From Mumbai to Madurai: Leon Morrocco

9 - 31 October 2009

"By taking nothing away from his own artistic judgement he thereby takes nothing away from his subject"

Leon Morrocco’s determination to paint in india has been with him since the early 1960’s.

it first developed while a student at the Slade, from a friendship with the writer and philosopher, Madhuri Santanam Sondhi, who at the time was studying at the London School of Economics whilst also modelling for Leon’s father, the painter, Alberto Morrocco. it was Madhuri and her circle of friends that stimulated Leon’s interest in india as a subject; yet, it was also this circle that introduced him to the counter-arguments of whether in the post-colonial era, an artist from a European background could create anything other than a superficial account of the Sub-Continent. 


it is a problem that has often troubled Western artists as it has writers. it seems to be usually resolved by interpreting india through a series of accurate observations of the country and its people. For writers it takes the form of a travel journal, or an historical, sociological or geographic account; for artists, it invariably ends up as a detailed description of places and people. in a country as complex as india, the non-indian artist, never fully confident in their knowledge will invariably compensate by being over-meticulous in the details. the fear of ‘getting it wrong’ is confused with disrespect; and caution is never a good starting point for any work of art. 


in spite of the overwhelming artistic logic for Morrocco to work in india, he remained apprehensive about jumping into an environment that artistically and culturally was so different to the European tradition. it was a dilemma that was only resolved forty years later when his son, theo, took a medical position at a hospital in Chennai. Somehow this association through the hospital and, latterly, through the Joe Homan orphanages in tamil Nadu which Leon and Jean Morrocco support, provided a chance to slip into india under the cultural radar, so to speak, giving them a purpose and relevance to being there without the burden of artistic responsibility.


Becoming involved in a charity like Joe Homan gave Leon the freedom he needed to approach india on his own terms, immersing himself in the country as a purely visual experience, as he was used to doing in Europe. the sketches and colour notes from the first trip were not intended for specific paintings, rather they became a way for him to find his bearings in a country whose collective consciousness lies, as he says, at the upper end of the colour spectrum. the streets of Southern india are like pigment laboratories and his sketchbooks quickly filled with hurried notes of colour clashes...