"Mirror to the World" | POETICS OF WATERCOLOURS

Everything unwraps in the idea of layered imagery – as if the artist drew different effects on sheets and controlled how they all added together in the final images writes Uma Nair.

Price:   21000 |  20 May 2017 4:26 PM GMT  |  Uma Nair


Years ago in his book ‘Adventure in Drawing’ Alfred Morang wrote: “Drawing is the art of surrounding an idea with a line in order to communicate that idea to the observer.”

A sheet of paper and the act of drawing can present an uncanny alchemy.  Francis Newton Souza once told me that drawing happens only when an artist finds the freedom to roam freely – to explore realms that lie between the organic and the geometric, the constructive and the intuitive, the figurative and the abstract and between the purely linear and the wholly curvilinear. “You have to abandon yourself, loosen your beliefs and swim in the exploration of your own fantasy. No rules – break the rules and create your own,” he would say in autocratic arrogance.

More than a decade later you know how right he was when you open the pages of Paraggon Publishers magnum opus on artist Sanjay Bhattacharyya. The limpid pencil strokes of two drawings on the inside cover reflect that drawing is a moment of centeredness of thought. It means different things to different people. In the modern world, it has reinvented its own lingua franca over moods, moorings and artistic meanderings. But for Sanjay Bhattacharyya drawing is a passionate outpouring that invites the human gaze and deepened appreciation of the power of strokes in degrees of gradation. A disciple of the Master Bikash Bhattacharya, Sanjay’s prowess is his devotion to the sheet of paper that lies before him.

Other than a brilliant foreword by Aman Nath and an introduction by Ratnottama Sengupta,  the book opens with watercolours, the myriad moods of colonial Calcutta and the soft strokes that bring alive decadent windows and doors, the silky thread of a cobweb, the silhouette of Lord Krishna against a terracotta-tinted window with a Gothic arch and a panoramic spread of the scene at the Benares ghats. 

Amongst artists from Govt College of Arts Kolkata, Sanjay’s works registers between realms of realistic as well as quasi-abstract forms as each work builds with the ingenuity of form. The scale of strokes in this culling brings us nearer the closer toned intervals of perceptions and perspectives, some of the forms are as easily related to music as the idea of contours in a context of variations. As an artist, Sanjay can direct small or large forms, ordering and arranging them at will; and one is drawn by the joyousness of the moment.

If his Calcutta works seep in the memories of yesteryear with nostalgia-dipped in the pillars and arches, he gives us Mumbai with its penchant for the old English flavour. But it is his Jaisalmer works created on trips with art historian Aman Nath that are a heady delight for its silent beauty and its aesthetic of proportions. Sanjay’s fascination for the dunes and village nuances become the genesis of his sojourn. Limp and lithe strokes of translucency vie with the dense form of the goats in the work while the human figures of the Rajasthani woman and her son become a faded lighter shadow. The thatched hut created in the hot warmth of the Jaisalmer heat is manifested in an incessant subtle candour that mirrors an indigenous manifestation of minimalism.

The contrast in the panoramic work and the Jaisalmer watercolours reflect that Sanjay abandoned the traditional mode and made his own painting surfaces out of the whiteness of the sheet of paper using earth and muted colours. Through his representations of the rural everyday life of the village community, Sanjay becomes one of the most significant and influential painters of the 21st century. Then there is the window with a lantern, a work that contains a lyricism that is latent with nostalgia. 

Technique and the lucidity of line become the high points of his aesthetic as he gives us a window that brings back Satyajit Ray times and films. The flat use of colour and the simplicity of intent create a counterpoint that is charismatic and characteristic. The last chapter on drawings is yet another heady offering. But don’t get me wrong, this artist has always been master of the line, drawings for him have always been more than just curiosities, sometimes of the scene or of an interesting person or of a mood or a story. These drawings  created in the flat mould with sinuous lines and curves are more for fervour, to let his creative juices flow, an attempt at a serious amalgam of  narratives and lines in art. 

The stories of the past are as stimulating as a sketchbook — sometimes Bhattacharyya uses the stroke to embellish a curve and it just nestles up so cosily next to the lithe stroke of the human femme that it seems to belong there.

Bhattacharya plays about with his sketching tools that include  pen and ink rather than a pencil, and what ensues are the magic of  the cloud effect of smudgy graphite, ink pens, and paint as if he has given us a palette of more complex effects. 

The drawings in the book are  more a tapping on one of these tools in the artist’s menu to fetch up several more menus full of detailed settings, to control the tapering shape of each stroke or how the mind as a tool reacts to the simulated graininess of the watercolour paper you’re drawing on. Simple strokes and fleshed out little forms control the intensity and size of each new stroke that signifies new ground for this master from the Bengal School.

Everything unwraps in the idea of layered imagery – as if he drew different effects on sheets and controlled how they all added together in the final images. Designed seamlessly by the photographer and graphic genius Sanjib Sen, this book on Sanjay Bhattacharyya is a catalyst for a conversation even over a cocktail.

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