Discovering Styles and Genres of Contemporary Art


“What turned you into an art lover?”, I asked my then girlfriend, who was an avid admirer of paintings. “You know what they say, that art stirs the soul. It’s actually true”.

Back then, I did not understand what she really meant. We went on dates to art galleries several times (You might have guessed that already, I’m sure). My idea of exploring an art gallery was hopping from one painting to the other, with merely a cursory glance. But she would often stop at a painting, staring at it for a long time. Why she’d do that, it eluded me, so I asked.

“It’s like falling in love”, she said. “You meet someone, and you just know. Then slowly, you begin to know the person, their story. You share thoughts, feelings and you start understanding each other like no one else understands you. It’s the same with paintings.”

It’s been six years since my journey of discovering art began, and I have enjoyed every bit of it since then. What follows is an account of my explorations in contemporary art, its genres and styles.

Abstract art: Obscure but profound

Have you come across paintings that look absolutely vague, and you end up wondering if a child splashed colors on it without any rhyme or reason? All you see are random blotches of colors, haphazard lines or shapes that seem to make no sense. Well, there’s a big possibility that you stumbled upon a piece of abstract art.

While most of us cannot comprehend abstract art, artists consider it as the most liberating form. It requires the artist to let the imagination run wild and free with a childlike disregard for rules and constraints.

Abstract art is non-representational and non-figurative in nature and reflects ideas that are intangible, born out of the realms of an artist’s inner reality rather than the outer objective reality. Abstract paintings might not even have a concrete human figure, animal or any real life object.

Artists love this form of art because they can unleash their creativity on canvas without any boundaries. It’s like composing poetry, only with pure colours, shapes, and forms. When a child frees his imagination in his sketches, he uses a generous amalgamation of colours to express his emotions and lines or shapes to represent objects. Abstract artists express themselves through their art in a similar way.

Every artist brings an individual style to his/her abstract paintings. For instance, some artists may use colours generously while others may make minimal use of colors. Yet others might assimilate lots of patterns and details. It’s not hard to guess that abstract art evokes different emotions and interpretations for different viewers and that makes it all the more appealing for art lovers.

When I talk about Abstract Art, the works of contemporary artist Madhuri Bhaduri cross my mind. Madhuri’s paintings are a rich medley of colours. Her impressionistic  abstracts are sought after across the country. Madhuri’s ‘Reflections’ are reminiscent of French impressionist Claude Monet’s ‘Water Lilies’. But unlike the 19th century artist, her impressions are less definitive in terms of form, and are carefully constructed viewpoints that she has experienced herself.

Figurative Paintings: Capturing the true essence

Figurative art can be either realistic or stylised. Paintings that hold strong resemblance to “real world” objects are classified under realism and the ones which are a result of the artist’s imagination, can be categorized as stylised figurativism.

Amit Bahar’s works, be it figurative or cityscapes, are good examples of realism. The women he depicts in his works are so realistic that it almost seems like they’ve just gotten out of a pond. He beautifully depicts every detail, the wet saree, the reflections, the facial features that you can almost feel the work of art, just like a photograph. Bahar’s realistic Banaras series is most sought after amongst art lovers and collectors.

Shashikant Dhotre is another exquisite artist whose work looks so real that one feels as if one is having a conversation with his subjects. The shadow and lighting perfectly mirror the shine, the aanchal, and folds of the soft silk sarees that the women in his paintings are dressed in. It’s hard to believe that all this is achieved by the modest use of colour pencils. Here is one such masterpiece by the artist.

Figurative paintings are not just limited to realism. Artists often integrate their own unique style and viewpoints into real-life objects to create something unique. This type of work falls under stylised figurativism under which the forms can be diverse for different artists.

Take a look at the paintings of Sachin Jaltare whose works exemplify abstract figurativism. Sachin Sagare and Biplab Biswas are other artists in this area. While Sachin Sagare’s works encompass mostly village women, the paintings of Biplab Biswas are conceptual and surrealistic.

Conceptual Art: Articulating an idea

The tenet that genuine art is not limited to a physical object, such as a drawing or a painting, rather is an idea or concept, is the foundation of conceptual art. Conceptual art appeals to the mind instead of the senses. They make you think, wonder and question.

Emerging during the mid-1960s and the 70s, this form challenged the notion that the end result of art is to produce something aesthetically pleasing. Conceptual art declines the “standards” against which art is measured, be it beauty, skill, or expressions. The spotlight is on the idea or the particular thought process the artwork wants to evoke.

Aesthetics and material are secondary when it comes to conceptual art. Conceptual artists utilize whichever form or material they have at their disposal that can get their message across.

Suraj Kumar Kashi is one such conceptual artist. He often contemplates on the hollowness of the materialistic urban lifestyle through his art. In one of his popular works, he showcases people of the cities emerging from a half-horse, which symbolizes them being trapped in the whirlpool of time, haste, and commotion. On the contrary, he also reflects the calm and peace of the rural life through rickshaws and modestly dressed people.

Conceptual artists like Ritu Kamath, Pulkesh Mandal, and Subrata Biswas are also noteworthy.

Landscape Paintings: For the love of nature

When an artist chooses nature and its beautiful wonders as the subject for art, a landscape painting is born. Landscape paintings portray sceneries encompassing hills, meadows, rivers, valleys, forests, and more. The artwork can be an oil painting, pastel, watercolour or gauche.

Landscape paintings did not rise to their fame till the nineteenth century. This may have been a direct result of industrialisation because of which people started feeling disconnected from nature. Landscape artists like Bahadur Singh and Prof. Zargar Zahoor have embellished the contemporary art scenario in the country today. Singh’s paintings are so colourful and vibrant, that you almost wish you were there, experiencing that landscape.

Zahoor, on the other hand, is a Kashmiri artist whose work revolves around the scenic landscapes of Kashmir. He strives to capture the beauty of Kashmir on his canvas, to keep memories of its beauty alive.

Cityscape Paintings: Bringing cities to life

Cityscapes emerged as an independent genre somewhere in the middle of the 17th century in the Netherlands. In modern art, however, urban cityscapes are visible in the impressionist paintings of Camille Pissarro, or the views of Paris in the works of Claude Monet or Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

In Indian contemporary art today, Vinita Karim is one such artist who breathes life into the cities she captures on canvas. An Indian born in Burma, and having lived in cities across the globe, especially in Europe and Asia, her art has been influenced by a myriad of cultures and cities. She has an inclination towards water bodies essentially because cities develop around rivers, hence there’s always an element of blue in most of her work.

M.Singh is another cityscape artist who has been inspired by villages and small towns. Similarly, Somnath Bothe, in addition to his cityscapes, has a whole series of paintings that take inspiration from Banaras Ghats. While his Banaras series is mostly monochrome, Paramesh Paul’s art works are beautifully adorned with colours.

Still Life Paintings: Bringing the best out of the ordinary

Still life paintings are proof that even ordinary objects can stir the artist’s creativity. These paintings capture inanimate objects such as fruits, flowers, vegetables and bring them to life.

The beauty of still life paintings lies in the fact that they bring out a new meaning from ordinary, everyday objects once they are captured in paint, ink or pastel. For a viewer, these paintings summon an array of emotions, depending upon the composition, lighting, colours and strokes.

An artwork in the still life category always goes much beyond than just a couple of objects. The artist weaves his/her underlying thought process along with the artwork’s theme and meaning. In The Basket of Apples, Cézzane brings about a disjointed perspective with the ‘tiltedness’ of the table. This is a direct reflection of his thought process that art does not just replicate nature, rather it is a “harmony running parallel to nature”. The tilted table signifies that the artist is not bound to reflect the exact object on a real plane.

Religious Paintings: The spiritual side of art

As the name suggests, this form of art depicts a religious theme, inspired from a religious context. The Renaissance Period saw some of the great artists in history focussing on religious subjects. The Renaissance came up in Italy in the late 14th century and reached its peak in the late 15th century.

Names such as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo adorn the landscape of the Renaissance art. Da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’ is a highlight of this period and depicts Jesus Christ’s final meal with his subjects.

In Islamic art, Arabic calligraphy holds great significance, as Arabic is the language of the Qu’ran. Calligraphy, in Islamic art, has been used in creative and imaginative forms. Even the mediums have evolved beyond pen and paper into other materials and forms. Arabic calligraphy comes in various scripts and forms, the earliest being the ‘Kufic’ style.

Considering the religious and cultural diversity in India, it is only natural that religious beliefs and spiritual ideologies have influenced artists since ancient times and continues to do so. Hindu gods and goddesses have been an inspiration for artists since time immemorial.

Lord Ganesha is considered highly auspicious in the Hindu culture and has been a favourite amongst artists. Ganesha has been depicted in a lot of Indian paintings, as artists have brought their own unique styles. For instance, while M. Singh has depicted Ganesha being immersed in his love for music in his paintings, Basuki Dasgupta has used a combination of mixed media.

Similarly, Lord Buddha has been a subject of many artists, as he is the symbol of wisdom and tranquility. Also, Niladri Paul’s Krishna is a good example of an abstract figurative work depicting Lord Krishna.


While this is just a glimpse into the wide and exciting world of art, it serves as a starting point for most of us who want to learn more about paintings, and contemporary art in particular. Spending time with art definitely evolves one as a person. It leaves a positive impact on its admirers and gives them a new perspective, not just towards viewing art, but also towards life.

Today, Indian contemporary art has made a mark on the global platform, with paintings even having million dollar price tags. Not only that, Indian art is an important topic on major art forums, discussions, and debates. Overall, the scenario looks bright for contemporary Indian art.

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