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Painting palaces

Painting palaces
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Das, was born in Bengal and is now settled in Vadodara, close to his alma-mater, the Maharaja Sayajirao University’s Faculty of Fine arts. As a painter he believes in a deep investigation of his medium before he begins to experiment. His love affair with oil paint has lasted for over three decades and his love of landscape paintings can be traced back to his early years as a painting student at the MSU, since 1991.

According to Western art history the landscape ranked fourth in the hierarchy of genres set up by the Academy. History painting, portraiture, and genre painting, were considered more important. Still life was considered even less significant. (Until) the Romantic Movement lifted landscape out of its status as backdrop material and elevated it to a subject that deserved contemplation on its own. At the hands of artists like Casper David Freidrich, the landscape became a sublime expression often likened with mankind’s attempt to reach out to an elevated notion of spirituality.

In the realm of Indian art, which was certainly focused on the human form and divinity, landscape has taken a back-seat. Otherwise it has been relegated to the cloyingly saccharine depictions of pastoral life that eulogizes and romanticizes village life. Through his landscapes, Soumen choses to vent all his artistic passion in the pursuit of evoking both nature and man in a single breath without actually painting a human figure.

Das’ current body of work showcases his immediate surroundings. Sometimes they evolve from scribbles and notes of his travels, including the Bahauddin ka Maqbara, the mausoleum of the Wazir of Junagadh. Sometimes the inspiration for a larger painting comes from a photograph to which he has returned to later. Soumen’s landscapes breathe life into urban localities, sloping hills, seascapes and factories that loom out of verdant fields.

Stylistically, Das could be seen as a Neo Pointillist, reviving the technique that was explored by Surat and Paul Signac in Paris and later by painter N S Bendre in India. Pointillism is a technique where pure colour is broken into a distinct series of small dots. The colours are applied in patterns to form an image. In fact Pointillism has been considered the forerunner of the CMYK printing process.
However, Das adds to that technique, by creating several layers of colour to build up the painting over a long period of time. As a result it is not just the dots that make up the image but a mesh of lines, layers and textures that lie under the colourful frenzy of dots.

While doing his MA, Das had his first encounter with a large art project while assisting on an 8x22 foot mural at Vidhan Bhavan. This encouraged him to expand his canvas and he developed a delineation of urban landscape that is both modern yet it holds memories of the Indian miniatures in some of the flat colours and bold outlines. Soumen also mastered the application of Casein on canvas. Soumen points out that Casein is not flexible like oil but he has adapted the medium to his love for creating layers of paint. The texture of Casein is something that he enjoys but he uses it unconventionally, taking his notes from the masters.
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