What was once conceived as the art hub of the city has been pushed to the margins by private galleries with higher professional standards. But then that could precisely be why artists who aren’t able to get the patronage of such fastidious galleries for whatever reason still have the Academy of Fine Arts to fall back upon.
Like the three artists with a common Jharkhand connection had. In their show titled Nari O Prakriti at West Gallery, two of them — Shibnath Mondal and Sanjoy Banerjee (picture) — painted paeans to its sensuous landscape of misted hills, rugged boulders and undulating vistas, while the third voiced his feminist beliefs. Indeed, Nihar Roy identified the woman not as a passive victim but a doer who is quite capable of imprisoning men in picture frames the way men do women. The bright colours, strong outlines and sketchy forms were more like illustrations, but not without energy.
Mondal’s flower studies were merely exploratory exercises but his portrayal of blurry, watercolour trees exploding with the red of the flame of the forest trees had a simple charm. The best of them was a darkening Maithon landscape of muted colours. Expectedly, Banerjee also used watercolour, but with greater assurance. Limpid stains of paint running into each other and spry daubs for trees or grass showed his ease with the medium. That was particularly evident in one work where tumultuous waves of magenta and blues evoked an almost Turneresque impressionism.
Completely different was the visual ambience in North Gallery where Nijanta — a group that’s little-known in spite of having been around for 26 years — showed the works of its eight members. Romanticism was replaced with what was probably perceived as the obligatory angst of modern life. But while one can hardly go wrong with simple landscapes, grave or pungent pronouncements on society cannot succeed by craft alone. They demands fresh ideas and idiom which, understandably, aren’t always available for the asking.
However, there were small mercies to be had: the abstractions of Saibal Das, with their infernal blacks, sculpturesque blocks and squiggles, had a certain masculine strength. Sushanta Karmakar was also skilled in handling his chosen media — acrylic and charcoal — particularly in contouring heads, while Prasanta Seal’s sketchily laid-on paint and inchoate outlines spoke of skill, too. Arijit Chowdhury’s low-key irony backed by quotes — with rather a self-conscious weakness for name-dropping, it seems — indicated a lively colloquialism that offered possibilities to be explored.
In the case of Taraknath Das and Ashish Paul, one couldn’t be sure whether they wished to be politically correct in condemning the treatment of women as meat or commercially correct in projecting the woman’s body as meat for a certain kind of market; but the poverty of imagination certainly didn’t help. The woman’s body as subject matter radiates multivalent suggestions, not all emerging from creative premises. Hence, despite Ashutosh Bhattacharjee’s skill in drawing and composition, his Yoni Puja appeared bawdy rather than bold. However, he revealed a subversive wit better served by an understated approach.
The abstract paintings of Shyamal Gayen, the last of this group, could be light and spare, or dynamic in the mix and texturing of colours, and indicated his confidence. He also presented sculptures, both terracotta and wooden. But it was terracotta that could fluently express the distortions into which his figures were thrown.
It was calendar-style prettiness rather than savage distortion that found favour with quite a few of the 11 artists in the third group, Ishapur Artist Circle, exhibiting their works in Central Gallery. If it was flowers for Biswajit Mandal and Sabitabrata Karmakar, it was poster women attended on by butterflies for Kishore Chakraborty. While Nanigopal Biswas devoted himself to typically fervent puja-room images of the dark god — the child Gopal and a grown-up Krishna — Swapan Roy concentrated his undeniable craft on the Buddha, though the element of idealization shut out any attempt at creative deviations. Supratim Chatterjee was trapped in icky stereotypes, but Sasmita Behara’s boats, though quite clichéd, got by because of their unpretentiousness. Not so the clichés of Sujit Das, who may have taken as his model an established follower of the Bikash Bhattacharjee school of photorealism.
One of Subrata Barman’s acrylics — of an immobile tribal figure — aroused interest with its dark, matte colours. But the best of the artists were Partha Pratim Poddar and Debjyoti Basu Roy. Poddar’s ground of textured grey squares and impasto lines held the eye. And Roy’s heads, emphasizing sculpturesque planes with acrylic smudges rather than lines, declared that he was ready to take on a new dare.