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Magnificent in motion

Beside the entrance to the elevator, he lay sprawled underneath the shade of a tree. A couple of cows grazing nearby, he seemed to be enjoying his afternoon shut-eye. A picture of contentment. The canvas mirrored my mood in Jamshedpur last week. I spotted it, resting peacefully on a stand, while waiting for the elevator at The Sonnet, my usual home away from home whenever I am in the steel fortress.

I skipped my turn to the 1st floor to spend some more time with the man under the tree, a Haren Thakur creation on Nepalese rice paper on canvas. Distinctive as it is sparse, the painting was among the few he’d finished at a recent art camp in Jamshedpur.

Lucky me, I got myself invited to his Ranchi home days later and was privy to some of his most recent paintings, one or two of which he was planning to exhibit at Calcutta’s Academy of Fine Arts for a show being put up by fellow artists of Santiniketan lineage.

On the top corner straight ahead, as we entered his home studio at North Office Para in Doranda, Ranchi, was an early Ramkinkar Baij lithograph. A man is working the fields, looking up and walking on with a sense of urgency that is hard to miss.

The portrayal of dramatic motion in painting was fascinating. We got talking. Enough to enthuse Thakur to narrate an incident associated with the legendary sculptor who was his teacher at Santiniketan.

The short version has it that the master was looking at a mud sculpture of a man riding a horse that a young student had just completed.

What do you think, he asked the boy, does it look fine to you?

Well, er, yes, he mumbled.

How does it look now, he asked as he gave the beast a tight whack on its posterior.

The Drummer: Mixed media on golden paper,The Rhythmic Scroll: Mixed media on canvas,Power of Faith: Mixed media on canvas

The horse’s forelegs got bent, and he and his ride were lunged forward. Gallop...

“That’s motion,” explained Thakur as we settled down for some tea and chira brought in generously by his wife, Sharmila, also an artist with Santiniketan grooming.

I am instantly reminded of another life’s lesson imparted by Bengal School leading light, the legendary Nandalal Bose, to a young Satyajit Ray when he was at Santiniketan. That was on drawing a tree, the episode delightfully chronicled in his, Our Films, Their Films. “Not from the top downwards. A tree grows up, not down. The strokes must be from the base upwards...”

That’s motion, too, albeit a different kind.

Thakur, born in Katras in Dhanbad district in 1953, has spent most of his life among the state’s tribals. He has seen the lives of Santhals, Mahtos and Kurmis up close and identifies with their concerns; their faiths and beliefs, joys and sorrows, and their inextricable ties with the forests and rivers of the land that put them in constant conflict with today’s notions of development.

All this find space in Thakur’s art work, but never overtly. He embodies the paradigms of far- eastern calligraphy, explained so lucidly in Ray’s book, that “goes to the heart of perceived reality and expresses it by means of minimal brush strokes applied with maximum discipline”.

“A concave hill,” said a mildly outraged Thakur about the perils of indiscriminate stone mining, “gets reduced to a convex hill.”

Nature and its bounty appear in his work in understated tones, a sophisticated mix of vibrant earth colours on mediums that many of his peers have long abandoned. Rice paper, cardboard sheets form the base, and at times, these are pasted onto canvas to give new life to old hues.

A tiny Hanuman streaks through the sky above a castle, Draupadi’s vastraharan gets a modern makeover with Kauravas in robes and tribals moving about gracefully under trees. There are instances of unadulterated, child-like fun, too. A cat stares at you, triumphant in its conquest of fish even as it stamps on the tail of a squiggly mouse.

“I do miss out on adda, especially among peers,” admitted Thakur about the downside of living in quiet and disconnected Ranchi.

But that doesn’t bother him much. He is able to stay close to his concerns, and more important, work at his own pace. Formerly with BIT-Mesra as visiting faculty, he is now with Mecon, helping them put scrap to good use. These days, his installations adorn parks on the PSU’s campus.

“Everyone is happy. Their campus is looking better and I am getting an opportunity to experiment and work with new stuff,” added Thakur.

I figured. Ranchi, Roorkee or Rhode Island. Stay in tune and there’s never a dull moment.


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