Mr G.M. Solegaonkar

He was indeed a hermit - a hermit who dedicated his life to his worship - worship of art!

He spent years visiting the caves of Ajanta and Bagh, camping there days together - trying decode the secret techniques which imparted the sculptures and Murals their ethereal beauty. This relentless research poured itself into each and every piece of art he created - be it landscape, portrait or abstract paintings. His paintings have revealed a new direction in iconography and space organization.

He was a hermit, who preferred to live a secluded life, unbothered by the contemporary. He did not hanker for any accolades. Study and experiments of art was his life breath & he was completely devoted to this pursuit. He did get his share of success and recognition, but was not what spurred him any way. This made Shri Govind Madhav Solegaonkar, (fondly addressed as Dada), an unusual artist.

Many artists of his time were influenced by the British art - The drawing and composition in Indian painting were on the level of mere imitation and copy. He was one of the few artists of his time, who went beyond the mere superficiality of imitation. He sought inspiration in the traditional art of Ajanta and Bagh. However he was not just a revivalist content with nostalgic images of the past. He was vitally interested in the Present, with a deep rooted understanding of the past heritage. In his work there is an integration in the past and the present.

This hermit had a 'nomad' hidden within. He travelled the length and breadth of India with his palette and satchel of brushes. In his landscapes he would capture magnificence of Nature from Sahyadris to the wilderness of Himalayas. He gave the Midas touch bringing to life ordinary 'subjects' even from rural site. He had often given away many of his paintings to locals who helped his journey. For Dada, the joy and the urge for painting was a lot more important than the product itself.

Years of his research brought him to the stage of fruition. He was a very progressive artist with consummate skills in handling different styles of painting rather than be an ardent follower of a particular school. Dada always held that an artist's ingenuinity lies in controlling techniques and rules rather than getting restricted by them.

W.E. Gladstone Solomon, Dean & art director of J.J. School of Art, has gone on record to say 'G.M. Solegaonkar, is in my opinion one of the ablest students who have studied here during my regime. He is a brilliant young Artist in the Indian Style of Painting'.

Years later, during Europe tour when an exhibition was opened in Brussels L. Demulder Dutron, art critic, Brussels admired him saying: 'The Painting of G.M. Solegaonkar, create an atmosphere of meditation, of deep and concentrated feeling. It is not intended to appeal to shallow minds, to indifferent sensitivities. Here the attention is not attracted by the painting materials worked out in relief by rough rendering or by pasting. The rare vibrations that reach our intelligence honestly proceed from color and drawing. His works talk a universal language beyond time, a language that does not die at the bottom of one's heart. The rhythms are fascinating, bewitching and lead us where there is no room for narrow-mindedness. Whether the compositions are abstract or figurative we always discover an ardent soul attached to balance in the highest sense of term. The artist is painting devotionally, humbly and is always obedient to his inspiration and yet he is a master of his technique. All this gives to his talent an inner distinction that nothing will ever deaden. We hail in Solegaonkar a real painter, free from the conventions that restrain the liberty of expression. He remains deeply and sincerely himself.'

His paintings are a treasure for the world. Even today, some of them glorify the iconic walls of places like Mahatma Gandhi's birth place in Porbandar and the Indian Parliament.

The evergreen 'student' within him kept on working on new themes and techniques till the very end. To that effect Dada was an Art Pilgrim forever. A stage came in his life when he was satisfied that his search had become successful. He had discovered the master key. He was confident that the technique he evolved could achieve what the unknown great artists of the glorious past had strived for and produced. In his own words 'Posthumous recognition is the fate of an artist and I am a true artist. I am confident that the experiments I undertook have been fruitful. Adopting this method, success is guaranteed. Using a substrate prepared as per my technique is a sure shot guarantee for achieving unusual depths and visual magnificence in the art work.'

Such artists are beyond life and death, for their art lives on - and speaks volumes. Their works are the footprints that they leave behind on the sands of time. Here follows a sketch of his Life, Teachings and Work, with the hope that it may ignite some curious mind of a student of art.

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Biography

Early Learning

Born in 1912 at Sehore in Madhya Pradesh, Dada got introduced to art at very early age. He had an inherent passion & skill of hand. He received his initial lessons at home. While schooling, he simultaneously took training in drawing, painting at reputed "Devlalikar Institute" in Indore. After bagging all prizes in Elementary & Intermediate Drawing examinations, he joined Sir J.J. School of Art - Mumbai, in 1930.

Here too, he maintained his trend to monopolize all prizes and was a Lord Hardings scholar, and was awarded the G.D Art. He was appointed a fellow at the same institute for 1935-1936 in Mural Department.

Blossoming of the Artist

Even while studying in the JJ School of Art, his abilities could not go unnoticed. W.E. Gladstone Solomon, Dean & art director of J.J. School of Art had gone on record saying, "Mr G.M. Solegaonkar, is in my opinion one of the ablest students who have studied here during my regime. He is a brilliant young Artist in the Indian Style of Painting".

While still a student he was represented in the exhibition at the Burlington Gallery, London. He continued to receive many awards, prizes and trophies from Art exhibitions in the country for the next twenty years. He was a versatile artist and worked in all mediums and specialized in Murals, portraits and landscapes.

In 1935, he won a Gold medal for his painting Mahiyari (milk-maid). It was the first time that an effort was being made to use Cubism which was then an emerging French school of painting. This painting was a strikingly successful attempt to use the western style of painting presenting a truly Indian subject. This typical painting in Cubism style, is a very effectively aesthetic piece of art; with conducive attractive colours, setting Sunrays in the background, play of light & shadow on Mahiyari's multi coloured costume, western proportionality, colour scheme in Rajput style etc. Though the subject was simple, its presentation was quite powerful, ably capturing the lost look in her dreaming eyes and expressive face of one waiting for her beloved; deploying the new technique of cubism in a masterly way. Presently the painting is with Prince of Wales Museum - Mumbai.

Portraits and posters was another arena in which he made successful forays. Many of the leading lights of the Indian Freedom struggle like Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel were subjects of his portraits. During an exhibition, at the Fine art Society at Shimla, his painting Ajanta Frescos was awarded a special prize by the publicity department of Indian Railways. It was a very attractive capturing of an ancient mural called "Yaksha Yatra" in Ajanta caves. His posters on the subject of "Mumbai" & "Ujjain" were displayed by Indian Railways in various stations. This mural specialist was commisioned to create the murals in Parliament House, New Delhi under construction. The mural titled Bhojshala still adorns Parliament House.

In 1954 he held his first solo exhibition in Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai and was hailed by the city's elite and critics alike. Quiet and industrious by nature he painted with a gusto - and he painted anything from a circus elephant to fisherwoman or just a bunch of coconut trees but all of them provided a design for mural, be it for posh Ashoka hotel or the walls of parliament.

He held one man exhibitions in Jehangir Art Gallery in 1957, 58. Every exhibition of his had some novel freshness and was never a repetition of past. These exhibitions too were well received by people, critics and media. His assimilation and usage of oriental and western techniques was so complete that his paintings, while remaining faultless technically, transcended technicality. The lasting impression was ever of inspired aesthetics. His versatility and skillful use of various styles including Western was evident through his work. In one such exhibition, patron & connoisseur of art Mr Jehangir strongly suggested visit to art loving countries in Europe to widen the horizon further.

Taking a cue, Dada left for London in 1958. There he did spend a lot of time in studying and understanding the paintings and sculptures in those countries. He visited various galleries and exhibitions in London, Brussels. During his stay in Europe he painted numerous pictures in his own inimitable style and sold quite a number of them. He held exhibitions in Europe, three of them in Belgium. Art critics were happy over his individualistic style which was intensely Indian yet cannot easily be classed or compared with any of the contemporary artists. However he had to abruptly wind up his Europe tour after 2 years. He did plan to return to Europe for a series of Exhibitions for which he left his 'cargo' behind.

On his return to India, in 1962 he was elected President of Art Society of India. He also held a one man show Exhibition in the same year. It was a reforming of his original style taking cognizance of new references and new directions. His approach to abstract art was deep rooted in a stylized realism. He was successful in adopting specialties of modern paintings to create visual art. While handling abstract art there used to be a minute Geometrical planning with reference to the space and a very powerful use of three dimensional figures. His paintings in abstraction could therefore be enjoyed both for what they stood in terms of shapes and colors and for their imaginative reference to natural objects. The show in 1962, impressed viewers by its consistency of outlook - both on life and art.

Yet, this established artist continued with his experiments combining versatility of technique taking into account latest European trends. In 1970, he held his one man show exhibition in Taj Art Gallery. His distinguished work was marked with his perspective and fine sense of pattern and geometrical rhythm. In July 1971, an exhibition of his 40 paintings was held in India House, London. The High Commissioner of India Appasaheb Pant inaugurated the same.

Fountainhead of Inspiration - Ajanta & Bagh

Indian Art had an oriental style which was a school of immense beauty. He was deeply attracted by and felt connected to the incomparable artistic treasure, the glorious expressions of divine art forms in the sculptures and paintings of Ajanta and Bagh Caves. He got inspired by this traditional and immortal art.

He reasoned: It is obvious that the glorious art in Ajanta or Bagh caves is not the work of a single man. Dada firmly believed that the exceptional beauty of the ancient artwork of such a massive scale was not a mere coincidence. For centuries hundreds of unknown artists and artisans have carried on magnificent work. Each of the mural paintings / sculptures in each of these caves is distinct. Yet there is a uniform thread that joins them all. They are all so very consistent and homogeneous. The fact that a multitude of artists have produced such a high caliber and monumental work over generations was a pointer to the existence of a precise technique adopted consistently.

Dada was obsessed with the task of unraveling that secret underlying technique. He reasoned, "There must be a method which is now lost in history. This is what I have to get at." He experimented with indigenous materials and methods of Indian Fresco-painting which had a tremendous impact on his style of painting, on his art - in fact on his whole life! This became the sole "raison-de-etre" of his life.

What followed was a period of multiple visits to caves, camping there and minutely studying every detail - usage of lines, geometry, motifs which was followed by experimentation in lines & color. His contemplation yielded deep insights. No wonder this hard work reflected in his artwork. He made his own earthly colors & used the same forming very Indian color schemes, which was one of the highlight of his art.

He delved upon the scenario regarding paint requirement when Ajanta & Bagh paintings were created. The required volumes of paints, non availability of nearby market, and the difficulties of transport system led him to a conclusion that all these master pieces must have been created using materials available from the surrounding nature. Postulating that Nature itself is an abundant source of color, he undertook to investigate the possibility of discovering the local material available in the nature around and extract various colors from them.

He visited the sites around again and yet again incessantly and ceaselessly pursuing his research. He undertook numerous excursions covering the hills, valleys, riverbeds and jungles of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. Various stones, of different hues like vermilion, green yellow ochre which were available in specific locations were collected. Sack-loads of these stone were brought home and experimented upon. Lots of attempts were made also to extract guarded information from the local folks. All such experiments were conducted and the colors so prepared were used for painting. He spent years in carrying out such experiments. He experimented on binding material to make his newly discovered earth colors originally meant for fresco, suitable for paper or canvas. During this period he stopped using readymade color and started using these colors similar to those used in the ancient frescoes of India and made by himself. He would use predominantly Indian red, Yellow ochre, Indigo blue, white, black and sometimes ready green. His expertise lay in creating innumerable shades and hues from a very limited pallet. He distinguished himself for successfully using indigenous earth colors with astounding chromatic luminosity. This became his hallmark attribute. His color scheme then became a distinguishing feature and came to be known as the 'Solegaonkar' style.

Visiting Ajanta & Bagh caves to study the masterpieces had become a way of life. In absence of illumination inside the caves, reflection of sunlight using mirrors / tin pieces was the only recourse to observe and study the sculptures and paintings. (As narrated by his close associates in the region: once, while he was in his deep studies in cave no 26, alone for hours, he was completely unmindful of a tiger that had wandered from the jungles around and found the entrance of the cave as a resting place. He continued to be engrossed in his work undisturbed.)

In the initial period for 2-3 years he studied only the lines, curves and the geometry therein. He did not make any forays in colours or brushwork. This focused exercise helped him making his lines very expressive accentuating the beauty of form. The lyricism was there for all to see. By purely observing the lines he started realizing and understanding the geometry which was a backdrop and then started the process of unfolding the secret use of geometry. Using all this input he did arrive at certain conclusions and continued his research work relentlessly.

It goes to the credit of these years of study and experimentation undertaken at various levels that he could develop a very unique and specific methodology for painting. Accordingly before commencing any painting, the canvas would first carry certain geometric pattern in line work. Then those geometric spaces would be filled by deploying certain color scheme & theme. This would be the backdrop on which any painting would begin. He never ever did a painting on a plane piece of paper or canvas. All his paintings would have such premeditated geometric pattern as base. Due to this technique revealed during his contemplation, he was a rapid worker. He could easily think of finishing 6-7 rough sketches in a day- filling in the details at his leisure.

To do anything that could be done to rediscover its mystic beauty & give it its lost glory; he believed, was his share of service to the art as a whole.

The Last Word

At last he had reached a stage where he was satisfied that his search had become successful. He had discovered the master key. In his own words - 'Posthumous recognition is the fate of an artist and I am a true artist. I am confident that the experiments I undertook have been fruitful. Adopting this method, success is guaranteed. Using a substrate prepared as per my technique is a sure shot guarantee for achieving unusual depths and visual magnificence in the art work.'

His hunger for learning propelled him to try out 'the new' throughout his life. It is entirely due to his mental willingness of trying out the new, that his art progressed from realism to modernistic. He could reach the pinnacle in his art only because of this fascinating fusion and balance of inspiration, creativity and technique. Hence the basic Indian fibre evident never got sidelined in his painting during his entire journey. He was ever driven by the urge to build upon whatever was achieved so far and to reach out for higher landmarks. He was so obsessed with the desire to venture into new arenas be it his technique of painting or the approach to theme subject, that unless he was in a position to present something different than past, he would never be willing to engage in an exhibition.

On hind sight it can now be surmised that this untiring pursuit of a continual development was neither understood nor realized by his contemporary world. Thus he was an artist little ahead of his time. This was very much evident when the response to his forays in abstract art and moving away from his established and well-known style was only criticism and negation by the then art critics. However barbs of critics never disturbed him only because of clarity and conviction.

During his life time this classical artist achieved heights of success and suffered depths of criticism, political guiles and financial hardships in equal measure. His passion of art and idealism turned his life into indeed a trial by fire. He always shunned commercialization of his art, least concerned about resultant severe hardships. The path he treaded of highest quality service to the world of art was nothing short of a lifelong penance.

He believed, lived and noted in his diary thus -

"True art is not a profession, it is a flame. It is the soul's search for beauty- a passion that will not allow you to rest without seeing the face of the Ineffable. When the flame is aflame with passion for beauty, the artist withstands poverty, indifference, misunderstanding and ridicule. This flame purifies the whole nature of the true artist and makes him worthy of seeing and creating beauty. Be votaries of true art- aspire to create FORMS of beauty and Art will lead you to the door of the Supreme where you will find that Truth and Beauty are one - in fact Beauty is the divine aspect of the Truth."

He passed away on 5th Jan, 1986.

References

Details of his art and his unique style was often published by journalists and art critics alike. His exhibitions attracted many respected people from different walks of life. Even today, his contribution to Art is mentioned on several sites on the net. Some of his art works continue to attract people to various auctions.

This section presents a few instances of these.

For More Information, Contact   hermitofajanta@gmail.com