An artist who never gave in to the lure of abstraction

An artist who never gave in to the lure of abstraction

By M. SAAD | | 23 April, 2016
(from left to right) Untitled, Urban Space for Human and Body Language II.
Bikash Bhattacharjee’s unseen works, being exhibited for the first time in Delhi, are among his early masterpieces that must be reckoned with if we are to make sense of his aesthetic vision, which was rooted in the realist tradition, writes M. Saad.

Through the ages, the image of woman has remained enslaved in a gilded frame of ‘Ardha-Nareshwari’, half man, half woman. In the Bikash woman, the daring third dimension has emerged,” that’s how the late M.F. Husain described Bikash Bhattacharjee’s women subjects. In fact, it was his portraits of the typical Bengali bride-goddess-widow that won him acclaim quite early in his career.

The realistic nature of his art always by every means endeavoured to represent the exact appearance of his subjects. Apart from being a great city painter — making Calcutta and its people the subject matter for many of his works — Bhattacharjee was also an accomplished portrait painter. Bhattacharjee’s forte remained in realism. He was a step ahead of others in exploring the possibilities of oil paint to the extent that he managed the exact quality of the skin tone of a woman or  the decaying walls of an old structure. He also achieved mastery of capturing the facial features (especially the eyes) in his human figures and the quality of light elsewhere .

Accredited for reviving realism in the Indian art scene at a time when many of the artists in the country tended to incline towards abstraction, Bhattacharjee’s realist paintings can easily be called avant-garde for their groundbreaking imagery.

Bhattacharjee was born in Calcutta in 1940 and passed away in 2006. He lost his father when he was merely a boy and his years growing up were spent struggling to make ends meet. In 1963, he graduated from the Indian College of Art and Draftsmanship in Calcutta. After finishing his studies, he returned to the same institution as a teacher in 1968. Then, 1973 onwards, Bhattacharjee began teaching at the Government College of Art and Craft and taught there till 1982. He was also a member of the Society of Contemporary Artists.

His artistic style, although influenced by Salvador Dali, Rembrandt and others, tended to express certain characteristics of life which are peculiarly Indian in aesthetic.

An exclusive collection of his rare drawings and paintings are being exhibited at Aakriti Art Gallery in Delhi. The exhibition titled Human Face and Urban Space has works that have been taken from the artist’s family collection and are being showcased in Delhi for the first time.

These works of the foremost Indian painter of realistic art are path-breaking and demand to be analysed for their orginality and vividness. The works on display were done mostly in the 1960s with pastel, pencil and watercolour. They comprise 19 studies of the human face, body, female nudes and cityscapes.

Through his pictorial vision which comprised intricate shades, structural assemblage of various geometrical forms done with certitute, his images managed to combine extrinsic reality with intrinsic feelings . The duality of vividness and subtlety in his works remain pivotal to his art.

(from left to right) Body Language VII Coloured, Body Language XI and Body Language XIX.

The exhibition presents some of his early works (done during his college days) which helped him evolve as an artist and eventually emerge as a force to reckon with. With his studies in nature and life, the artist experimented with impressionistic simplification. Cityscape in water colour is one such example where urban space transcends into a rural beauty.

His style, although influenced by Salvador Dali, Rembrandt and others, tended to express certain characteristics of life which are peculiarly Indian in aesthetic.

A pencil drawing titled Urban Space for Human is an apt example of his stylistic sobriety and wisdom — a melodious space around the scattered contemplative life. Another water colour study of the same title is significant too, for its creation of a misty silent space around congregation of rural people.  Through these studies the artist attempts to come to terms with simplification of the intricate reality, also to find the contemplative inwardness within the complex urbanity.

The exhibition culminates with his figurative studies, which are capable of leaving the viewer filled with awe and admiration for the artist for giving such mesmerising detailing to the works. This series of figure studies, which is titled as Body Language are perfect examples of his artistic prowess.  The imagery stands as a new mark of modernity, in spite of the fact that they were done decades ago by the departed artist.

All through the tireless span of his artistic career, which ended with his demise at the age of 66, Bhatacharjee concentrated upon certain subjects, gradually renouncing more restricted themes, including the portraits. In his capacity as an artist, he worked throughout his life except for the last few years when illness got the better of him.

The exhibition of his works, which kicked off in the month of January in Kolkata this year, will run till 30 April at Aakriti Art Gallery in Delhi. It will travel to other parts of the country in the coming months.


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