Madhav Shripad Satwalekar was born at Lahore on August 13th, 1915. Right from his school days, he was certain that he would become a painter. Passing his matriculation in 1932, he enrolled himself at the renowned Sir J.J. School of Art in Mumbai to study painting. In 1937 he proceeded Europe for higher studies in art. He studied in England, France and Italy- the cradles of art- under eminent names in art-teaching like Schwabe and Bastianini; and immersed himself in the art of the great masters at various museums. Having imbibed cultural catholicity through interaction with the great artists of the time, he returned to his homeland to start his professional career. And ever since, even after 60 years, Madhavrao at 86 continues to paint and exhibit his inimitable paintings with undiminished verve.
In the seventies and eighties, Satwalekar was also the Director of Art, Maharashtra State. Prior to utilising his educational expertise at the state level, he had co-founded the Indian Art Institute to take art education to a larger number of private students in Mumbai. Satwalekar was instrumental in establishing the Federation of Art Institutions also, to share collective benefits with a growing number of private art schools in the state. Through this Federation, he was able to initiate a number of booklets on art history and painting to help students, art teachers and others in their quest to study art.
While Madhavrao Satwalekar was studying at the art school, the tone and tenor of art education in Mumbai and western India, based on the British academic tradition, had already been well established and stabilised. Around the same period, the Bengal School was emerging under the influence of Indian revivalist traditions. In an age and time of western representational realism dominating the art trends of the country, the singular contribution of Raja Ravi Varma was being eulogised, the works of Abanindranath Tagore and Nandalal Bose were being discussed and debated within the Indian art scene.
Closer home in western India, the pictorial achievements of Abalal Rehman, Raobahadur Dhurandhar, Pandit Shripad Damodar Satwalekar (Madhavrao's father), Trindade, Baburao Painter etc. who preceded Madhavrao were great instances of academic realism; while Gopal Deuskar, J. D. Gondhalekar, Shiavax Chavda, M. R.Achrekar, N. S. Bendre, K. K. Hebbar, M.S.Joshi, P.A.Dhond and Shankar Palshikar were the illustrious contemporaries of Madhavrao Satwalekar.
Public exhibitions of paintings and participating in competitive annual shows organized by established Art Societies had already become an accepted practice in the world. Portrait and landscape painting, both in oil and watercolour, were enjoying popular esteem. Just as traditional mythological subjects were depicted in art, the everyday life of the common man was also finding expression in art. Sophistication of both oil and watercolour was seen in the superlative achievements of the likes of A.A. bhonsule, A.X. Trindade, Agaskar, Fernandes. Side by side with British academism, decorative Indigenous trends were also influencing these artists as they sought to develop their individual identity. The bold and brief entry of Amrita Sher-Gil in the holy precinct of academism was decisive, as it hinted at an entirely new direction within the realm of Indian art. Her art and stylewas to have an enduring influence on both contemporary and future artist.
The later half of the forties and the beginning of fifties was thus a remarkable period in the history of contemporary art in India. It was during this period that the career of Satwalekar grew in substance and stature. He began with portraits and landscapes creating compositions with remarkable freshness and conviction. Whatever the genre, the influence of European realism is evident in his work. He gradually evolved a highly individualised visual metaphor and appreciation of the "aesthetic content in his familiar and immediate environment. A simple yet arresting composition soon became the hallmark of his style, like the ever-present 'blue line'. Satwalekar controls and emphasises the third dimension in his own inimitable way using perspective to highlight pictorial integrity, lively colour application to create robust and unique textures. His portraits are a dynamic transformation of distinctive features' into memorable and expressive paintings.
These thoughts were passing through the back of my mind while conversing with Madhavrao Satwalekar. Usually reserved- he would rather let his canvasses spE!ak- his presence reveals a remarkable calm and contentment, so uncommon in individuals of such lineage and high achievements. The interview format that follows was therefore used to appreciate the finer points in the making of Madhavrao Satwalekar the artist.
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