| Artist Ramananda Bandyopadhyay doodling in a diary, many of which will be on display at the Academy of Fine Arts show. Picture by Aranya Sen
For the first time ever, the Academy of Fine Arts is organising an exhibition to celebrate 50 years of an artist’s involvement with art, and the artist who will be feliciated thus is Ramananda Bandyopadhyay, whose paintings hark back to an arcadian past and whose drawings and watercolours of highly decorative men and women are familiar to many.
About 200 of his paintings and drawings will be displayed in three rooms, besides sculpture in both bronze and porcelain, doodles in diaries and on CD covers, lithos, stage designs, invitation cards reinvented and the books he has created from cover to cover. The show opens on Monday and will focus more on the artist’s versatility than on the growth of his creativity by displaying his works serially. The exhibition is not intended to be a retrospective but the artist’s forays into other media will be highlighted.
“I feel an artist has the responsibility of creating good taste, and I would be glad if young people benefit by the exhibition,” says this early bird, who goes for walks in his para to catch the milkmen with their cows and sweepers busy cleaning before the crack of dawn.
A flock of 300 pigeons arrives every morning to be fed. “About 150 of these belong to me,” says Bandyopadhyay. He devotes some time to writing as well. The artist was born in 1936 in Birbhum. When he was trained as an artist in Santiniketan in the Fifties, he was under the tutelage of masters who are legends of the Bengal School today. “We sketched flowers directly from nature and we went to the Santhal villages to do figure studies. There was nothing like passing or failing in an examination.”
Asked why he never deviated from tradition and representations of popular mythology and rural Bengal, he said: “I have been working for a long time and whatever changes my work and style have undergone has happened effortlessly. I have always tried to express myself as simply as possible. Though I came to Calcutta in 1975, my figures are all from villages.”
In his Calcutta series, he did drawings of a milkman dragging a cow to be milked and sweepers resting next to a garbage-filled barrow, helping themselves to chewing tobacco. Street dogs drawn from memory figure in a big way and he accurately captures their ears cocked when they are on the alert.
Mendicants, bauls, babus and their ladies from a bygone era, mythological figures, tribals people his watercolour and oil pastel works. Nature figures in a big way and he has done many evocative pieces that, in spite of their size, very effectively evoke monsoon clouds pregnant with rain and the burst of colour in forests. Ramanandababu has never tried out oils and he says he never thought he was missing out on anything.
Some of his most striking works are his portraits in the mould of Abanindranath’s famous masks. They are boldly executed and are very dramatic, without ever going overboard. Sometimes he does not draw an entire face, so that viewers can use their imagination to recreate those features. Similarly, in a bronze Ganesha’s rotund form is suggested by the simple device of representing his paunch and a mouse hiding underneath. Sometimes he conjures up a face with a single stroke of his brush. They confirm the mastery of the artist over his medium.