The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Brush with myriad colours

Art camps bring gallery owners, collectors and artists closer, putting new talent on the map. That in itself may be their use, says Samir Dasgupta

Even as event managers and artists are showing an increasing interest in art camps/workshops, more and more people here have been questioning the usefulness of such interactive gatherings. In what sense do participants interact with one another or with the floating onlookers or else with the given physical ambience' True enough, the working artists show a curiosity about the creative process of their more impressive colleagues — not so much to learn anything they are unaware of as to pay respect to the short tired collaborative event.

Even in camps where the group is highly selective in the sense of being composed of the best-known painters and sculptors, the participants are seen to interact beyond taking a silently critical look at each other’s work. To be sure the scope for a genuine interface among them is often constrained by the fact that well-known artists tend to work in the mould of certain aesthetic archetypes each of them wishes to further develop, rather than adopt technical or other aspects from the others. Creativity, after all, is like an Asian ego-trip.

What then are the positive traits of an art camp where no significant interaction among the participants is likely or even possible, apart from a spread of art consciousness among the general public or the possible commercial fallout of the social event which tends to bring gallery owners and art collectors and artists closer together' That, in itself, may be looked upon as a positive outcome of art camps.

The recently-held twin art camps by WelcomArt at Rajputana Sheraton Jaipur and WelcomHotel Marriott at Delhi, widely published as interactive creative events involving the same group of painters, all based in Calcutta, may well have shed new light on the question of whether powerful artists actually enjoy working in isolation and in some ways dislike working for long stretches of time within the eye shot of others. While trying to elicit an answer through conversations with individual painters, this writer came across mixed reactions, not necessarily negative.

Tapas Ghosal, adept in water-based media, who evinces rare imagination in syntaxing figurative images in purely pictorial terms, said he preferred working alone in his cosy hotel room but admitted he was motivated by his highly capable co-artists to try and work better. Somenath Maity and Ritendra Roy, both given to architectural configurations, made essentially similar observations, although the latter was less affected while working in the presence of others and never sought a studio-like isolation. One reason for this may lie in his rigorous formalism as against Maity’s tendency to infuse an emotive content in his otherwise architectural cityscapes as well as a yearning to capture the spirit of a bygone era as symbolised by the omnipotent castles, moats, meandering stone steps across the hilly terrain and temples ensconced in unexpected places. But for these temperamental and artistic differences, both painters separated by over a decade, project an unmistakable modern idiom.

The overwhelming visual impact of Jaipur was evident in varying degrees in the essays of virtually each painter working in the congenial camp space allotted in the Rajputana Sheraton. The non-objective works of Samit Dey bore little imprint of the particular chime of the Pink City. It was interesting to watch even a die-hard formalist of the figurative genre, Ashok Bhowmik, depict in his favourite oil medium a sturdy sentinel with a cellphone in hand and a stairway running through his torso. On his return to Delhi, however, the vinegary soon changed to the graceful form of an aristocratic-looking woman embellished with triangular areas of light holding the feminine bust in place. The return of the artist’s characteristic style highlighted by a metallic sheen, was re-enacted in this large work.

Samindra Majumdar, another young artist with an eye for the latent colour values of any given landscape, created an imposing inscape at Jaipur and a more narrative picture at Delhi. Last but not least, Bratin Khan and Sutapa Khan carved out overtly thematic, albeit stylised, pictures of men, women and nature in the traditional Indian manner. The canvas painted by Bratin at Jaipur, decidedly the most competent piece in his camp output, successfully captured the physical gesture and tonic nuances of a folk instrumentalist who entertained the hotel inmates and casual visitors for long hours each day.

If this could be seen as an example of interaction between an artist and a musician-entertainer employed by the hotel, another kind of no-less-unique interface took place between the camp performers and the artistically inclined kitchen staff at Marriott. The latter prepared a variety of pigments extracted from powdered spices and vegetables to paint lovely pictures on canvas and board. As expected of participants at both ends, they spoke repeatedly of the similarity between the art of painting and the culinary art, both being a matter of proportion and belonging to the realm of alchemy. Their roles were even seen to interchange with Sutapa donning the chef’s headgear and apron and offering to bake delectable stuffed tomatoes topping off with prawn tails.

The criteria used for selection of the eight artists should be clear from the above description of camp activities. Particular attention was paid to stylistic variety covering the leading genres — from traditional Indian style to semi-abstract delineation to pure abstractionism. The artists as well as the visitors seemed to appreciate the methodology of such selection. The WelcomArt wing of the two host hotels had set before itself the objective of featuring the crème de la crème of Bengal’s younger painters. Its energetic programme co-ordinator, Ina Puri, had given free rein to the selector at Calcutta to make full use of the opportunity depending on availability of the most capable artists fitting the specifications. The long term objective of Puri has been to test out as many Bengal artists as possible who deserve a place on the art map of the country. Some of them may be invited to participate in the solo and group events to be held at the gallery space in Calcutta’s ITC Sonar Bangla Hotel. Her vision therefore, stretches far beyond the recently-held workshops and aims at eventually featuring the most impressive creative talent around the country, region by region, and so also catalyse interaction among India’s artist community at another meaningful level.

The programme of action already includes restoration of various paintings by the older modern masters that lie scattered in different galleries, museums and private collections. The project may at some stage not only succeed in linking the legacies of the past with the continuity of the present, but also retrieve the relatively unknown talents from obscurity and neglect. The task, though Herculean, is certainly worth accomplishing.

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