Collaborative Collage Painting: Marshall McLuhan & Mansaram
This collage painting is the product of a collaboration between the Indian-Canadian painter Mansaram and Marshall McLuhan. The account below explains Mansaram’s background and how this collaboration came about.
COLLABORATIVE PAINTING: A Rearview Mirror Look at the Artistic Collaboration of Marshall McLuhan and Panchal Mansaram, 1969 – 2011
An Exhibition of Mixed Media on Canvas – First displayed at the Ed Video Gallery in Guelph, Ontario, Canada – June/July 2012
Before describing this extraordinary exercise in collaborative painting, some history and background information about P. Mansaram, the artist, is in order. Since professionally he is known as Mansaram, he will be referred to by that name in this account. Mansaram was born in India in the hill town of Mount Abu, the historic home of the summer palaces of the Maharajas.
His father wanted him to study to become an engineer, which would have been a sensible career choice. However, after spending four years in a science college, he altered his career path by enrolling in the Sir J.J. School of Art in Bombay.
Because of his artistic talents, the Art School provided him with free tuition, which included free residency in a hostel, and eventually a gold medal and fellowship to teach at the ArtSchool. He was then offered a position in a weaver’s service centre by a team of researchers. He also met his life partner at the School, his wife Tarunika. In 1959 his growing success was enhanced by winning first prize, the highest cash prize at the Bombay State Art Exhibition, in competition with numerous professional artists.
In Bombay Mansaram befriended art critics, and the editors of several magazines. He also attended lectures by the world famous philosopher, Jiddu Krishnamurti, who used to lecture at the art school compound.
Moving to Calcutta for his first job, he met Satyajit Ray, the world famous filmmaker of Pather Panchali (1955), the first of The Apu Trilogy of films, which led to international recognition. Watching Bengali films created a spark in him to become a filmmaker.
A move back to Delhi, garnered him a scholarship for further art studies in Amsterdam during 1963-64. He created his first collage artistic work there. In 1964 he visited New York and Montreal and travelled throughout Europe. His discovery of an inscription on a rock surface in Greece inspired him to introduce writing into his paintings. That included printed pages, handwritten manuscript pages, or even hand drawn scribbles, along with the screen painting as part of the collage. He also became aware of contemporary artists doing collaborative work in Amsterdam. He returned home to India in 1964.
There in Delhi he met the English art critic George Butcher, presently living in Montreal, who had come to India to research and write his PhD thesis on Modern Indian Art and Folk Art. Becoming fast friends, the Englishman showed Mansaram an issue of Life Magazine, which contained a long article on Marshall McLuhan and his theories on media, along with photos of the McLuhan family.
Impressed by McLuhan’s work and ideas, he sent the University of Toronto English professor a letter to convey his admiration for what he was doing. At that time, emigrating to Canada was not on the radar. However, in 1966 a Canadian Immigration office opened three houses away from where he lived. He applied to immigrate to Canada and an invitation to be interviewed for that purpose arrived six months later. Thus, in 1966 Mansaram, his wife Tarunika and their three month old daughter Mila emigrated to Canada.
First they explored Montreal and the Expo 67 World’s Fair, then under construction, looking for possible art work commissions, before moving on to Toronto, where they stayed at the Waldorf Astoria hotel on Charles Street. When he contacted Marshall McLuhan in 1966, Mansaram was invited to meet him at the University of Toronto, where McLuhan was about to be interviewed by French Television. After witnessing the taping of the interview, McLuhan and a writer friend took Mansaram to Isaacs Gallery on Yonge Street, where he was introduced to its owner Av Isaacs. On several occasions Marshall McLuhan personally drove to pick up the Mansarams at their hotel, taking them to his home at 29 Wells Hill Avenue for hospitality. Corrine, Marshall’s wife, baked cookies for their daughter, while Marshall enjoyed lighting the fireplace, in front of which they chatted.
During 1966 and 1967, Mansaram did some paintings for McLuhan, one of which was a portrait of the scholar as a media guru. He also created collage covers for reprints of a McLuhan textbook, Voices of Literature, Part 1 and Part 2. Later, he also created cover art for Who Was Marshall McLuhan? (1994) by Barrington Nevitt and Maurice McLuhan. At Marshall’s request, Mansaram created collages on the old furnace in the McLuhan house, which Elizabeth and Teri McLuhan, two of the daughters, remember playing around with their brothers when they were children.
A couple of times Mansaram did workshops at McLuhan’s famous Monday Night seminars at the University of Toronto. From these informal group discussions came the idea of an East-West Happening. Happenings were popular in the 1960s as performance art, presenting non-linear narratives, often with audience participation, sometimes with improvisational elements. McLuhan encouraged the artist to pursue this initiative, even though he himself would be away for the academic year 1967-68 at Fordham University in New York, teaching as the Albert Schweitzer Chair in the Humanities.
Mansaram produced the East-West Happening in 1967, calling it the East-West Intersect. It was staged as a ticketed event for two nights at the Isaacs Gallery in Toronto. The CBC prime time TV program The Way It Is on Sunday night provided coverage. The event included a filmed interview of McLuhan by Mansaram, as well as a five minute 16-mm film of him. The latter also created an audio interview of McLuhan, created on Isaacs’ dictaphone machine.
At that same time, Mansaram started working on a series of paintings titled Rear View Mirror, which he focused on from 1966 to 1972. Initially the paintings were displayed at George Rackus’s Picture Loan Gallery, one of the oldest art galleries in Toronto. Marshall McLuhan and Av Isaacs were present at the exhibition opening.
In Mansaram’s art practice scribbling, printed pages, as well as hand written manuscript pages, continued to be incorporated into his collages. It was during a walk with McLuhan on the University of Toronto campus that the great media scholar expounded on the meaning of the word collage. Mansaram now wishes that he had memorized or taped that conversation to save the priceless information. It was during that conversation that Mansaram brought up the subject of doing a collaborative painting with himself and McLuhan, with himself creating the collage and McLuhan providing the writing. McLuhan agreed.
The artist moved to Hamilton in 1969, taking up a job as a high school art teacher. Renting an apartment in a high rise building overlooking Hamilton Harbour, he was fortunate that the building landlord generously allowed him to establish an art studio in the underground garage by blocking off two parking spaces and creating a door in front of the elevator. A heating duct for the small space was even provided.
Mansaram created an unfinished painting, added the collage work, leaving spaces for McLuhan’s writing. He then took the painting to McLuhan’s Centre for Culture and Technology at U of T, along with some writing tools for the scholar’s use. There, Marshall McLuhan contributed his collaborative portion.
Asking McLuhan’s permission to stencil a portion of his writing to create balance (“Throw Something Beautiful Today”), the older man agreed. The painting remained in the artist’s studio in Hamilton before being moved to Burlington, where it remained in storage for many years. In 1999 Mansaram started looking at the material again and decided to propose a new exhibition to a few galleries. This motivated him to finally complete the painting in 2011.
Scott McGovern, curator of the Ed Video Gallery in Guelph, made an offer to exhibit the Rear View Mirror series of paintings, films, documents of the East-West Happening and other McLuhan-related material, including the “M&M” collaborative painting. Scott worked on it passionately and displayed the art, books, writing, photographs, slideshows, films and audio interview, remixed for surround sound speakers to be activated by audience movement. Thus the only collaborative painting by Mansaram and McLuhan was shown for the first time in a welcoming environment, seen and admired by a younger generation, along with people who were around during the 1960s. See
P. Mansaram, Master Collagist
Marshall McLuhan on the art of collage: “Mosaic emphasizes that all elements together create the total effect. As for collage, the association, arrangement and juxtaposition of objects, phrases, different concepts, both heterogeneous and absurd, that comment upon and influence each other, all of this has very close affinities with concepts of chance, accident or “serendipity” (making accidental discoveries of valuable, but unsought, knowledge), important concepts in present science and culture. Although McLuhan is engaged in both mosaic and collage operations, he did not invent, nor claim to have invented, either mosaic or collage. Nor the concept of medium as an extension of man”.… But, if McLuhan was not the first to have used collage, it is he who has best captured the totally new character of the new mass means of communication and the social impact of new technologies”. - Margarita D’Amico, Professor of Communication, University of Caracas, co-authored with Marshall McLuhan, 1976. In (1995). B. Nevitt & Maurice McLuhan (Eds.). Who Was Marshall McLuhan? Toronto: Stoddart, pp. 231-232.
Mansaram has an exhibition of his collage art currently running at the A. Jain Marunouchi Gallery in New York at 24 West 57th (Telephone): 212-969-9660. See Facebook
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