By NAGUESH RAO SARDESSAI
‘ONE CAN TAKE a Goan out of Goa but it’s impossible to take Goa out of a Goan.’ Laxman Pai’s personality resonates with this quote. Though born in Goa, Pai spent most of his life outside this tiny state. Yet this renowned artist’s work reflects a lot of Goa in virtually every painting.
Pai was born on 21st January 1926, in Margao, Goa. Growing up in a city surrounded with vibrant cultural ethos, it was quite natural for him to gravitate towards the field of fine arts. He moved to Mumbai to pursue his education in art at the much acclaimed Sir J. J. School of Art; where he was awarded the prestigious Mayo medal.
Ever hungry for knowledge and education, Laxman Pai went to Paris, the world capital of art, for further studies and subsequently worked there for a decade before finally returning to his motherland.
A natural rebel, a staunch nationalist and a self respecting Indian, he came to Goa – then under Portuguese rule – in the midst of his studies in Mumbai, influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s speeches, to contribute to the freedom struggle. He remained firm and steadfast despite receiving gruesome whacks on his palms, administered by thick wooden rod called ‘Palmatri’ which left his hands left numb for several days after.
Returning back to Mumbai, he completed his studies and went on to teach at the Sir J. J. School of Art before walking out of the hallowed institution in protest against his unqualified demotion for allegedly hobnobbing with the members of Progressive Artists Group.
Absolutely confident of his capabilities and extreme self-righteousness, he packed his bags and sailed to Paris with his friend sculptor Sadanand Bakre. Assisted by Indian artists in Paris such as S. H. Raza, F. N. Souza and Akbar Padamsee, Pai managed to get a foothold in Paris while he worked hard to earn fame and respectability.
Deeply committed to Indian culture and philosophy, Pai, being a dedicated practitioner of yoga, remained firm and managed to isolate himself from unwanted western influence in the field of art and remained selectively receptive.
Flute, Dilruba and Sitar for company; he also acquainted himself with western classical music – Beethoven and Tchaikovsky and went on to execute a painting titled ‘Symphony of Life’, inspired by Beethoven’s musical compositions.
Having held his first solo show, in India, with the support of his close friend and noted artist Shankar Palsikar, Pai’s major solo show was held in 1952 at Gallery Raymond Duncan in Paris. This was received with rave reviews by celebrated art critics and collectors. 1954 saw Pai produce paintings influenced by ‘Gita Govinda’, famed Indian classical literature.
Returning from Paris after the liberation of Goa, Pai settled in Delhi and worked on a series of paintings before accepting to lead the Goa College of Art, in 1977, as its first principal; only to return back to full time painting a decade later.
Egyptian relief sculptures, Jain Miniatures, Paul Klee’s vibrating lines, Marc Chagall’s poetic forms, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Indian classical music collectively shaped Laxman Pai’s creative oeuvre. Whereas, the minor dots, lines and tones have slipped into his paintings, while working on porcelain vases, during his short stint at the Rosenthal Porcelain of Germany.
Borrowing from ancient Egyptian sculptures and paintings, Laxman Pai’s figures were subtly square and geometrically inclined. Subsequently, his forms went on to develop sinewy curves and rounded edges that flowed into each other to manufacture a harmonious symphony.
His figurative drawings had inherent folk sensibility and the choice of hues got fiercely bolder and brighter, reminiscent of the early Indian miniatures. He captured the essence of miniature style of painting and developed a language of his own that enveloped a variety of subjects. He also worked on a series on Navrasa, Family Tree – that sort of chronicled the growth of his family members, Geet Govinda, Ramayana, Mahatma Gandhi and Buddha. Besides these, images from Sikkim and his portrait of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru endeared his fans.
His paintings are curious blend of tradition and modernity, beauty and philosophy. He gives greater attention to geometry and ornate details. Love for environment makes him return to his ethnic roots and draw from its natural and cultural wealth, time and again.
He raised the Hindu metaphor of Purusha-prakriti to an altogether different level and had experimented with abstract form as well.
He was deeply influenced by the teachings of J. Krishnamurti, Swami Vivekananda and Hindu philosophy combined with the love for music, especially flute, which he played with a professional’s aplomb. A bold personality, he doled out series of paintings inspired by the content of much talked Kama Sutra. Pai is famous for his lyrical lines and expressive paintings that are loaded with bright colours. Mesmerizing eyes, curvy female forms, and square male figures embellished with decorative elements and painted with multi-hued palette – an example in visual poetry.
Pai’s works are to be seen to be experienced and understood. They are viewer friendly and look spontaneous like how Keats, the famous poet would want them to be when he said, “If poetry doesn’t come as naturally as leaves to a tree, it better not come”.
Laxman has to his credit more than 100 one-man shows all over the globe. His solo exhibitions have been held at London, Munich, New York, Singapore, New Delhi, Mumbai, Panaji and other places. He has also participated in the Biennale San Paulo, Brazil. He is the recipient of Lalit Kala National Awards of 1961, 63 and 72. He was honoured by the Government of Goa in the year 1987 and awarded the Nehru (Goa) Award. His paintings are in various private and public collections including the Museum of Modern Art, Paris; New York Public Library; Berlin Museum; Ben & Abbey Grey Foundation (USA); National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi; and other towns. Pai has come a long way to achieve what he has today – name, fame and respect. Right from his formative years under the tutelage of his maternal uncle R. N. Mouzo, an accomplished artist and photographer himself, to the days in Sir J. J. School of Art, to his stint in Paris, to his return back home to India to receive the much acclaimed Padma Shri, Laxman Pai has left an indelible mark on the global art field for every Goan and every Indian to be proud of; and attempt to emulate