Those members of the Society who were on the Burgundy trip will recall our visit to the studio of the artist Kevin Pearsh at his Chateau de Chaudenay. Here we saw the first few of the series of 21 large canvasses he was completing of his epic two year journey down the entire length of the Ganges. These have now toured all the major cities of India to great acclaim and our now coming for the first time to the UK for exhibition at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery from Nov 5 to 18. Incidentally our former Chair Baroness Shephard gave considerable help to this remarkable project.
GANGA 21 - MODERN MASTERPIECES COME TO BIRMINGHAM
A magnificent series of 21 oil paintings sponsored by the Indian Consul for Cultural Relations will be exhibited at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery from November 5th to 18th . This unique and extraordinary set of canvasses by Kevin Pearsh - the Ganga 21 - comes to the UK for the first time. It marks not only a high-point in the history of Anglo-Indian painting but an important climax in the career of the painter. European artists began to arrive in India during the 18th Century to explore and to record beginning with the Daniells. This tradition has been strikingly maintained by Kevin Pearsh who began his own study of the life and topography of the sub-continent in 1978. Travelling frequently and widely, he has built up a wealth of experience responding to the vibrant colours of India, its people and landscapes, and above all to the light and its interaction with water, a major theme of all his work. But, unlike his forebears, Pearsh, a native Australian born in Melbourne in 1951, brought with him the inner eye of an artist acclimbed to another vast continent. This innate sense of scale proved a decisive advantage when, in 2006, he conceived the project of travelling the entire 2,500 km length of the Ganges from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal - perhaps the first artist ever to do so. Deeply aware of the intense spirituality of Indian culture, he was determined to capture not only its geographical reality but also the profound religious significance of the sacred river and mother of Hinduism, Ganga Ma.
Pearsh begins his journey at Gaumukh in the remote ice cave high in the snow-capped mountains where the river first trickles into life, its presiding deity the god Shiva. At Varanasi he paints the Dashawmedh Ghat bursting with animated life and a quiet evening river scene. These pictures flank the largest at 3.5 metres and most complex abstract painting of the series, a multi-coloured swirl of water and reflected light, the soul of all. Finally at the Delta are two tiny figures ritually bathing before the immensity of sea and sky with, the artist's title, 'A Sense of Eternity'.
Two of the most striking images of 'Ganga 21' show the giant statue of
the Lord Shiva, the sacred presence of the Ganges, looming across the river:
Pearsh likes to think of this 'more as a curious welcoming than a sculpture'.
Another presents a poetic evocation of the Howrah Bridge in Calcutta, its
gigantic girders, the only evidence of man, a mere cobweb against the misty
blue of river and sky dissolving into ether.
A remarkable feature of this impressive series is that humanity, with the
exception of the typically crowded scenes of the Burning Ghats at Varanasi,
only edges quietly into the compositions. A full length figure of a priest stands
on the steps of Gangotri which lead from the river up and out of the picture
perhaps to heaven itself; 'A Lone Fisherman' emphasizes the solitude also
offered by the Ganges while, in another, a small boy is seated on a set of
huge buttresses gazing out over an infinite space of water 'Eternal As Ever'.
Nature itself rules most of the other paintings from the turbulent convergence
of two minor rivers at 'Devprayag' where the Ganges proper begins to the
mysterious mid-stream and temple-covered islands of Kahalgaon. Pearsh
hints merely at deeper issues in the occasional small details of two floating
flower and candle votive offerings or a fragment of plastic indicating the
severe pollution problems now facing the Ganges.
In the course of his epic journey, Pearsh produced a mass of
documentary material and especially watercolours painted with the very liquid
of the river itself. These are now in a private collection in Switzerland. The
whole series sponsored by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations has
already toured the major cities of India to great acclaim. The concept of this epic adventure came suddenly to the artist almost, he says, "as if I were being guided". He was returning to Varanasi in 2006 to capture all its water effects when he began to wonder about the very source of the Ganges and determined to track its entire course. The journey covered three stages from the Himalayas to Haradwar and then on to Bihar. In 2007 he returned to reach the sea, Gangasaga.
Pearsh had until recently been based for many years in a 12th century castle in the heart of Burgundy and here he rapidly created the series of 21 large canvases, the Ganga Ma of this exhibition. These paintings, Pearsh firmly believes, belong together as a unity: they were not undertaken as a commission of any kind but from inner conviction based on his deep love of India. His intention is for them to tour as widely as possible until perhaps a permanent home can be found for them. He feels above all that the work contains a vital message for today’s world about the pollution not only of the Ganges but of rivers everywhere and for the world's inexorable demands for clean water.
The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery offers an exciting opportunity in the The Waterhall to view 'Ganga 21', this unique and extraordinary series of large oil paintings of the river Ganges, by Kevin Pearsh from November 5th to 18th.