The 48th annual exhibition of Calcutta Painters (November 2-8) at the Academy of Fine Arts conformed so closely to one’s expectations that it left one wondering if this was a new exhibition or just a feeling of déjà vu. Like the members of its coeval, the Society of Contemporary Artists, the styles of the participants of this exhibition have changed so little over the years that it is impossible to distinguish new from old. So what point in writing anew? For what may have looked fresh and inviting many years ago looks threadbare now.
Nikhilesh Das goes back to Tagore for inspiration, as if a mere reference to the poet would automatically eliminate the boredom his work induces. The sameness of Wasim Kapoor’s Christ is stupefying in its vacuousness. Sudip Banerjee goes back to cave art and Niren Sengupta tries to discover the geometry latent in the human form, but to what effect? Anita Roy Chowdhury and Shyamasree Basu’s brush and spatula strokes, too, have not changed a whit. They could have been using photocopiers all their lives.
This group has a few eminent artists — Jogen Chowdhury, Prokash Karmakar and the sculptor, Bipin Goswami — as its members but that has made little difference to this exhibition. Another important member, Bijan Chowdhury, died some time ago, and quite a few canvases of his done in his typical Social realism-meets-Indian-miniature style are on display. The figures are statuesque and the colours bright, quite in keeping with his themes.
Jogen Chowdhury’s portrait of Tagore executed with dry pastel is brilliant, but his drawings are quite run-of-the mill. He has churned out many such. Karmakar has been outlining the subjects he has been painting with a dark shade, usually black, for quite a few years. He did so this time as well. But the senior artist is known to have been ill for a long time.
Since the surprise element is missing, it was more refreshing to see the works of more unassuming, straightforward artists. So Amal Nath Chakladar’s tempera paintings came like a breath of fresh air. His painting of the frigid river with its undulating lines had a touch of poetry, and so did his other simple idylls. The use of colour in the pointillist manner is particularly interesting in Sand.
Phalguni Dasgupta’s coloured drawing of the Durga Puja mela stands out as well, for the artist seems to have conjured up a Durga Puja mela quite lovingly.
The sculpture section was somewhat more interesting. Bipin Goswami’s grotesque faces have a quaint charm of their own. Even more outstanding was Pradip Mondal’s large egg-shaped piece fashioned out of wood. He had painted eyes on the polished surface, adding quirkiness to its cool serenity.