Art News & Views

An Artistic Oeuvre: Shuvaprasanna in Retrospect


by Haimanti Dutta Ray

An artist usually depicts visually what he sees around him into a relatively two-dimensional idiom  Whether  an artist has any kind of social obligation, is  debatable. Art, be it in any form, is a reflection of society, social norms and customs, an artist is the person who ‘holds the mirror up to nature’.

Shuvaprasanna Bhattacharya, is a name which is much too familiar in the Indian art circuit. This master painter and graphic artist, has made the City of Joy as the subject of his amazingly diverse and scattered artistic oeuvre. Emami Chisel Art presented Shuvaprasanna: Recent and Retrospective, a month-long exhibition of his works at the two floors of the ECA Gallery inaugurated on November 8, 2011 by the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Ms. Mamata Banerjee. Born in Calcutta in  1947, the artist has played a significant role in the development of Bengal’s graphic movement in the 1970’s. The ethos of his art and his ideology is rooted in the tempestuous era of the ‘60s in Calcutta.  His remarkably varied artistic outpouring encompasses realism, surrealism, abstraction, figuration, still life etc. The Naxalite movement alongside the city’s vitality and sordidness found an expression in an interface of realism and abstraction. There is a philosophical layering depicted in the sparselyinhabited palatial houses in some paintings. This painter has striven all along his artistic career to portray the city’s urban milieu, its gloom, daily struggles and cultural ethos. The backdrop in most of his oils is old Kolkata with its existential agony and survival instincts, its joys and its people. A painting is a device to ignite our visionary spectrum. Shuvaprasanna did an entire series on prints with birds of all kinds called Aves, some of which were displayed at this exhibition.

His owls, crows and cranes are his forte. The impression of an owl in yellow, dark blue and black along with other abstract forms of birds from various perspectives make for an interesting variation in the printmaking process. All the graphic prints, be it intaglio, lithographs or woodcuts demonstrate the artist’s complete mastery over the medium, combining technical rigour with creative dexterity. The controversial work by the artist where the body of Jyoti Basu is seen laid on a round table chaired by all the big names of the passing Left Front government was displayed on the first floor of the gallery. The long work titled The Dance (2011), where a panel of four canvases was joined together, showed the plight of several wild swans. Swans being emblems of peace and it seemed as if the world is bearing witness to the ultimate settlement of a statusquo. Shuvaprasanna’s crows are renowned as these creatures are ubiquitous presences in our cityscape. They are seen in isolation, sitting on poles and parapets and on electric wires, cris-crossing the city’s variegated skyline. The canvases on the ground floor were the renditions of the old Kolkata charm and magic. In the series, Metropolis, the artist has successfully portrayed the essence of a citylife. In Procession, the figure of the Hindu god Shiva draws  a rickshaw with the goddess Kali on top and a parade of kirtan beside him. Durga (oil, acrylic and charcoal on canvas) depicts  the goddess with flaming red hair and arrows being struck from all directions on the demons. The most interesting works were probably the three silk screens. Save a Bird  in which four juxtaposed heads of pelicans were portrayed to commemorate the freeing of several thousand birds from captivity at a ceremony held at the capital on August 15, 1989. The other silk screen image was the poster of the staging of Galileo Galilei  by the Max Mueller Bhavan, Kolkata premiered on 13th April, 1980 at Vidya Mandir. The yellowing walls of the Abode, an intaglio print, echoes abandonment, loneliness and a sense of alienation. However, the artist does not ignore the human who appears through absence if not presence.  One notices a ladder, a symbol of ascendency, of ambition, propped against the colonial house.  His Crow series makes for engaging and intellectually stimulating art. Besides a repertoire of two-dimensional artworks, Shuvaprasanna’s innovative spirit includes some stunning sculptures and installations. A fine graphic artist and master painter, he has developed a personal matrix with fine nuances. His oeuvre is realistic and his themes and dreams are in sync with the times, his own personality and his progression in life. The politics of the city, the society and the world around him, appear, not as documents or direct representation of reality but re-formed through his intellect and imagination. Wit accompanies a sense of irony and pathos intertwined with hope, a search for light at the end of the tunnel. There is a touch of abstraction and idealism but no space for conceptual art in his scheme of things. “An art work must communicate visually with no recourse to words,” believes the artist.  Looking at Shuvaprasanna’s cityscapes, elegiac almost in mood, painted in shades of burnt sienna, greys and black, there is a   sense of love lost, a deep nostalgic urge to reclaim what once was. In a series  titled  - Middletone - he painted the plight of the middle-class Bengali vis-a –vis the urban space they inhabited. His memories touch again and again on our city’s remarkable capacity to emerge Phoenix-like in the face of ruination and disaster. Somewhere, there must have been sights and sounds remembered from childhood : a wandering Vaishnava minstrel, the goddess Durga being adorned before receiving worship, the saptamatrikas (seven mothers) springing into action seen in some old manuscript, an idol bathed and anointed everyday in the family’s devotion room. The exhibition hosted by Emami Chisel Art at the Emami Towers was just a couple of candid snapshots for human memory to register an oeuvre of artistic talent which is diverse, variegated and wholesome. The entire show was mounted by the support of various collectors. The portraits of Sibram Chakraborty, Cesar Domela, Subhas Mukherjee, M.F.Husain, Rabindranath Tagore, Debi Prosad and Jamini Roy were all done in the 1970’s. There were six woodcuts done in 1979, on the theme of time.

His Illusion (intaglio) done in 2008, shows the deft use of the colours indigo, yellow ochre and brown. His Icon series of works featuring Radha-Krishna and Durga among others are reminiscent of Indian miniature paintings. His Black & Brown (oil, acrylic and charcoal on canvas) shows an overall bandaged figure over whom the artist has painted a row of mourning people. One work shows the former Chief Minister hollering 30 Years in Power. Again Red Terror is one with charcoal and chalk on acid- free paper. His owls were in various media - charcoals, oils, sculptures - where the eyes and the plume of feathers of this enigmatic nocturnal creature attract and captivate the viewers’ attention. There were four works in The Insect series (mixed media on paper). There were also three nude studies on the first floor of the gallery. This was definitely an important exhibition in the city’s cultural calendarin order to comprehend the underlying aesthetics behind contemporary Indian art.

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