Thursday, September 22, 2011

Tagore the Artist at Asia Society

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) began drawing and painting at the age of sixty-three. He grew up among artists but had no formal training himself. I found his drawings of animals and biomorphic forms and his portraits, on show at Asia Society, beautiful and mesmerizing. He did not title his works because he did not want words to come between the viewer and the artwork, but his lifelong work with words surely influenced his art, and gave him its central conception, that of rhythm. A happy coincidence that I was teaching just then Coleridge's "The Aeolian Harp," in which he describes "the one life within us and abroad" as "rhythm in all thought."

"Seated Woman: forward bend" (c. 1930-31), done with colored ink and watercolors on paper, is a dark enameled egg. The early ink-on-paper work "Striding Bird" (1928) is calligraphy in motion. I did not care so much for Tagore's landscapes, which struck me as rather sentimental and unoriginal. Figures and faces seemed to call forth his imaginative powers.

There were also a beautiful head of Vishnu and a gracious Cambodian (?) vase in the lobby of the Asia Society. The art was worth the visit, even though Leo Bar, the monthly gay happy hour at the Society, was rather stuffy. I have never seen so many suits at a gay party. David, one of the organizers, was nice enough to talk to me while I was waiting in a corner for WL and GH to arrive. But it's unlikely I will go back there for a drink.

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