The muggy Kolkata evenings are paintings by themselves. The emerald greens, the indigo blues, and the rani pinks spring to life drenched in sweat. As if turned into the temperas and works of Ganesh Pyne, the city itself showcases the myriad emotional hues and depths of solemn existence. The shabby windows and dingy roofs open themselves to the darkened skies of the Kolkata monsoon. The balconies keep on hanging much like the shrouded fate of the Kolkatans. People crowd the streets as if there is nothing else in life. And there is no tomorrow.
The sweltering heat that I grew up with but had forgotten over the years and trying hard to get myself accustomed to, I met Suprabhat Bhaduri, a contemporary Kolkata painter whose works in acrylic are bound to keep you transfixed.
A man in his fifties, born and brought up in Howrah, the other side of the Ganges, he feels privileged to be under the tutelage of Shuvaprasanna Bhattacharjee, one of the famous Indian painters of our times. He told me that his artistry is hugely indebted to the shadowy streets of northern Calcutta’s existence (Kolkata of that time). The mystic gloaming that these narrow streets offer injected in him a sense of surrealism that his paintings now express. With its buoyant spirit and festive lifestyle, the city itself was and remained the backbone of his artistic existence.
Much of my discussions with him revolved around the current art scene of Kolkata, of which I know little. Kolkata has always been my first love. Like most Bengalis coming out of Kolkata, I still believe any achievement in any area of life is incomplete unless Kolkata appreciates you. So here I am talking to Suprabhat (da), only a few years senior to me, about the Kolkata art landscape, what promise it had when we were kids, and what the current future holds for it.
TKR: How would you describe the art scenario in Kolkata?
SB: As you know Tapas, since pre-independence, Kolkata has been the cradle of art, literature, philosophy, and spirituality, following in the footsteps of knowledgeable scholars from different periods. Being an artist myself, I will focus only on the art scene of Kolkata for the sake of your question. Do you know the first Government School of Arts and Crafts of India was established in this city?
TKR: Not much so. Suprabhat da, my question is more about the current scenario, specifically for those readers who are interested in Kolkata.
SB: In the post-independence period, many artists have contributed to the art and culture of Kolkata. The progress of the present successors flows in harmony with that time. At least in fine arts, many students of the current generation in Kolkata are enthusiastic; contemplating modern ideas and trying to express their artistic identity individually with the help of contemporary technology. The infrastructure of art colleges in Kolkata has improved a lot, and the style of teaching has also changed. There are now many high-quality colleges in Kolkata, and special attention is being directed towards students’ employment.
Topicwise, a variety of works can be observed, such as surrealism, lyrical abstraction, even traditional Indian style paintings, and experiment with colors, formatting, projection, and fusion of local and global ideologies. There are prestigious exhibitions like CIMA, Gallery 88, Akriti, ICCR, EZCC, and the Academy of Fine Arts. Recently, the Kolkata Museum of Modern Art has been set up in Rajarhat with the help of the present state government. Apart from these, another institute, the Arts Acre, located at Rajarhat, has been established with the efforts and co-operation of renowned Bengali painter Shuvaprasanna Bhattacharya. The education center deserves praise for its impeccable architectural style. High-quality exhibitions are held every year. The eastern branch of the Lalit Kala Akademi, of the Government of India, also organizes high-quality art fairs every year. Apart from these, the state government organizes an art fair every year on its own initiative, where artistic discussions are held, and special recognition is given to the young artists. The Chief Minister of our state is herself an artist, and she is always striving to better art. Jogen Chowdhury, a renowned painter and a former Rajya Sabha MP, organizes an art fair every year.Another art fair organized by CIMA gallery gives particular importance to the new generation of artists and recognizes their experimental works. They arrange for the public to purchase paintings at meager prices, creating a beautiful connection of art with them.
TKR: So, art in Kolkata is still centered around the galleries and museums?
SB: No, no… I am coming to that. With their wisdom and artistic skills, the students of the present generation of art colleges have revolutionized Durga puja, the grandest of all Bengali festivals. Imagine their works being displayed, from pandal (makeshift structures for temporarily housing deities) to pandal in crowded lanes of Kolkata.
TKR: Do you think Kolkata as a city played a vital role in your growing up as an artist?
SB: I was born in Howrah—on the other side of the Hooghly river. After my schooling in Howrah, I had to come to Kolkata for employment. After working for a while in a temporary job, I felt the urge to paint. I struggled, as usual for a commoner, and endured many ups and downs. However, I kept practicing my artistic skills. The struggle is still ongoing and will continue in the future, but it is more about exploring art.
(Pause) I was admitted to a school in Kolkata, fortunately, run by a famous painter. I feel blessed to have him as my guru. He taught us with great care for four years. Our school started in the evening, in those mysteriously lit enchanting atmospheres of north Kolkata. Besides, the mixed crowd of Kolkata, traffic, easy-going life, sincerity, festiveness all inspired and still inspires my paintings.
Slowly I started exploring my own identity, researching various issues, doing my first solo exhibition in this city. This is where I met new people, like-minded ones, joined new groups, and participated in discussions and debates. Finally, I morphed into the person, the painter that I am today.
Another thing that strikes me in the city is the Academy culture—culturally inclined people of different ages and backgrounds chatting together, discussing art and various issues. The gathering there on almost every evening is incomparable to anything that I know of.
(Somber tone) At present, all of a sudden, everything is close due to extreme measures. But art will not stop; it will continue at its own pace and at the right time.
TKR: Great! Suprabhat da, let’s now turn our attention to your works. Describe in brief your method of painting/creating art.
SB: I usually work on surrealism, abstract landscapes and forms, and lyrical abstract images. Most of the pictures are painted in acrylic, my favorite medium. I also love creating charcoal drawings and portraits.
Initially, the canvases or the surfaces have to be smoothed to suit my work. After drawing, I use color very thinly to maintain clarity. Then, I repeat the process, moving in the same manner again and again as required by the painting. Only in the case of additional texture, I do use some unique methods of brushing. It’s instead time-consuming. I spend a lot of time to bring perfection. I use the brush in a very smooth and sophisticated way.
TKR: Tell us about the thought process that works behind your paintings.
SB: My landscapes somehow carry a warning, a message that talks about the dark realities of an uninhabited wilderness. The future, I think, will witness the destruction of the environment by the use of greenhouse gases, chemical wastes, plastics, nuclear tests, and the uncontrolled heat generated to pay for the immense needs of the people. The landscapes provide impressions of raising the lifeless, the decaying of mountains, counting the days of death, the lining of poisonous gas spreads in nature. They try to capture the expression of the thought of that terrible fate that we are bringing upon the world.
Animals are also very dear to me; they have also come back to be the subject of my pictures. I draw another kind of morphological picture usually a mix of other species with the human figure; strangely shaped creatures of the present world—as if results of failure of genetic experimentation. Thinking of it gives me a lot of pain. My pictures express my imagination arising from that thought. The colors I use are not very bright, dull, but I change my mind in some cases.
TKR: Great! I do see what you are trying to tell… Some of your paintings, the landscapes mainly, are unique. I like the textures that you can achieve with acrylic. How would you describe your process of handling acrylic in your series on the environment?
SB: The style I used in the environment series is done with the help of just the brush. It is time-consuming, and I have mastered it by practicing for a long time. Somewhere it needs to be washed with water to create transparency which creates an atmosphere of soft smoke. It is gratifying for me to work in this way. I always try to make my style of painting unique. In a country like ours, the general audience is attracted to the simplified painting forms and can’t get out of it. I try to simplify my work and make it acceptable to them even though I try to maintain modernity.
TKR: I usually find it hard. By the way, what are your expectations from art buyers?
SB: Undoubtedly, any enthusiastic viewer is very important to a performing artist; any artist’s work is always for the viewer’s entertainment. There are usually two types of viewers in the market, one class of viewers can buy painting while the other class is connoisseur or artisan. In some cases, viewers are connoisseurs but financially inconsistent. The first type buys paintings for special purposes without any understanding of art. I am afraid I am personally opposed to selling to someone who has only a business acumen. A true artist will always want his artwork to go to someone who will appreciate it, care about it, and give others a chance to see it. One more thing is that the ideal buyer should be interested in the picture. Exchange your thoughts with the artist’s thoughts. Such a buyer inspires the artists to create their next art. That’s precisely how art is created.
TKR: What is your guidance for a budding artist in Kolkata?
SB: First of all, I think budding artists should ask themselves why they are painting, What is the urge that makes them want to create art and not just take it up as a means of livelihood? At present, the dominance of the latter artists is very high in Kolkata. I personally do not support it; it is impossible to draw under pressure. The picture is created in its own rhythm. Besides, it is imperative to know one’s own self. Improving your work will lead to more commercial success. While commercial matters are important, you need to ask yourself how commercial you are.
Suprabhat Bhaduri never thought he would practice painting as a professional painter. His father used to stay away for governmental work while he spent a lot of time with his mother. His father was very passionate about art. He would teach him to draw while studying. His mother, a singer who struggled with difficult situations, still bought him painting materials. Suprabhat started preparing for admission to art college but in vain. He came in contact with the famous painter Shuvaprasanna and apprenticed under him for four years, for which he is grateful. Since then, he has exhibited paintings in reputed exhibitions in and outside the state. In a solo exhibition at the Delhi Lalit Kala Gallery, his paintings arrived late by a day due to the state transportation problem. In his words—only the artist who suffers from the feeling of what it is like to spend one entire day in an empty gallery—knows the pain. He looks forward to his maiden foreign exhibition one day.
Acrylic on Canvas by Suprabhat:
God Player i, 40″x40″
Terminal n, 10″x12″
God Player ii, 40″x40″
Choke Point , 36″x36″
Bleak Passage, 36″x36″
Liquid Desire, 36″x36″