The Unknown Artist and The Monarchy
The Age of Kings and non realistic frames.
‘The Unknown Artist: A Journey Through Time’ is a ten part series which builds a narrative around the practising artist and their journey through the ages: from the medieval, through the colonial and the modern to the present ‘post-modern’ times, in what is now the Indian subcontinent. It is said that art reflects the situation and polity of a society, and history is made by grand narratives. This story tries to uncover the motivations and obligations of an unknown artist in their time — what they were born into and who they had as patrons to help them sustain through their art.
Primary Research for the facts and interpretations has been majorly done through visits to the National Gallery Of Modern Art (NGMA), New Delhi and Mumbai, over a period of six months, with secondary research on the internet to corroborate and validate these interpretations.
A special mention to Arko, the art curator at NGMA Delhi who took time off to give me a thorough tour of the premise and indulged in a comprehensive discussion and dialogue, which has helped shape a solid foundation to the narrative and a steady direction.
We begin our journey,
from this time pocket Ive managed to slip into, where the unknown artist exists with the monarchs,
The period between the 10th and the 15th century, Where political ambitions lie with territorial expansions, kingdoms and fiefdom.
Power lies within a throne, which legitimizes control and authority,
The throne which has taken responsibility
over the peace of its subjects
and settlement of tensions and disputes within.
This is the age of dynasties,
a lineage which has the final say
in the direction of art and expression,
And through that,
the motivations of our unknown artist.
Art takes the form of non-realistic breathtaking beauty, as seen from the high walls
of magnificently built royal habitations.
It takes us through seasons and moods,
the just ruler and his subject in communal harmony.
in vibrant colors, and rich embroidery.
It depicts faith and the ties which bind it, and stories passed down through generations; Myths and mythemes.
It is a medium for fantasy,
a utopia imagined,
in which the morbid is ignored.
And left out of.
An elaborate scenery imagined
from the view of the privileged,
upon whose idealistic vision
the unknown artist organize themselves into karkhanas
Engaged to bring these visions to life,
There is no way of knowing what the sight of the common human sees, their individuality at this stage bears no importance and consequence.
Poetry is brought to life in pictures,
on palm leaves now giving way to paper and pulp,
On a quest to find
a more permanent medium on which to leave a mark behind
in the pages of history
and attain immortality through permanence
The unknown artists find their own permanence through the passage of time
in carefully created and preserved miniature paintings
On which they toil together with one another They suspect and realize,
that it is through their contribution to another’s work
by which they seek immortality.
Their work is a collective vision of the karkhana,
Held together by a master and aided by his accomplices, of which the unknown artist is but one of many,
but makes up the many.
There is one group which specializes in composition, while the other is adept at tempera colors.
For this is a communal effort,
no one is allowed to work on both alone,
perfection and balance is achieved only through a combined effort of the two.
A combined expertise.
In which the unknown artist resides, somewhere privy to but a part of the entire puzzle..
The karkhana itself is commissioned by a patron,
since no work of art can sustain on the economy of existence alone.
This was the age of the monarchs,
the most elite of those patrons
who existed at at a pedestal which was higher than anyone’s reach and imagination
The monarchs could afford to pay for their visions,
what they saw,
and what they needed to be seen.
There is an inherent human tendency to want to stand out in the crowd, to establish exclusivity.
Art came about to be commissioned to cater to this desire.
The artist has always known this,
and has understood it.
The monarchs would use these karkhanas to narrate their own story
and leave them in time
for the historical fact finders.
The unknown artist would contribute their bit in humble layers of tempera colors, beneath numerous others,
the many hands through which this painting would be passed on,until they are approved by the master,
and then the patron.
An army of unknown artists working for the known ones, under the patronage of the monarchy.
A karkhana of unknown artists and their master. And their own..
The laws of physics into which the artist’s eyes were born into, in this age,
would be trained to be skewed on paper,
favoring the subject over the surroundings,
the sense of proportions depicting power and significance. The image would be directed towards a particular meaning,
meant to appease the eye and engage the senses.
That would be their purpose, and need.
The unknown artist would have to abandon mathematical proportions in their work and let the structures of directions and invested motives guide the work. Oblivious to what realism was,
and that it could be achieved.
They would learn to depict their liege through a face, a side profile bearing no likeness to Him.
There would be no need for resemblance,
since the surroundings would have made the subject known, testified His position through the pedestal which had been commissioned to be drawn by Him.
Often depicted with his queen,
playfully immersing themselves into the beauty of all the world around them. A world for the monarch,
for his leisure and their liking.
A reassurance for the times.
Beautiful faces with magnificently shaped eyes and a subtle, generous smiles.
Art would be adorned with precious gold, on cloth and wood,
Worthy of the deities we worshipped- Who, satisfied and humbled-
would shower their blessings over the patron,
and through Him,
on to those whom He ruled,
a scene of prosperity and abundance.
An image of grandeur, and richness and legacy.
the commoners, like the unknown artist,
and everyone else around,
would take up minuscule proportions in the corner under the king.
Into anonymity and obscurity.
Faithful followers supporting their ruler.
Willingly obedient into submission and deference.
The unknown artist could, from here,
deflect to smaller patrons,
commissioners vying to compete
with whoever was in the race to immortalize themselves into art and the passage of time. Zamindars of stature, aspirants to the throne,
those fighting for power and control.
Those within whom lay the aids to pay the unknown artist,
to give the artist a chance to pursue his art. And create a surrogate world of their own making.
The unknown artist, always a student of art,
would work together with so many versions of the same self,
dedicating their practice to attain mastery over that layer of painting they were individually assigned with, that corner of the painting given to them to work on,
to join the seams,
paint a beautiful wave,
one amongst a hundred others in the ocean.
The laws of physics, into which their eyes were born into, would be trained to be skewed,
the sense of proportions, and position,
depicting power and significance.