In the art world, a bigger meaning to doodles, scribbles

In the art world, a bigger meaning to doodles, scribbles
FOLK FACADE: One of Gobardhan Ash’s paintings
There have been many eminent people who have turned to painting as ‘yet another form of expression’. Among the most recent is veteran actor, Soumitra Chatterjee, also known as a poet and playwright. Last week, Chatterjee’s exhibition ‘Forms Within,’ curated by Jyotimoy Bhattacharya, opened in Kolkata. Chatterjee’s style appears to be mostly figurative and offers an interesting new insight into the thoughts of this gifted personality.

Amidst a host of admirers keen to see this new avatar of the legendary actor, Chatterjee, who is known for his oratorical skills, appeared somewhat lost for words. Chatterjee who stood flanked on either side by painters Jogen Chowdhury and Rabin Mondal, admitted to being rather embarrassed to present his ‘doodles’ amidst such senior artists. Also present to encourage Chatterjee in his foray into the world of fine art were artist Suvaprasanna and actor Prasenjit Chatterjee, while film director Mrinal Sen, who was unable to attend the inauguration, sent felicitations and words of encouragement. The exhibition is being held at ICCR’s Bengal Galley on the 1st floor and will be on till September 20.

Kolkata’s Galerie 88 has a must-see exhibition ‘Landscape’, on at the moment. It features the work of Gobardhan Ash, a very special artist who arguably has never really been given his due. Born in 1907 in Begumpur, a small village in West Bengal, Ash’s interest in art manifested itself in his ‘scribbles’ as a child and in sketches as he grew older. In 1926, at the Government School of Art And Craft in Kolkata, he proved a diligent student. After graduating in 1930, chose to further hone his skills under the world-renowned sculptor, Debi Prasad Roy Chowdhuri, who was then the principal of the Government School of Art and Craft in Chennai.

His years at the art schools at Kolkata and Chennai stood him in good stead, his latent skills having been tempered by masterly teaching was just what Ash had needed. He was appointed chief artist at the Indian institute of Arts and Industry in Kolkata between 1946 and 1948. In 1953, he became a senior teacher at the Indian Art School in Kolkata, where again he remained for just 2 years. Thereafter, with the freedom to get on with his painting, Ash participated regularly at exhibitions in Calcutta, Delhi and Chennai. He was one of the co-founders of the Calcutta group of painters, who were known as the ‘rebels’ whose exhibition, ‘The Rebels’, was actually his first formal participation in a show. Thereafter, his work began to be was seen at all the annual exhibitions at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kolkata and AIFACS in New Delhi.

Ash is particularly famous for his work during the Bengal Famine — being one of the three painters who were committed to recording this part of history, the others being Zainul Abedin and Chittoprasad. In his case, the use of colour in preference to pen and ink or graphics, set his work apart from the others, and in 1985, the government even sponsored a Mumbai film company to make a film on his ‘Famine Series’.

Ash’s style which was more academic in the early stages, turned distinctly pastoral and lyrical in his later years, as he became more absorbed with the village where he chose to live. These were rendered in oils, water colour, gouache and pastels. His work can be seen at all major art museums in India. The exhibition at Gallerie 88 is on till September 28 and is well worth a visit.

(The writer is an author and a former art gallery owner)

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