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~  Raghu Vyas ~
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     Raghu Vyas is an Indian artist, working in New Delhi . His work is rooted in Indian cultural and artistic traditions, while being informed by his study of the life and work of Raja Ravi Varma and nurtured by formal designs drawn from the Italian Renaissance.

      The history of painting in India is characterized by several major transformations, each uniquely influenced by political and cultural developments on the subcontinent .Vyas has studied and drawn from the rich heritage of his country, and in a singular break away from the canons of Modernism that dominate the arts in 21st century India, he has provided us an ardent, yet corpereal, portrayal of his beloved deity Lord Krishna .

       An early impetus to painting in India was the miniature art, beginning under Mughal rule during the 16th century. Miniatures were illustrative paintings that were included in manuscripts or albums, commissioned by the Shah . This  Islamic styled art was brought to India from Persia by the Mughal Emperors, and reached its zenith during the reign of Akbar, between 1556 and 1605. Often painted in strong colors and a realistic style, they depicted court life, military expeditions, a noble hunt, or significant historic events. The Mughal Emperors at one point controlled most of the Indian subcontinent . They were tolerant of the Hindu culture and religion, and Mughal art often included indigenous elements of Hindu culture. When the central Mughal rule began to decline at the beginning of the 18th century, many artists left the Mughal  court and subsequently became employed by the provincial Rajas, forming ateliers. The themes of their illustrations shifted to those strictly from Hindu culture. The miniatures painted in the princely states in northern India are referred to as Rajput art, after the Rajput warrior class that as allies of the Mughal rulers eventually subjugated most of India . A popular theme for Rajput art centered on the romantic stories of their Hindu god Krishna . These miniatures exhibited a varying degrees of stylization and included folk elements, using  the traditional symbolic colors and iconography of Hindu culture.

      Initially the art of India was isolated from the influence of Western art. However, during the second half of the 18th Century, British influence helped to establish salon training in the art schools and art societies blossomed. Both were in turn supported by the princely states.  Several Western artists associated with the Orientalism movement traveled to India to paint  there. Among them were Vasily V. Vereschchagin (Russian, 1842-1904), Edwin Lord Weeks (American, 1849-1903) and John Griffiths (Britain , 1838-1918). Itinerate salon artists, many of them from Britain, traveled throughout India, looking for commissions from expatriate Europeans and from the royal families.  During this period, an Indian artist, Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906), established himself by illustrating the themes from Indian mythology. Trained in  Tanjore painting, Varma researched the work of European masters and developed his own techniques of oil painting. He studied prints of Italian and French art in particular, through books and journals, and found affinity with those who used theatrical gesticulation, ranging from Baroque artist Il Guercino to academicians like Gustave Boulanger and W.A. Bouguereau. Varma's work was soon distributed  throughout his country in oleographs (lithographic prints), and he became the most well known artist in India during the last decades of the 19th Century. The Ravi Varma Press, which was founded by him and his brother, helped popularize iconic images of Hindu mythology and distribute them to even households of the lower castes . After his death, Varma's critics largely discounted his contributions, condemning all connections with European academic work. The first decades of the 20th Century were marked by pervasive increases in nationalism, and the rise of "swadeshi" artists. The development of  indigenous oriental art, drawing from Mughal miniatures and Japanese prints, is broadly referred to as the Bengal School, and is considered India's first authentic art movement .By the mid 1920s, this type of art was replaced by Modernism influenced by Cubism, and art dealers began to establish themselves in all of the major cities. Western styled avant-garde painting became prominent, especially after India became an independent state in 1949.

       Raghu Vyas was born in Basohli, one of the early centers of post-Mughal miniature art . His work has progressed through a number of themes over the years, including his Lotus, Sikh and Buddha series. The latest Krishna series adds to a level of symbolism and virtuosity that transcends his earlier work, and establishes a magnum opus for Vyas.

    Included in the Krishna series are eighteen paintings, each one a compelling romantic composition . The colors used are consistent with the symbolic colors of the Pahari miniatures, painted in the seventeenth century in what today is the state of Jammu. The god Krishna is depicted as blue, signifying that he is an aspect of the poisoned god Vishnu. Many of the paintings incorporate traditional symbols associated with Krishna in Rajput art, such as the peacock, the flute and the goat . Vyas uses naturalistic detail economically by blending imagery, unified in harmonious, evocative compositions. His figuration is graceful and naturalistic, in the sublime and noble style of the Renaissance Masters, conjuring the spirits of Giovanni Bellini, Bernardo Luini, Raphael, and Leonardo. Still Vyas uses a floating poetic space in many of these paintings, rather than traditional perspective. And his Krishna radiates with the majestic poise of the images of Krishna in the Rajput miniatures.

       In several paintings, he employs a wide range of illusionistic techniques in compelling trompe l'oeil, including displays of bric-a-brac. This imagery employs the evocations of romantic memories and yearning for Krishna . One immediately brings to mind the "white magic" of the assemblages of Joseph Cornel .

       In sum, the eighteen paintings bring us an ethereal beauty in the classical style, while at the same time distilling the passion and ethos of Hindu mythology. In returning to one of the sources of prototypical beauty, Renaissance art, Vyas has shrewdly observed that, in the Post Modern era of art, style is the servant of content, and that this is a magnificent way to bring the story of Krishna to the world both inside and outside of India .

Raghu Vyas Gallery

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