individual attention. His entire attitude and approach that he took towards his work of art had a seriousness, a belief.

I learned from him first-hand. Though I was not a direct student or a print-maker, I learned so much from Somnath Hore through informal dialogues not only about art technique but also about all the important ingredients that are on the periphery but equally important.