Art News & Views

Atin Basak: His Artistic Pursuit


Atin Basak was born on the 27th March, 1966. He spent most part of his life in Baitakkhana street, Pataldanga region, near Sealdah station, central Kolkata. His surname is a title given by the Mughals to the master weavers of Bengal province. His family had migrated from Manikgunj, Dhaka district (now in Bangladesh), to Kolkata.

In order to comprehend Atin's artistic preoccupation and pursuit one has to unravel things from his past. As a child, Atin was a shy, he did not talk much. He was rather withdrawn and lived in his own world of fantasy. Even as a toddler when he was put in a chair, he could sit and be still dreaming of angelic beings and fairies. He was a daydreamer. At night he slept with his grandmother. Before he fell asleep, she would, tell him stories from her large oral collection of folk and fairy tales, mythology and the Epics. Collecting thread from such stuff he would weave his dreams.

Atin's schooldays were spent in Mitra Institution main, central Kolkata. There, he met his art teacher Sukumar Bhattacharya who was an eccentric but otherwise a brilliant mentor.

His life has not been smooth sailing. Even in desperate situations, he held on to the belief that he was a man of destiny in a small but significant way. This self-image, premonition if you will, has helped him to carry on. His father, Nripendra Mohon, encouraged and quietly supported Atin's every move. And when his father became sick with cancer; those were critical years for Atin. Inspite of difficulties, he graduated from Government College of Art and Craft in 1991. Later he went off to Baroda to do his Masters from MS University. There everyone was impressed by his work and recommended him whenever possible. In 1996-97, he was invited as a visiting lecturer by the Director of Ecole Regionale des Beaux Arts, Cean, France. M. Passera, the Director, had taken a liking for both Atin and his work. In 2000, he became Charles Wallace India Trust Scholar in UK. Subsequently, he joined the Printmakers Workshop, Edinburgh. Atin began experimenting with engraving.

Getting wind of Atin's stay in Scotland, Jean-Jacques Passera, Director of the Caen Arts School, Sallenelles, came to meet him. Atin would, Passera said, get a French Government Scholarship as a visiting artist at Ecole Superieurer D'Art De Caen.

After his father passed away, Ashim took charge of the press. This set Atin free to become a fulltime artist. In 2004, he was invited to be a visiting lecturer in Ecole des Beaux Arts la Reunion, a French colony and island in the Indian Ocean above Madagascar. He enjoyed his stay, worked and had a solo exposition in Reunion.

Atin's printmaking and painting reflect his inner life with marginal reference to the outside world. Although he was exposed to the life and art of the continents of the eastern hemisphere, his vision remains unimpaired. Ideas of nationalism, modern and post-modernism do not perturb or excite him. Therefore, they find no expression in his art, or perhaps remain as indistinct as a distant eco.

Scrutinizing Atin's work, Freud would have found elements of dreams and subconscious efforts at wish fulfillment. Jung would detect strands that reach out into humanity's collective unconscious, the embryo of archetypal myths that unknowingly everyone carries individually. A Buddhist, however, would detect Atin's remembrance of things past have threads that lead to his previous births. Each work would become a significant episode from his personal 'Jataka' tales. Atin's prints, etching, lithograph and mixed media of the two, show a wonderful balance between clarity and elegance, the personal and the impersonal, a fusion of technical ability and intensity of vision. No doubt, there are areas of silence, perplexity, morbidity as well as joyous abundance.

Particularly in etching and its offshoots intaglio and viscosity, there is generally a tendency to give technique priority over imagination. His peers tend to transfer the composition on to the metal plate and cover this up with a stopper before dipping it into an acid tray. The acid then bites into the various layers of the exposed areas and creates unplanned accidental designs on the plate. The printmaker then tries to accommodate the scars and erosions of the accident into the composition. In the process, the image is lost in a welter of mostly unnecessary textural details.

Conversely, Atin's compositions have an interior core of definite geometry and an exterior manifestation of an iconic figure or figures which through peculiar expression and gestures convey a variety of subtle meaning. Then there are bits and pieces that allude to long forgotten mythical incidents, autographical details, Hamlet-like asides and soliloquies, suggestions of landscapes and cityscapes, characters and events that one might have seen in dreams interrupted with strange incidents that have their roots in primitive and prehistoric times.

The themes he deals with often refer to childhood. One can read anxiety, fear and unsettling events. He sometimes uses nursery rhymes like 'Twinkle twinkle little stars' in a childish handwriting to suggest this aspect. There are fairies and strange characters that creep out of children stories. There is a small series of still life in one print; a teapot may assume an uncanny pose. Figures and faces, done frontally or in profile, may arrive as if from the land of the dead, mirroring neither passion nor compassion, but an emotionless elemental makeup that even suggests a death mask.

Atin likes individuals but feels oppressed by the noisy deluge of people and stifled by the suffocating unrestrained traffic. In prints and paintings Atin's protagonists are mostly done all alone. They are like individual islands in the sea of humanity. In many works, he has brooded on death. An apple on the tree is animate and lively, but becomes dead and an inanimate object in a cardboard box or a plate on the table. And yet, it retains elements of life force in the seeds in its womb. He juxtaposes an inanimate object like a stone beside a protagonist and tries to suggest that the demarcating line between inanimate and animate is almost invisible. The political turmoil during his childhood in early 1970s seems to have become a forest fire. He feels distressed by brutality. His father's suffering and death pushed him into a dark mood. This made him see history as a chronicle of savage violence.

He explores the thin demarking line that lies between animate and inanimate world. He does numberless variation of the theme. Atin's works deal with, primeval archetypes in a Carl Gustav Jungian sense and has an 'ocean of images and figures' that instinctively comes to him from the 'collective unconscious'. Like intellectuals Atin thinks that primordial stuff can be accessed by conscious and creative efforts. He maintains that myths, dreams, nightmares and human behaviour are indicators of such patterns of thought that lie beneath the veneer of art and culture. Art to Atin is a conscious effort to capture unconscious substance and imagery. In Atin's art, refined elements of his heritage have risen up like a phoenix with renewed vigour. Incidentally, rays of life and shadows of death dominate his prints and paintings.

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