Art News & Views

Hard Talk

Is Kolkata Contemporary Art-scene awaiting a revolution?
Does it require a purposeful rebellion first?
Is it imminent to scan each other, a home task inevitable?

Sekhar Roy (S.R) is a well known figurative painter from Kolkata who has been sincerely engaged in experimenting in various mediums to reproduce the pains and sufferings of the middle class people of Kolkata for the last two decades.

Samindranath Majumdar (S.M), is a renowned abstract painter. Sekhar Roy is a little existential in approach, Samindranath who has come up from a verdure suburb of Kolkata still does posses a streak of refined romanticism in his heart which he struggles to articulate in a new subtle developing visual language. These two apparently opposite lovers of our soil confront and interact with each other in order to rediscover a snapped out thread of the Bengal legacy i.e., Kolkata's own enriched multilayered culture, visual culture in specific in the light of globalization under the canopy of Aakriti Art Gallery. An encounter between Sekhar Roy (S.R) & Samindranath Majumdar (S.M).

S.M : Sekhar-da, for a considerably long period I have been observing that your work has become constricted to a particular type of composition, content & expression; there are some technical changes in presentation on the superficial level though I am familiar with your early 'Band Party Series.' But thereafter nearly about last seven years you have been making these identical type of paintings…is it for the fact that these paintings have achieved financial success?

S.R : I think the matter is not at all like this; because for exploring a particular medium towards its optimum limit, for attempting to reconstruct a new language and making journey with it for 5 to 7 years is a very short stint, almost nothing. And if you speak of financial success, I remember that after passing out in 90, I did a solo in the British Council in 91-92 : 'Intellectual Series', and even in that drab financial time in the art market in Kolkata, the show was totally sold out. At that time I used to frequent College Street area. I saw that some peculiar people who had nothing to do used to stick to a small table in the corner of the Coffee House. They drank coffee and smoked cigarettes in different gestures and make discussions about local, national and international political, social and cultural phenomena and expressed their personal opinions untiringly. I painted such a man, a representative aged Calcuttan sticking to a table with cigarette in hand in different gestures. But for some reasons or other, I have never painted such an image after the exhibition. There was a time when I had a tendency to use mat black in my painting. Then different ranges of gouache etc. colours were not available. So I used the colour of blackboard paint. Miraculously those paintings are still intact. Then for some days Raghab-da (Raghab Bandyopadhyay, Journalist and Writer) had to visit the red light areas of Sonagachi for the purpose of writing. I often accompanied him there and my 'Boat Series' came to light immediately after it.

I have an irresistible attraction for making textures from the very beginning. Old damp walls, cockroaches, lizards, and inherent pressure somehow freezing this visual dynamism - I wanted to touch all this which is the typical marginal locale of my familiar Kolkata. I also made some paintings after being moved to read Kafka's 'Metamorphosis'. May be, people identify me by the 'bandage' I use in my paintings. But that doesn't mean that I am confined to it only. This bandage came to me as a result of my search for a material that can attach me with a reality of Kolkata - a bridging key factor of it. Then I would often visit Medical College with an intention of making pictures of Hospital. One day all of a sudden a piece of bandage... as it lies in the hospital yard. And some men and women round it, people from the city and the suburban areas and villages...There is no reference of bandage in the paintings I am making recently. So what I intend to say is that instead of some self imposed particular stylizations I repeatedly tried to trace out some new lingo, new diction and that is from our own familiar surroundings. And there remain a lot of experimentations which does not originate from the thought of financial success or that does not always ensure it instantly; I always think of starting something new and have an urge to move and change rather than confining myself to a particular stylization of a particular series. Besides that when we came to draw picture, Kolkata did not have anything which might be called art-market. In fact I started to paint because I had nothing else to do.

S.M : Those of you who are Suvada's (Suvaprasanna) pupils, entirely attached to Art's Acre, don't you think that you have the direct influence of Shuvada's works in your paintings of the earlier stage?

S.R : Not at all. Firstly as a senior contemporary he practised some aspects of traditions and contemporaneity, and a little of it flowed to me. But in this particular field the alchemy was a bit different, because our relationship was more of two friends than that of an upper nose teacher and a student. Rather our beginning and later advancement was from the very inception like that of an artist and art-activist. Consequently from the personal level of my consciousness I never wanted to negate Suvada as a guiding source and senior contemporary as well, although the resource worked in my experimentation in a contradictory dialectical process and that became infused with several personal visual art related experiences.

S.M : What is your opinion about the Bombay boys and their work being highlighted in the Indian Art Scene in the perspective of this cutting age? What is your opinion about the fact that you are not counted as a thoughtful intellectual artist? Do you feel pain at this? Do you think personally that you should have reached such a height?

S.R : Our economic capital Mumbai, situated on the coasts of Arabian Sea, always opens its window widely towards the west. So the experiments of the West and the prevailing trend of the age come more directly Mumbai than to Kolkata. New experiment, at all time, has its positive as well as adverse sides. Now we can feel that the prevailing trend has come fully to Kolkata. And our fine arts become gallery centric. If we forget our age-old various indigenous aesthetic wisdom in the multi-layered socio-economic and political perspectives and if we had totally affected with the European or American hegemony and thereby lose our identification, all our resistance and wealth of imagination and philosophy under the name of mix and match of post modernism promoted by alienated galleries, then it does not make any sense. Secondly I have no pain if I am not counted as a serious artist because it is redundant to mention that whether an artist is counted or not is entirely a game of the power complex. However it is a must to scrutinize repeatedly on my personal level whether I am getting satisfied in my journey. That's all. A work is over whenever I finish it. But to live as an artist I have to think of starting a new one. Those so-called critics and pundits who once marked us as 'pretty picture makers', their sovereignty did not last for a score of years, alas!

S.R : I remember I stood for a whole day in front of a huge canvas of Pollock in the Modern Art Gallery in New York. I felt as if thousands of saxophones, violins, cellos etc. were being blown or strummed like a terribly disturbing orchestra, Willem de Kooning's canvases are also like this in spirit. Here to those of you who are making abstract paintings and sometimes feel relieved to call us pretty picture makers, my reaction is, though I do not express in words, just the same and opposite. I think the paintings of most of you are very pretty. A kind of surface management by the blending of some soothing hues. Exceptions are very few. Then where is that violence, that disturbance, that tremendous uncompromising rage of self assertion (I always say that self is never isolately 'self'), that conviction in your painting?

S.M : You have asked a very good question. My clear-cut and direct answer to this question is that there is problem with those who misunderstand abstraction for expressionism. We can remember Rothko, Barnett Newman etc. side by side with Jackson Pollock or Kooning. I have had the good luck of viewing Wassily Kandinsky's retrospective comprised of 85 paintings and it gave me the realization how intensely a man can be quiet and still. The body of the colours he uses is like gem, like stones which diffuse the inherent brightness. Then basically abstract art is non-representational and also in some ways or other non-figurative art, but that doesn't mean abstract art must contain violence, disturbance, speedy brush strokes, expressionistic gestures etc.

S.R : Well. Then where is that alienation like that of Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian, Paul Klee etc., that uncompromising attempt to make one's own periphery in a highly disturbing and imposing world and therefore eventually that simplification and emergence of new elementary contemporary designs that will be adopted by all the aspects of a disturbed yet rich civilized society through out an entire modern era? I cannot see any trace of it. Rather in your recent woks there is a tendency of specifically not defined fuzzy pretty picture making through the use of Ganesh Haloi like play of sweet colours and the fragile small dots and 'tic-tac' lines. I like your big abstract work in Black and Grey in the Birla Academy and I told you that at that time. But later I do not find such work.

S.M : See, I very much adore many of Ganesh Haloi's works and many of his works also leave me in uneasiness. In many case the personal history of switching over to abstract art is totally different. But while I am making my journey in my own scheduled way, I may come close to the journey of one senior contemporary artist and it may happen at any time. But that does not mean that I am consciously making pretty pictures and making it like someone else. Facets of lyrical approach, lucidity etc. may be there in one's paintings & poems. And non representational art does not mean that I am not representing anything. I am emerging from a specific territory, from a certain cultural social experience and perhaps attempting to express in my own medium. If it sounds, if it looks mellifluous, tangibly lucid and multilayered in some sense, is there any trouble?

S.R : Does it really unfold the multilayered character to its viewers? And of course it being representational or non-representational, the origin, the ground reality at one pole and the set limits or the purpose on the other must thoroughly be checked.

S.M : I use pigmentations as metaphor of time. Well, I will explain it to you. Take for example, a wall which has its own character and shade. Rain falls on it and its own colour and character is changed. Something is written and drawn on it. And it becomes again partly erased out by some environmental factors. A new visual space is created . . . this way applying countless layers, making wounds by scratches, scars by texture if I can touch a hidden point of satisfaction, my painting comes up.

S.R : But that is your own personal opinion; onlookers do not experience it after observing your works which they experience in Ganesh Pyne's works. Rather, it seems almost like Ganesh Haloi, since as if Haloi has come back to the Canvas! Once I went to tour Singapore accomplishing my show in Bangkok, there I met an old lady professor of the Art College of the city. She warmly welcomed me to see her works. She paints with water colours on huge sophisticated rice papers almost like Ganesh Haloi and to add to my surprise all her students of her studio were doing identical works! This type of work is very much in practice in places like Singapore, Philippines, Malaysia, Bangkok, Thailand etc. In fact it is their art.

S.M : And it is the point of my embarrassment. From this view-point I do totally negate Ganesh Haloi.

  Compiled by 
Anindya Bandyopadhyay 





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