Influences and Collaborations

During his long life Kiron learned from, and was influenced by many artists, both European and Indian. His artistic style was a melting pot, a fusion of varied influences that continually changed so that his work demonstrates versatility and virtuosity. Below we describe three important people in Kiron’s life who influenced his work, whom he influenced, and who he collaborated with.

Red Dining Room Table

Gertrude Sinha Hirsch

Gertrude Sinha Hirsch was Kiron’s teacher, collaborator, model and muse, manager and supporter. Whilst she was an ardent critic of his work she was also his biggest admirer.

Gertrude was Kiron’s teacher. Her university training in Vienna included studies of anatomy, a European aesthetic of composition, perspective, and the use of oils. Due to the political situation of the time, growing Indian Nationalism, and the move towards Independence, European influences were rejected at Kala Bhavana in favour of classical Indian art, so these topics were absent from Kiron’s training from 1933-1937. Gertude gave Kiron access to the work of the post-impressionists and modernists, schooled him in composition, perspective, and anatomy, and taught him about the use of oils. These lessons are reflected across decades of Kiron’s works.

Gertude was Kiron’s collaborator. In the spring of 1942 the newly-married couple painted a pair of murals in the Women’s Christian College, Madras.

During the 1950s and 1960s Kiron and Gertrude produced thousands of pieces of hand printed fabrics that “sold like hot cakes” at their exhibitions. Kiron designed and carved the folk-art inspired woodblocks and Gertrude printed the fabrics. These items were in use so, sadly, few examples of this work remain today.

Gertrude was Kiron’s model and his muse. Many sketches and paintings depict Gertrude. Even when she did not feature in them, she was the source of inspiration for many of his works.

Gertrude was Kiron’s manager and supporter. Gertrude gave up her own career as an artist and worked to support Kiron as a full-time artist. She enlisted the help of her Adelaide-based brother, Leopold Hirsch to send high-quality art materials which were not accessible or affordable for Kiron in India. Gertrude organised exhibitions, maintained correspondences, made lists of artworks sold, and actively sought patronage from dignitaries.

Gertrude Sinha Hirsch points out the finer details of “Singing Baul” to the Victorian State Minister for Education and the Maharajah of Mysore at an Exhibition in Melbourne, 1963.

Asu Dev and Bela Deb (nee Palit)

Kiron and Gertude Sinha were close friends of the Guwahati-based artist couple Asu Dev and Bela Deb (nee Palit). We think that the friendship between Kiron and Asu developed in the late 1930s in Santiniketan and was strengthened between 1949-1951 when Gertrude and Kiron stayed in Shillong.

Importantly for both men, their wives sacrificed their own promising art careers to support their husbands as full-time artists. Both Bela and Gertrude worked as art teachers and as textile designers.

At the Well, Kiron Sinha, 1948

Santal Virgins, Asu Dev, c.1936-1940

Woodblock carving collaborations by Asu Dev and Kiron Sinha, c.1950

The art of Asu Dev (1917-1983) and Kiron Sinha (1916-2009) share striking parallels in subject matter and technique. Regarding subject matter, the predominant theme for both men was the depiction of rural village life, particularly of tribal women such as the Santals of West Bengal and the Khasi people of Meghalaya. Technique-wise, neither man was restricted to one style of painting or to a single medium. They were always exploring new ways of approaching their art practice, always creating from whatever materials they had.

Interestingly, both men had internationally-based patrons who would send them good-quality colours, meaning that their paintings from 80+ years ago still look vibrant today.

On the 18th March 2023 Verna and Lily met with Bela and Asu’s son, Anutosh Deb in Guwahati, Assam, India. It was so special to rekindle the friendship between our families, to see Asu Dev’s artworks, and to discuss the huge amount of collaboration and skill-sharing that must have occurred between all four artists.

Anutosh is an artist, photographer, and educator. You can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, or visit his website to see the amazing work he is doing in honour of his father.

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