The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Shaping his career with fingers

A painter by education, but a sculptor by profession. Shyamal Roy took a chance over two decades ago, putting down the paintbrush and picking up “wet mud”. But the risk proved well worth his while, with plenty of awards and accolades to confirm it. And an A-list clientele and a steady fan following — more than he ever dreamt of.

Although he started making mud figurines as a teenager, it wasn’t until Class XI that he made his “public debut” by creating the Saraswati idol for a puja at his school, in Puddapukur. After leaving school in 1975, the boy from Hazra pursued a degree in fine arts at Government Art College. But he could never forget his first love — sculpture.

“When we graduated, Bikash Bhattacharjee, our teacher, who retired the same year we finished, urged some of us to form a group. So it was that Painters ’80, named after the year of our graduation, came into being. We held a couple of exhibitions together, including one in Delhi. But I wasn’t happy. So I decided to take the plunge into terracotta,” the 46-year-old explains.

“Messing around with mud” proved to be winner. A Birla Academy award, a government award, one from the state Lalit Kala Academy and the Governor’s award poured in within a few years of his having begun his chosen profession, despite no professional training.

“I have had help,” he smiles. “Victor Banerjee organised a show for me at the prestigious Calcutta Art Gallery in 1983. And Paritosh Sen arranged for a solo exhibition of mine in Mumbai, in 1987. Some of my works were chosen for an exhibition in London, too, in 1985. That was wonderful, because my creations were sold out.”

Terracotta Durga protimas for para pujas in Bakul Bagan, Hindusthan Park, his former home near Hazra and one in ceramics for the Milani Sangha in Bagha Jatin later, Roy’s claim to fame also includes names like Russi Mody and Sharmila Tagore as clients, and admirers like Jogen Chowdhury.

“Ganeshda (Pyne) once asked me how much sugar I eat, because my work is so mishti,” Roy laughs. A proud moment was having his work featured on the cover of Upamanyu Chatterjee’s The Last Burden. But his source of happiness remains spending hours every day, mixing mud and lovingly shaping animals, human forms and murals of nature.

The terracotta works in the lobby of Taj Bengal, the terraced garden at the Birla Academy of Arts and Culture, the foyer of the Eastern Zonal Cultural Centre in Salt Lake and a statue at Manovikas Kendra, are all his handiwork. “I love what I do, but my inspiration and source of encouragement are my wife Chandrima, who is a painter, and six-year-old daughter Doel. What more could I want'” rounds off Roy.

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