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Personal take on icons

The veteran artist Dipak Banerjee is best known for his so-called Neo-Tantric paintings in which he freely uses symbols closely related to geometry that are part of traditional Buddhist, Jain and Tantric iconography. Banerjee has been using these for years with the meticulous care and precision of a miniature artist in various permutations and combinations that allows full play of his imagination.

One can question why Banerjee uses these symbols at all, but instead of churning out sterile copies of tankhas and palm leaf manuscripts, he creates works that are infused with a modernist spirit, as he often adds a personal note to them. This liberates them from the straitjacket of traditions that have remained static for generations.

In his current series of works being exhibited at Galerie 88, the focus is often on the Kali image of Kalighat whose lotus-shaped vermilion eyes and giant tongue sheathed in gold is a classic example of an icon that is beyond beauty created by taking into account both Puranic precepts and our folk traditions. Banerjee uses Vishnu’s various attributes and emblems and the Devanagari script as well with equal freedom in his freewheeling and personalised interpretations of Tantric art.

His best works are those approaching abstraction where he barely alludes to geometric forms. He applies colours with remarkable restraint, his palette being limited to browns, ochre, cream and salmon pink, occasionally with a splash of red or a hint of gold. Thereby Banerjee updates an art form whose origins can be traced to dim antiquity.

There are not many artists in Calcutta who have chosen enamelling as their medium. Sushmita Banerjee is one of those rare ones and as her recently-concluded exhibition at the Rabindranath Tagore Centre, ICCR, proved, colours look rich and vibrant in enamel paint.

Banerjee uses a limited number of colours such as black, red, ochre and green and they do go a long way in brightening up her compositions that are rather dull and hackneyed. They reminded viewers of works produced mindlessly in the 1960s and 1970s by countless artists in this city.

However, Banerjee seems to have mastered the difficult technique of enamelling. She should spare more time on her compositions.

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