The Ganges Art Gallery website has an appropriate quotation from Camus above its entry on its just-concluded exhibition, Conversation in Colour (December 10, 2013 to January 10, 2014): “A work of art is a confession.” This dictum applies to the works displayed at its just-concluded show of 10 artists handpicked by Jogen Chowdhury. The 10 participants are mostly his students. They had stints at Kala Bhavan in Santiniketan, which was till recently headed by Chowdhury.
There are artists from other institutions too, like Amitava Das, Mona Rai and Monisha Gera Baswani, but they all happen to be close to Chowdhury, who had worked as art keeper at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in 1972. Chowdhury had chosen the 10 participants because they work on their own terms, but that is not the only factor they have in common. All of them paint — a rarity at a time when the trendier artists opt for multimedia, which stands a better chance of attracting the market. Second, these artists make personal statements and their voices are low-key. Some displayed works where the images are barely discernible. The works don’t look like they had rolled out of the conveyor belt.
Let us first take the example of Debnath Basu and his beastly beatitudes, as seen in his medium-sized drawings done with graphite. The latter itself is an unusual medium to work with. From afar, his images look like an undifferentiated and uniform field of grey. When one goes close enough — better still, with a magnifying glass — a fascinatingly perverse world is revealed. The drawings are surprisingly detailed, down to the most minuscule of limbs and members. There is much delightful madness in this method.
Adip Dutta’s elegant and detailed brush-and-ink drawings of mundane objects used for everyday chores spring a surprise. Slithering amidst these things of quotidian drabness is a beautiful snake. Its body is a ripple of curves and loops. It comes as a revelation but its impact is felt gradually. It is not like a slap on your face.
Jayashree Chakravarty’s Germination is even more muted. This Salt Lake resident has for sometime been engaged with the environmental changes occurring in her surroundings. This delicately shaded painting depicts multi-layered soil in various shades of soft greys, like a personal notebook. Its luminosity is enhanced by the application of metallic paint. In this world of grey sprouts a tiny finger of glowing green. Earlier, she had conjured up a cataclysm that could end the world. This exquisitely mellow painting perhaps says there is hope yet.
Tanmay Samanta’s works bring together the most unlikely elements. It is not quite surrealistic but rather quaint and disquieting in a Lewis Carroll and Sukumar Ray sort of way, although the element of fun is absent. How else do you describe the face-off between the silhouette and cut-out cats, the giant stag standing on architectural drawings, and the shark with a cottage in its maw (picture)? There is an insidious element in the dagger lying inconspicuously on a chair. The young artist has found an almost inaudible medium in gouache on Nepali paper.
The senior artist, Baiju Parthan, too, juxtaposes objects and things that don’t go together. Astrological symbols do look strange when superimposed on a huge rooster or a giant perch. It is low-key, never mind the spurts of brightness.
Monisha Gera Baswani thinks nothing of using images and ideas any which way she desires. In these works she goes back to landscapes in miniature paintings to depict a de-peopled, built environment and arid mountains. It is as if she has focused on bits and pieces of miniatures. So there is the feeling that there is more to it than meets the eye.
Asim Purkayastha, who calls himself an activist, is an Assamese Bengali, trained in Santiniketan and practising in Delhi. It is obvious that he has appropriated Ustad Mansur’s famous birds. But set against the silhouette in reverse of a bamboo grove and a sliced-off tree trunk, he obviously has an environmental message that anybody familiar with green politics can easily decode.
Mona Rail paints geometric shapes in geometric formations. She unsparingly mops out excrescences. But perhaps because she uses chocolate next to gold there is a certain feeling of lushness.
Excrescences are what Amitava Das’s paintings are all about. These black protuberances seem to have grown unchecked, like the jungle of thorns in “Sleeping Beauty”. These are exuberant black things raising their limbs triumphantly. If Beardsley eschewed bodies, he would have experimented with such ornamentation.