Sunil Sharma – Paul Henry: Art and reality: An Indian response

ThumbnailSunil Sharma is a Mumbai-based writer, and a college principal. He is also widely-published Indian critic, poet, literary interviewer, editor, translator, essayist and fiction writer. He has already published 14 books: four collections of poetry, two of short fiction, one novel, one a critical study of the novel and co-edited six anthologies on prose, poetry and criticism. His six short stories and the novel Minotaur were recently prescribed for the undergraduate classes under the Post-colonial Studies, Clayton University, Georgia, USA. He is a recipient of the UK-based Destiny Poets’ inaugural Poet of the Year award—2012. Recently his poems were published in the UN project: Happiness: The Delight-Tree.


Paul Henry: Art and reality: An Indian response: Three parts
—Sunil Sharma
I
The potato diggers.
The French-trained Irish painter
Returning to Achill Island for inspiration, nine years or so there on a journey of seeing and self-discovery.
The humble peasants become his muse
Paul captures the silent struggles and their
Manual labour, so far un-noticed.
Such simplicity!
Such dignity and honesty
Appreciated by the likes of Tolstoy!
Dominated by the vast sky and cotton- clouds,
A figure bent; another resting/looking.
Everyday humble scene becoming piece of great art/history
Now—globally recognized as a masterpiece of realism/post-impressionism.
A vision of the West of Ireland
On a canvas for the posterity.
Potato Diggers, 1912.
Now the immortal painting!

II
Launching the Currach
The sea
A boat
Sturdy hands pushing it into the waters.
Men at work—caught forever in paint
By a sympathetic artist rooted in local culture and community
Not adrift or sunk in drugs or wasted by alcoholism.
Recording life as it is lived daily at the intersection of sky, earth and sea.
Beloved of the fishing community—such vivid paintings
A slice of time-space, each one, catching memories.

III
The land calls.
Desolate.
Monumental.
Mountains loom large
Overshadowing white-washed cottages and farms: A Connemara village, 1934.
Humans, dwarfed.
But making the nature yield to their hands.
Work. Survival. Civilization. Culture.
Paul Henry— now, selling as a tourist attraction.
Is it real?
Or, mere representation?
Can a huge land be compressed in few lines/strokes/paint-brush deftly done?
What is real here?
The canvas?
Or, the depicted one?
Our sense of the West of ireland depends purely on Paul Henry.
His—on his artistic vision.
Now, celebrated as the vintage Irish life-style, as imagined.

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