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SEEKING REDEMPTION IN FAITH

From realistic portraits of public figures to geometric cityscapes; from owls and crows of a distinctive character to deadened crowds robbed of all individuality; from mauled and melting Dalíesque timepieces to the timeless myth of Radha and Krishna; from acerbic political comments to empathy in depicting animals; from monochromatic intaglios to colourful mixed media canvases: artist Shuvaprasanna’s retrospective (which includes recent works, too), being hosted by Emami Chisel till December 8, unfolds the imagery and idioms of four decades of creativity. With drawings, prints, paintings and, unusually, sculptures done especially for the occasion, the show offers a comprehensive evaluation of the artist’s fruitful career in art.

Because a 40-year career — rather, calling — indeed merits a pause in time for both the artist and his viewer, inviting them to look back while looking ahead to more exciting years. And looking back, the viewer is reminded once again of Shuvaprasanna’s formidable drawing skills. The nude studies and the portraits from the 1970s are masterly executions, though done mainly as exercises. From around the same time come some of the best works of the show: monochromatic intaglios, woodcuts and charcoal drawings.

Indeed, a series of woodcuts titled Time and linked by the motif of the battered clock with roman numerals is striking in its loaded brevity. Crooked and corroded ladders climbing up to the sky counterpoint the rectangles of homes in works named Abode, summoning echoes of Miro and also the impish fancy of Sukumar Ray, so much a part of several generations of Bengali children. The intaglioed birds and animals are no less riveting. The intimate shifts of temperament the artist can induce with subtle touches in his many owls lend each the dimension of personality. Whether it’s in greys and black with eyes that are receding whorls of quick scratches holding you with their sharp, sour, suspicious gaze; or in browns and ochre with dense cross-hatches and a keen squint; or those painted lavishly in oil and acrylic with streaks of charcoal; or the capricious bronze ones referring to lively folk dialect, his owls are birds with a winning presence.

Nor can you fail to notice the lowly city scavenger, the pesky crow. But it’s won for itself an unusual dignity in what seems to be a crow’s dying moments as its head sinks to the ground, eyes closed, watched over by its companion. The artist’s bony street dogs and donkeys with outsize loads on their backs and a dumb supplication in their eyes go beyond the assertion of technical finesse to acquire a symbolic charge for they are the deprived. The victims of an unjust order. Two remarkable buffalo heads done in mixed media on paper would belong with this group for these, too, appear as acquiescing victims. However, he returns to a photographic depiction of the beast, using a palette of dark tones.

The unjust social order. It’s something that Shuvaprasanna doesn’t quite seem to have come to terms with. His works proclaim a keen social conscience, deep humanist concerns; and, beyond that, sensitivity towards all life. While the city is an oppressive pile of grey and brown rectangles, works like Balance and A Play focus on how the soulless city damns poor children to perform perilous tricks to earn. The names are significant: the balancing act that urchins are engaged in, the deadly “play” they stage on the street, screams out the imbalance of society. The mix of anger and despair behind such paintings indicates the political commitment of the artist more than does his strident satire that tears into the previous ruling combine.

But the artist searches for redemption in faith. Faith in ideals, faith in the example of greats. Like Rammohan Roy or Tagore. Or even a writer of magical imagination, like his friend, Günter Grass, holding Oskar’s Tin Drum, of course. More significant is The Tune with its scatter of portraits: of those who left indelible footprints on civilization like Marx, Shakespeare, Lincoln, Einstein and so on, evoked by the playing of a flute, as it were. Another intriguing work, The Illusion, structures a column of bodies, intricately tangled and sculpturesque.

Shuvaprasanna is not known as a landscapist but a brooding night sky figures in three works. However, the painting to toast, simply called Landscape, is both buoyed by romanticism and burdened with an elegiac disquiet. Indeed, an undertow of disquiet often surfaces in his works. Perhaps that is why he seeks release in epiphany. Which is what Dance, with its balletic white cranes, is.

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