Art News & Views

Unconventional with Witty Undertones


By Haimanti Dutta Ray

Kolkata. We have stepped into the twenty first century with a bang, as it were. The pace of life, the daily travails of modern man acquired a new dimension and definition and we just have to be in step, or otherwise be left behind and become a Camusesque 'Outsider'. Feelings of love, compassion, pride and loyal allegiance to them are fast departing from this planet.

Tagore had stated in his The Religion of Man, “Each age reveals its personality as dreamer in its great expressions that carry it across surging centuries to the continental plateau of permanent human history.”

The artistic tradition can be compared to a plant growing in the soil and climate, having roots in the soil of the land. Likewise, the Indian artistic tradition which has grown on the Indian soil will have the fragrance of this land and must be interpreted from the Indian point of view; the similes, metaphors, symbols and imageries represented in painting and sculpture have been embedded in the Indian psyche and could rightly be interpreted through the Indian aesthetic theory, contemporary literature and social environment.  The relationship between modern and tradition is that of change and opposed to change. Tradition was considered as opposite to modernity, hostile to reason and democratic spirit; rigid and insensitive to change. Change is a continuous process; sometimes it is abrupt or very rapid and in some circumstances it is gradual. The discovery of the folk arts as a strong medium of expression was a twentieth century phenomenon. The basic characteristics of folk forms are clarity, boldness and simplicity, strong and direct appeal, bright colours, two-dimensional stylized forms and motifs, rhythm created by the repetition of lines, figures and dots.

The act of painting becomes, as it were, an alter ego of the painter's self. The Freudian 'unconscious' or the 'id' finds a most eloquent outlet through an artist's palette and his paintbrush. Zany and Visionary Debian Delight: A Solo show of Rajesh Deb held at Aakriti Art Gallery from the 14th  29th October was the debut painting exhibition of the artist. Rajesh is known primarily as a printmaker, his forte being woodcuts. He was an active participant in the by-now-immensely-popular annual show entitled 'Gennext' conducted by Aakriti each year at their Hungerford Street gallery. He was discovered at this event and that was six years back, informed Sucharu Das, at the inauguration. The inaugural lamp was lit by eminent film director Buddhadeb Dasgupta, art critic Pranab Ranjan Ray and the artist himself. In his inaugural speech, Dasgupta emphasized and reiterated the prevalent element of wit and humour existing or found in Rajesh Deb's works.  There were seventeen works on display at the exhibition. There were eight mixed medias on canvas, three watercolours on paper, one gouache on paper, and four woodcuts on canvas. I have seen several woodcuts previously, many of which had been published in the last two issues of artetc. news & views, which delved on prints and printmaking processes. Woodcut on canvas is completely new and unique way of handling the medium. The artist had confessed to this writer that the ink used for these canvases were not of Indian origin; they had been gifted to him from German shores. For instance, Two Pieces Bengali, where the prevalent hue of greenery (undoubtedly the colour of the season - both naturally and politically) has been superimposed with 'Heinrum'. The caricatural innuendo could hardly be missed. The other woodcuts on canvas included All Images Are True, Larger Than Life and Beating at Midnight.

The large work which greeted the viewer at the exhibition was Kata Gota (mixed media on canvas). It portrayed the way bird or animal flesh is sold in the local market. On a parallel level, it also exemplified the way the riots between rival communalities were held during the Partition. His Feng Shui Tree (mixed media on canvas) has 'Indianized 'the ancient tradition and customs of China which upheld a sense of fatalism, in a humorous and local flavour. The King and his Five Feet Snake - gives the impression of the decadent effects and ills of a colonial hangover. In Band Baja, the artist has explored the folklores and oral traditions existing in the rural areas of Bengal. In The Maestro in Evening Raga (also mixed media on canvas), we see Ravi Shankar with his sitar. The painting could have stopped there. But the artist went on to depict a maiden on a swan, beside the maestro. Che Drifting Away shows the figure of Guevara (the reviewer failed to notice any similarity between the figure painted with that of the legend) sailing away along the waves of the ocean. In all his paintings, the artist has left his signature as “Dev Press” in Bengali script. In Narugopal with His Grandpa (mixed media) the vibrant colour of the tiger was noticeable. Since these were his first attempts at painting, the technical skills were missing or otherwise they were not flaunted.  The emphasis had been essentially on wry humour. The three watercolours  - Hungry?, Jarabharat  and Fabled Journey  -  showed the artist's handling of a medium to which he is not much accustomed to , but which when explored could fetch him newer and greater heights. The only gouache work on paper - Ekee Ange Eto Rup - showed a couple in an act of coupling with Goddess Kali in the background.

Behind all the wit, humour and sarcasm in his paintings, Rajesh's works show a deep reverence for a tradition which is essentially Indian in context, metaphor and flavour. He has given sincere thoughts to ancient folklores which may earn him the epithet of a 'modern day patua '. In this exhibition, the viewers had a glimpse of an artist who has got great potential and miles to go before he sleeps.

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