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Sunil Das retro debuts, amid rain and wine

No artist could have asked for a more hyped opening of his exhibition than the launch party thrown in honour of Sunil Das. No hotel could have expected a more crowded inauguration of its exhibition space than the one at ITC Sonar Bangla Sheraton last Saturday. But then, this is the only hotel to set aside a largish hall for the sole purpose of holding art exhibitions.

The heavy rain made it difficult for guests to reach the hotel, way out as it is. But that did not keep away either the local celebrities or the media. The entire tribe of artists — both famed and unknown — was there. Then there was the cinema crowd — Goutam Ghose and Shubhendu Chatterjee. Litterateur Sunil Gangopadhyay was surrounded by hordes of admirers. The hall was so full of people that it was impossible to keep the crowd at arm’s length. The electronic media made things even more impossible by demanding the right to bulldoze through the crowd.

Thanks to the hospitality business, the wine — both excellent red and white — flowed like water and the crowd lapped it up. But were the wets the only crowdpuller' Perhaps they were. For, nobody seemed to have either any time or attention to spare for Sunil Das’ works. The crush was too much, anyway, to allow anybody to cast even a cursory glance at them.

So, what was the retrospective curated by Ina Puri like' To begin with, the walls are a shade too dark to show off paintings. The lighting, too, is much too meagre to highlight all of them. Pools of darkness on some of the works made viewing difficult, particularly in the case of the smaller works.

The works were a mixed bag. Sunil Das is mainly known for his drawings of bulls and horses — mostly in black and white. While the skill with which these and matadors were executed is undeniable, but there seemed to be too much of a good thing.

However, there were works from his student days in the late 50s that were being displayed for the first time and these offered fresh evidence of his power as a draftsman even in his youth. The most telling of the drawings of this period was that of a middle-aged nude with sagging breasts that he developed into his sexually-charged paintings of his later years. Particularly striking was the prostitute being served up by an older woman.

His red woman on wheels is quite naïve by contrast. Das’ smaller works, where the lines acquire a life of their own, are more experimental.

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