Pran Nath Mago was an Indian Asian Modern and contemporary artist who was born in 22 August 1923 at Gujar Khan, Rawalpindi district, undivided India. He was also an art critic and art historian. His parents Ram Lal Mago and Parvati along with the family lives in a large walled house with Tangerine ,Lime, Guava and many other fruit trees in its enclosed orchid. His father practiced civil law. His parents instilled in him the spirit of appreciation of beauty and encouraged him to pursue his artistic interests and his wife Prema stood by him in his creative endeavors.
Prof.Mago's school teacher Tarlok Singh Chadha inspired him to practice art and J M Ahiwasi his mentor at Sir J J School of Art, Bombay, provided him deep insights in the realm of art. In an article written by Prof. Vipin Chandra on Prof. Mago, he has quoted words of G. Venkatachalam, a Bengaluru based global traveler and prolific art and literary critic and commentator on sundry public personalities both Indian and foreign whom he had known at close quarters.
“Professor Mago was a unique artist experimenting and harmonizing different traditions in a calm and reasoned manner rather than mindlessly imitating modern trends as so many others were doing at the time it’s in the end the P.N.Mago style pure and simple.”
The family suffered like everyone else during communal frenzy that suddenly erupted like a volcano in 1947 partition of India. This incident affected everyone and the pain and misery can be seen in Prof. Mago’s work too. His works reflect plethora of emotions that people felt at that time and the deep sadness that surrounded the entire nation.
According to Prof. Vipin Chandra, “Prof.Mago was a multi sided artist. He drew and painted landscapes, portraits and in his paintings, you can see full range of human sad, happy and other quotidian human activity in both rural and urban contexts - Kashmir and Himachal hills as well as in the Northern plains.”
He mostly made landscapes and portraits. There is no still life painting or a self portrait by him. He used oil, acrylic, charcoal, watercolors and pencil. Some of his paintings were left behind during partition and though efforts were made to retrieve those works but no fruitful result came. We can only wonder what those paintings were and in whose hands they ended up.
Prof. Mago a contemporary of M.F.Hussain, F.N.Souza, and Harkrishan Lal was also a founder member of Delhi Silpi Chakra formed in March 1949. He had lot of experience as a professor in painting at College of Art New Delhi, Advisor to the government of Malta on setting up an art and craft school and Director of Design development center, All India handicraft board, New Delhi. His works have been exhibited in India and abroad since 1946 and were critically acclaimed and are in prestigious national and private collection. He was recipient of Ford foundation grant and honored as an eminent artist by the Punjab heritage society Jalandhar, Punjab. He also curated some important exhibitions for the National Gallery of Modern Art, Lalit Kala Academy and many others too. He was also on the design committee of the time capsule embedded in the Samadhi tomb of Jawahar Lal Nehru in 1972.
Prof Mago’s few paintings are incredible. One such painting based on partition of India is “Mourners”showing a group of women veiled weeping and consoling each other over close kins death in the horrific aftermath of partition.
As G. Venkatachalam a Bangalore based global traveler, a prolific art and literary critic describes in his article on Prof. Mago in which he calls Prof. Mago a modernist influenced by French impressionism in his early paintings and by Van Gogh in other. There is also an aspects of traditional Indian miniature paintings in his works in a manner that a new style of his own developed which was originally his own. Prof. Mago had immersed himself in traditional Indian miniature paintings under artist Babesh Sanyal’s mentorship in his Lahore studio. The painting “Mourners” engages us emotionally like poetry in motion. The intimacy of the human bond in a moment of profound personal loss can be seen. The figures are proportionate to each other as the theme makes it mandatory. The brush strokes in this work do manifest traces of Van Gogh. The brushstrokes are bold yet fluids and vibrant colors are used. The colours of the clothes are same and each woman is consoling each other by hugging. One woman in forefront of the painting is sitting alone holding her head with one hand as if inconsolable. The viewer’s eyes are drawn towards the figures touched by their grief. At funeral in Punjab it was common for the women folk to cover their heads and wail in unison. This painting depicts a powerful social and cultural commentary of the bygone era of Punjab.
Another painting “Farewell” capturing the deeply touching movement of Indian soldiers taking leave of their loved ones as they board the train to fight for the British during World War II in far off places of Europe Southeast Asia and North Africa. According to the article by Vipin Chandra one does see Impressionist influence on Prof. Mago bold strokes, full forms and brilliant colours capturing the essence of the movement. This painting is made in oil colours and very well composed. The receding perspective is deliberately weakened but not discarded. The result is that the shape of the train compartments, the height and length of the train, the engine and the smoke are real more in symbolic representations and less in photographic sense. One can also see influence of Indian miniature paintings as they favored use of multiple colours as in this painting. There is a lot of movement on the platform like the young sikh soldiers boarding the train, some touching the feet of the elders, hugging their wives and parents saddened not knowing when they would see their beloved sons again.
Another style of painting can be seen in Prof. Mago’s work of which two paintings come to light. He has used sharp angular strokes instead of fluid ones. “Siesta” and “Jallian Wala Bagh sketches” are the ones which reflect this style. This sketch done in pencil and charcoal recall the Jallian wala bagh massacre of 1919. The drawings were done at the behest of the parliamentary panel in 1956. According to Vipin Chandra the fact that the parliamentary selection committee decided not to use it for permanent display in parliament house was a source of great chagrin to Prof Mago. We’ve been Chandra further tells how Prof. Mago told him that the committee thought the dead and dying were shown to few when the casualties included at least 400 killed and 1200 plus wounded and the facial expressions didn’t convey the sense of horror adequately. The painting is a symbol of horror done by the British government. Prof.Mago has depicted with lot of power in the bold angular strokes the fallen and falling victims of Dyer’s unspeakable atrocity and infamy. The parliamentary panel members could not grasp the representational value and essence of this work.
Charles Fabri a Delhi based critics said about this work, “What the parliament lost, history gained”.
Later in his life Prof. Mago created some beautiful mountain views in charcoal and acrylic. Prof.Mago was a lover of Kashmir; he visited Kashmir and had many friends there. He was also a source of inspiration for many Kashmiri artists. Prof. Mago was a pious, kind and noble person who invented in himself an artist, teacher, art critic and performed each rule with utmost integrity, dignity and distinction.