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Modern Bengal on canvas: Calcutta Painters return to Delhi

By Madhusree Chatterjee | PUBLISHED: 16, Dec 2011, 15:42 pm IST | UPDATED: 16, Dec 2011, 15:42 pm IST

Modern Bengal on canvas: Calcutta Painters return to Delhi New Delhi: The Calcutta Painters - a group of 28 artists which has been trying to break free of the traditional language of the Bengal school of art - has made a historic comeback to the capital after 47 years with a group exposition of contemporary Bengal art.

The group, which describes itself as a follow-on of the Calcutta Group, the first progressive artists' amalgam formed in 1943 before independence to explore a contemporary yet indigenous idiom in modern Indian art, had exhibited in the capital in 1964 - the year it was created by the likes of Bengal contemporary pioneers like Prokash Karmakar, Rabin Mondal and Bijan Chowdhury.

The exhibition is on from Dec 14-28 at the Lalit Kala Akademi.

"We pick up from where the Calcutta Group left off in 1943 - in our endeavour to break away from the traditions of Bengal school. The association is an offshoot of the Society of Contemporary Artists of Kolkata that brought together leading contemporary Bengali painters to script a freewheeling artistic language in 1960. Four years later, the society split to form the Calcutta Painters," veteran journalist-turned-artist Barun Roy, a senior member of the Calcutta Painters, said.

In 1964, the exhibition was hosted by the All India Fine Arts and Crafts Society in the capital.

"The inspiring spirit behind the first exhibition of Calcutta Painters was Nikhil Biswas, a brilliant contemporary artist, who faced an untimely death (in Sri Lanka in 1966)," Roy said.

The members' line-up of the Calcutta Painters in 2011 is a mixed bag - doyens like Prokash Karmakar, Niren Sengupta, Jogen Chowdhury, Rabin Mondal, Wasim Kapoor, Isha Mohammed and Bijan Chowdhury lend a relatively younger group of contemporary artists like Tapan Ghosh, Sudip Banerjee, Subhabrata Nandi and Sushanta Chakraborty a critical platform and space for exchange and co-existence.

The art on display reflects the experience and an experimental zeal - that deconstructs and simplifies conventional forms to reunite them in new abstract and innovative ways - in a post-modernist style.

The emphasis of the Calcutta Painters is on vibrant and thick colours - unlike the traditional Bengal school that was characterised by muted and a pastel palette in which the colours merged seamlessly into each other. While the traditional Bengali artists of the early 1900s relied on water colours and techniques like colour wash, tempera and gouache, the artists belonging to the Calcutta Painters use acrylic, colour markers and thick oil pigments at times to stand out from their artistic ancestors.

While Anita Roy Chowdhury's works, "From the Air" and "Raining Sunlight" - two oil paintings - are colourful carnivals of impressionistic natural shapes on canvas, Barun Roy's untitled works are deconstructed geometrical forms in thick acrylic paints on canvas.

Senior artist Dhiraj Chowdhury's "Poet of the Earth" is an abstract rendition of Rabindranath Tagore's visage encased in a chaos of random lines and strokes.

"Our style is western neo-impressionistic - a rather loose version. We consciously encourage the use of colours to express feelings as colour is a powerful medium of expression. The approach is deconstruction - going beyond the form and then reconstructing it," Roy explained.

The group which has been experimenting with style and medium for the last 47 years has steered clear of digital art. "We are not ultra-experimental - we still don't subscribe to free-for-all art. However, younger artists like Subroto Ghosh have been influenced by American pop art. Our motto is to create something that teases the viewers' imagination," Roy said.

The older artists help the newcomers to the group with critical appraisal - while allowing their imagination to have a free play. "We decide with our experience whether they have a future in the group," artist Dwijen Gupta, who has found himself a platform through the Calcutta Painters, said.

The group, which is preparing for a major travelling exhibition on its 50th anniversary in 2014, is also collaborating with artists from Bangladesh to host a joint exhibition of works themed on Tagore in 2012 to mark his 150th birth anniversary, Gupta said.