Saturday, June 10, 2000
M A I N   F E A T U R E

Young at 'art

A view of the Art School when it was shifted to Shimla after Partition.

Formerly known as the Mayo School of Art, the Government College of Art, Chandigarh, has been producing talented artists ever since its inception in 1870 at Lahore. Sumarendra Nath Gupta became the first Indian Principal of the institution in 1930. Some of the artists, then practising in Lahore were M.A.R. Chughtai, Hussain Bux, Allah Bux, Thakur Singh, Abdul Aziz Din, B.C. Sanyal. D.R.Bhagat, Amrita Sher-Gill, Ishwar Singh, Brij Lal, Amarnath Sehgal and Roop and Mary Krishna. Some of them had their own studios in the Anarkali Bazaar, on the Mall and the Hospital Road. These artists made a significant contribution to contemporary art of India. After Partition, the school was first shifted to Shimla, and thence to Chandigarh where it has grown over the last 50 years from strength to strength producing some of India’s most eminent artists, writes D. S. Kapoor. 

THE Government College of Art at Chandigarh is one of the oldest institutions of our country. It was set up under the name of the Mayo School of Art at Lahore in 1870. This palace-like building was adjacent to the Central Museum near Anarkali Bazaar, Lahore. The Mall Road was a kind of dividing line between the Old and New Lahore. The Mayo School of Art was at the far end of the Mall, while, at the other end, were the Governor’s House and the Lawrence Gardens. John Lockwood Kipling was the founder-principal of this premier institution.

The elite sent their children to the Mayo School of Art for basic education and training in the field of fine arts. Among the members of teaching faculty who served the institution were such luminaries as B.C. Sanyal, Dhan Raj Bhagat, S.L. Prasher, Munshi Miran Baksh and Abdur Rahman Chughtai. At that time, this institution was frequently visited by important functionaries of the British government.

Silver Medal of Victory Exhibition, Mayo School of Art, Lahore.Sumarendra Nath Gupta became the first Indian Principal of the institution in 1930. He believed that an art teacher need not have formal qualifications in art but must have artistic capabilities. Thus he gathered many creative persons who did not possess any degrees or diplomas but had a flair for teaching. Ram Singh and Mian Mohammad Hussain were the most notable among them. The painting and sculpture sections held a place of pride among the art lovers of Lahore. Some of the artists, then practising in Lahore, were M.A.R. Chughtai, Hussain Bux, Allah Bux, Thakur Singh, Abdul Aziz Din, B.C. Sanyal. D.R.Bhagat, Amrita Sher-Gill, Ishwar Singh, Brij Lal, Amarnath Sehgal and Roop and Mary Krishna. They were known outside Punjab and were closely associated with the Mayo School of Art . Some of them had their own studios in the Anarkali Bazaar, on the Mall and the Hospital Road. These artists made a significant contribution to contemporary art of India.

The school had excellent crafts teachers. Hazi Saheb, Sardar Sunder Singh and Sadhu Singh were the most eminent among them. After the foundation course, students opted for painting, clay modelling, wood work, lacquer turning, jewellery designing and copper beating. The school had a strong bias in favour of training craftsmen and designers in the fields of traditional crafts in which painting and clay modelling played a subordinate role. Students were also taught the elements of decorative design, Urdu calligraphy and routine practice of round and relief form in elementary clay modelling. Sardar Ram Singh, Mian Mohammad Husain and S.L. Prasher later served the institution as Principals.

After the Partition in 1947, the Mayo School of Art was also split into two. One part of the school was left in Pakistan (now known as National College of Art, Lahore), the other part was set up in Shimla, the then capital of Punjab. The school was given a new name, Government School of Art and Craft, Punjab. After persistent persuasion and pressure on the government by Satish Gujral, S L Prasher and a few others, the government finally established the college on August 16, 1951, on the pattern of the Lahore school. The very fact that it was put under the administrative control of the Director of Industries and Industrial Training, Punjab, showed that the status of the institution was not more than that of a training centre. S.L. Prasher, an alumnus of the Mayo School of Art, was asked to organise the art school. Satish Gujral with staff and students at the first convocation.

He was the Vice Principal of the art school at Lahore at the time of Partition. He was appointed the first Principal of this institution and was given a free hand to work. However, he had very limited financial resources to restructure the institution. His search for teachers continued and he succeeded in getting creative people of his choice to join hands with him. P.N. Mago, Satish Gujral, Baldev Raj Rattan, Kanwal Nain A.C. Gautam, Sunirmal Chatterjee, P. R. Trivedi, and N. K. Dey were some of these illustrious teachers. They were trained in different institutes of art, like Calcutta School of Art, Mayo School of Art , Visva Bharti University, Santiniketan, Sir J. J. School of Art, Mumbai, and the Delhi College of Art. They provided excellent coaching to young minds and their efforts served to enrich the institution. Kanwal Nain Kotra and B. R. Rattan continue to serve the college as and when required.

Many master craftsmen like Pritam Singh, Jit Singh, Master Hazara Singh, Master Sujan Singh, Maghar Singh and Beli Ram were recruited to impart training in allied courses like jewellery designing, repousse work, lacquer work, ivory and inlay carving and sheet metal work, with the aim of maintaining a sound tradition of craftsmanship. They were the celebrated masters of their trade. These teachers joined the institution on very meagre salaries at the motivation of Principal S. L. Prasher.

The art school started functioning in a modest way at a fairly large cottage just below the Rashtrapati Niwas (now known as the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies) at Summer Hill. The school functioned with a lot of enthusiasm. Satish Gujral had to leave the institution because of his disability. Today he is a painter and sculptor of repute. Prasher was very upset at his departure from the school. Later, Arun Bose, the promising young artist from West Bengal, was recruited, but had to leave as he was not a matriculate. Bose later became the senior-most professor in the famous Prat Institution at New York.

At Shimla, the art school became an important art and cultural centre. Besides five-year diploma courses, the school also provided other comprehensive courses such as Art Masters and Art and Crafts Teachers Training of four years and two years duration, respectively. In this school, master craftsman and others worked in their original style with utmost devotion under the creative and able guidance of Prasher.

Prasher retired in 1959 and Sushil Sarkar replaced him in 1960. He was an eminent artist and a protagonist of the Bengal School of Art. He was engaged in various artistic pursuits and activities. When Chandigarh came up as the new capital of Punjab, the School of Art shifted here in 1962. Situated in the heart of the city, the campus has been beautifully designed as a composite cultural complex by Le Corbusier. The building is surrounded by vast green lawns alongside the Leisure Valley, against the backdrop of the Shivalik Hills. We must salute the efforts of Dr. M. S. Randhawa, the then first Chief Commissioner of Chandigarh, who played an important role in setting up the college. He was a great art lover and he enhanced the scenic beauty of this college by planting trees on the campus.

Young artists at work in a painting studio.The institution has big studios, with full-fledged lighting facilities and other infrastructure, where the students can be seen doing creative exercises. The institution had a full-fledged art and craft section where a lot of new crafts were introduced. Following the reorganisation of the Punjab state, with effect from November 1, 1966, this institution came under the control of the Chandigarh Administration. It was rechristened the Government College of Art and Craft, Chandigarh.

Besides this, the Institutions of Design for Handicrafts by the Punjab and Haryana Government were also established adjoining the college campus, where the students of this college could see the designing and production of handloom and handicraft items. Sarkar took lot of interest in the functioning of the college.

First Ved Prakash Ghai and later Raj K. Jain joined the faculty and made a substantial contribution to the teaching of painting. In the late 60s, R.C. Singla, R.D. Lohtia, Prem Singh, B.M. Chugh, H.S. Jagdev, Pratibha Rastogi, Surinder Sharma, H.S. Kular, Ram Kumar Sharma, M.S. Sidhu, Jagdish Ahuja, Inderjit Gupta and Madan Lal Arora, were recriuted to the college as teachers. Most of them had been trained at this college.

After the retirement of Sushil Sarkar, in 1976, Prof Jagmohan Chopra was appointed as the Principal. He was earlier on the faculty of College of Art, New Delhi. He specialised in print-making. During this period many changes took place. The building of this institution was expanded. The college got affiliation from Panjab University in 1978 and the five-year masters diploma was converted into a professional BFA degree. The institution was given a new logo and named Government College of Art. While introducing the BFA degree, allied courses were overlooked and later abolished. Courses such as Art Masters, Art and Crafts Teacher Training were also discontinued in 1979. Graphics (print-making) was introduced as an independent course. The interest in print-making increased among the young and aspiring art students. With a view to developing the skills necessary to meet the demands of the advertising industry, the students of applied art have to make an advertising campaign as part of their course. The contribution of Prem Singh as Head of Department of Applied Art in making this teaching programme more industry-oriented is indeed significant. Besides practical assignments, the students are required to study theory subjects like aesthetics, methods and materials, advertising: profession and practice. The college provides a platform to upcoming artists to maximise their talent and creative potential. Workshops, slide shows, seminars and lectures are regular features in the college. Exhibitions are organised at the state as well as national levels. Many internationally reputed artists — M.F. Husain, Carol Summers (USA), K.K. Hebbar, Ram Kinker and several others from Britain, Japan, Italy, Korea and Germany have visited this institute.

With the sudden exit of Jagmohan Chopra in 1989, the college ran into rough weather. No regular principal has been appointed since then. V.N. Singh, Director Government Museum and Art Gallery, was given the additional charge of the post of Principal. Some young teachers were appointed in different disciplines in 1990. Later in 1996, Ranbir Dev Lohtia, one of the faculty members, was appointed as the Principal. Teachers and students started working together with a new spirit. Participation in art and cultural activities increased. The Chandigarh Administration took interest in the development of the college. In 1997, computer graphics was introduced as one of the subjects.

In 1999, Prem Singh, an eminent educationist and recipient of the Triennale India Award, was appointed the Principal of the College. His efforts infused a fresh spirit among all those associated with the college. New objectives, fresh teaching programmes and training schedules were chalked out to provide the right kind of professional and intellectual environment for the students.

The staff and students of the college have done well at national and international levels. The college has produced a number of artists, whose contribution in in the field of art cannot be overlooked. It is the responsibility of young artists to carry forward the precious legacy of this rich heritage through their artistic endeavours. Among the notable personalities associated with the college are Sohan Qadri, R.S. Rania, Shiv Singh, Surinder Bhardwaj, Prem Singh, Avtarjeet Singh Dhanjal, H.S. Kular, Gurcharan Singh, Viren Tanwar, Ranbir Singh Kalika, Vinay Vadhera and Sukvinder Singh. It is a matter of great pride for this institution that some of its students like Jodh Singh, Shiv Singh, Gurchanran Singh, Ranbir Singh Kalika, Subhash Gupta, Sukhvinder Singh and Diwan Manna have won the National Award from Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi. Brahm Parkash, who is serving on the faculty of college, is an eminent artist with a national award and the Triennale India Award to his credit. Many artists, who were trained at this institution and are practising here, are very well known in the northern region. They have been associated with this college and State Lalit Kala Akademis for the past many years and have also made a considerable mark on the modern art movement. Some of these artists include Prem Singh, Jodh Singh , Shiv Singh, Malkit Singh, Balwinder Singh ,Vijay Ozo ,Viren Tanwar and H S Puremal

The college organises an annual art exhibition. It is one of the big events of the college where works of art by students are put on display. Five awards for works of outstanding aesthetic merits are given in the memory of prominent artists and art connoisseurs namely Amrita Sher-Gill, S. L. Prasher, Sushil Sarkar, Sujan Singh and M. S. Randhawa. The exhibition also showcases the talent of the students in the fields of applied art, graphics (print-making), painting and sculpture. The Chandigarh College of Art is the only institution of its kind in Punjab, Haryana, Himachal and Jammu & Kashmir.

Those who graduate from the college become freelance artists, designers, visualisers, sculptors and are qualified for employment in advertising agencies, in government as well as private establishments, as lecturers, teachers in art or as administrators of art programmes.