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WRESTLING FOR ATTENTION

VISUAL ARTS

The ongoing exhibition at Genesis Art Gallery seemed to be exactly what the doctor ordered for an ailing heart. For it offered placid, pleasant viewing with no chance of sudden surges of blood to the head. Either in agony or in ecstasy. Titled Art for Amity, the show, presented on behalf of Habiart Foundation, brought together an array of names as a safety net for quality. However, artworks are jealous stars, intolerant of attention straying elsewhere. But that’s what seemed inevitable simply because too many shared too little wall space. And so, despite the orderly display, in the sense that the printed list tallied perfectly with the arrangement, you felt that the works were somehow diminished in their impression of wrestling for viewer notice.

Leaving aside the display, though, the visitor had much to mull over. Like sculptor Chintamoni Kar’s drawings, to begin with. Done as exercises, the earliest of them were datelined Paris, 1938/39. Or a page from Ganesh Pyne’s diary where his meditations on life and work in his cursive hand filled the gaps between his sketches. Jogen Chowdhury’s mixed media head in bald, gauche lines compelled viewer focus on violence precisely because of the clinical detachment of his tone. And although the horses and bulls of Sunil Das have been seen a few times too often, there’s no denying their visceral power. Hence, the bull on view — stricken eyes, bucking head and a blur of sooty bands and smudges to evoke speed — was a riveting presence.

Which is to say that old is often gold, particularly when it comes to an exacting abstractionist like Prabhakar Kolte. The scratchy, seeping, dripping acrylic which layered the surface of the handmade paper he worked on pulsated with the edgy, festering chaos of the urban underbelly with its dark alleyways, angry graffiti and incipient violence. The staccato black marks superscribed on the textured paint in one work, indeed, seemed to heave with some kind of message.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, there was colourful opulence: Ramananda Bandyopadhyay’s period charm, the appeal of which is quite general; Jayasri Burman’s mythopoeic fantasy with an absorbing mesh of ink curlicues, stipples and crosshatching that alloyed the lyricism of tone with a brittle texturing; and Subrata Gangopadhyay’s feel-good community-bonding images. This artist seems to have been, like many others of his generation, inspired by Bikash Bhattacharjee, whose superior craft wasn’t easy to emulate. That Gangopadhyay has a formidable skill was evident from the way he handled figuration, perspective and paint. But whereas Bhattacharjee skewed realist minutiae with disconcerting twists, the acolyte didn’t go beyond cinematic literalness.

If the three feminine portraits by Suhas Roy held no surprise, the two by Laxma Goud bore the artist’s stamp, but without a yawning déjà vu about them. His mixed media maiden was particularly charged with drama. Dusky and pertly confident, she echoed the colours of the landscape: the ashen grey of the barks in her skin and the background tapestry of dry, matte blue, red, orange and green in her clothes. Two Shyamal Dutta Roy watercolours were also seen, one of which — possibly a begging bowl — declared his style clearly, though the other work, with its flutter of pretty butterflies, came close to the kind of imagery a contemporary was known to repeat.

Three other senior painters were represented: Bijon Chowdhury, with two oils; Paritosh Sen, whose playful distortion and brash colours lent to his works the kind of chatty fluency seen in illustrations; and Prakash Karmakar, whose landscape, dominated as usual by a palmyra of tightly curving trunk and clawing fronds, was invested with a raw elegance.

Quite different were the landscapes of young Suman Roy. The lean trees in his two reverse paintings on acrylic sheets had this tremulous vulnerability about them that was once associated with his father, Suhas Roy. The network of wrinkled branches and fuzzy leaves against a sky that’s dull grey in one and lambent with the falling — or perhaps rising — sun in the other, suggested deep environmental concerns that could be explored in many ways. But the mood changed completely with Shyamal Mukherjee’s reverse paintings (picture). The comical figuration with tongue-in-cheek details and bright, luminous colours conjured little tableaux that were amusing.

The lone sculptor of the show was another senior, Shankar Ghosh, with several bronzes. The combination of substance, texture and flowing lines appeared somewhat formulaic in depicting the human form in the manner of Henry Moore. But one could hardly go wrong with it.