Art Camp and Artists

- by Niharika Mookerjee

Celebrated artists along with a new wave of young talented painters from the Indian sub-continent transformed Ohio Arts Council's Riffe Gallery into a kaleidoscope of images projecting different aspects of the mundane lifted to the ethereal in a swathe of colors and light. Even as the artists worked on their easel, transmuting each stroke into a larger symbol of harmony or dissonance, the experience offered at its very best a sense of direction to visitors who were approaching Indian contemporary art for the first time.

Hosted by the Banga Mela of Columbus in liaison with the non-profit-making organization, The Eye Within, an art camp from Kolkata, the event featured a galaxy of luminaries like Jatin Das, Monirul Islam, Prokash Karmakar, Subrata Gangopadhyay, Suva Prasanna, Sipra Bhattacharya, Mona Rai, Rini Dhumal, Suman Roy, Amitava Das, Durbananda Jana, Sudip Banerjee, Chandra Bhattacharya, Akhilesh and Aditya Basak.

A decade back when Goutam Das, the secretary of The Eye Within, undertook this mission of promoting contemporary Indian art and artists it certainly was prescient. Almost single-handedly he had staked on artists not knowing where the endeavor would take him but world events have steam-rolled in such a way that the artists now command the center-stage of the international art world and art market. But it would be a mistake to say that all artists are comfortable in this role, particularly senior painters such as Rini Dhumal who feel that predatory capitalism can be a threat to creativity.

Legendary painter, muralist and collector of hats, crafts and hand-fans, Jatin Das, whose recent work included a vast mural for the Parliament, depicting the journey from Mohen-jo-daro to Mahatma Gandhi, mused upon the decline of aesthetics and taste in Indian public life. Refusing to talk about his work, which he said, was his personal affair, he noted that the "dragon of popular culture is eroding the sense of personal values encouraged by a materialistic society bent upon ruthless pursuit of instant gratification." Currently, he is driven by a mission of building an art museum in Bhubaneshswar, Orissa. His untitled work show-cased his signature style of a voluptuous, bare-bodied human figure engaged in startling poses that seemed to highlight a certain aspect of the human predicament.

Etching and water-color painting are the chief mediums of expression for Monirul Islam, considered Bangladesh's most influential artist of the'60's. Now living in Spain for the past several years, he has become a national figure of that country. Sketching jagged outlines, he confessed his fascination for the feel of paper and his relentless search for a new image or path-breaking logo. Much of his compositions include dots, symbols, lines and tiny motifs that hold an intensely private significance to the artist. "Western art, which has influenced me greatly, is essentially impassionate, anarchist and individualist. I never adhere to a style or a technique as it typically denotes conforming. What lies beyond the confines of time, touch and feeling, say, maybe the smell of a rose or the feeling of a sky or rainfall or even a passing smile, is the object of my interest."

And so too with Suva Prassanna, for whom inspiration is the fire that kindles creativity. "Cliché as it might sound it is the power of love that strengthens man's desire to reach out for the highest. When its violence hits the artist, it sublimates into magical forms of art, poetry or music," he said. In his paintings the ordinary and the insignificant, such as a street urchin or a city bird find an honored place colored by a timeless wonder. His untitled painting of a calf had an arresting spell, seeming to hint a flight into the profound and the mysterious. It marked a departure from his former paintings that sported a swirl of titanic gods and goddesses from Hindu myths and legends.

One of the outstanding painters of modern India, Prokash Karmakar, worked single-mindedly on yet another untitled landscape that had knotted lines and matrix of whorls revealing a defiant modernism, articulated through congested space and cringing figures. His use of distorted and contrite imagery portrayed a keenly-felt anguish that has been part of the painter's journey through wars, partition, communal riots and famine.

However, it was Subrata Gangapadhyay's extravagant and symphonic displays of urban women in all their metaphorical grace and intoxicating colors that drew the admiring gasps from the crowds. Western influences of Botticelli's play of light and shadow are evident in his lyrical compositions of women. Working on his oil-painting titled, Desire, he said he was happy with the new status given to the artist. "It finally means freedom from that dated idea of being the poor, pathetic painter,' he said.

In much the same vein, Sudip Banerjee's paintings in oil, acrylics on canvas, mixed media on paper, feature Indian women, but with a difference. His subjects are in monochromatic colors of black, yellow and red conveying a dark, melancholic air, surrounded by an existential loneliness. Etched with strong lines, the woman in his painting, titled, Reminiscences had an earthly gaze, echoing a suppressed grief. His Joker series carried pervasive reverberations of Debussy's musical piece, Clair de lune, depicting the lowly condition of ridicule borne by those who are in the same profession.

Among the younger artists, Suman Roy's overarching figures of Christ done on acrylic plastic sheets have been known to fetch as much as sixteen lakhs in Christie's Bombay auction. A projection of his empathetic relationship with Christ's anguish, they are referred to as the 'Soul-Mate' series. These reversible paintings, redolent in gold, green and blue, are transfixing in its complexity, appearing at times as an emblem of serenity or reaching out to humanity with out-stretched arms or sometimes simply burning as a candle even as the body is defeated.
The image of Christ inter-changing into Krishna, through a crown of thorns, the color blue and the icon of a flute formed the theme of the youngest artist of the show, Durbananda Jana. At 28, he is renowned for his shocking evocation of out-sized human bodies intertwined in bold ecstasy that is at once corporal and sublime. Showing a maturity beyond his years, his use of pigment is retrained but immensely powerful and allegorical.

Niharika Mookerjee

Niharika is a budding journalist who writes regularly for a number of Indian newspapers.