Exploring a special brand of surrealism

Exploring a special brand of surrealism
­NATURE’S CALL: Amlan Dutta’s Evolution of Time
This week the focus is on summer art shows in Kolkata, where young talent appears to have the last word. Their efforts clearly show that a special brand of ‘surrealism’ is the fashion of the day. Created in the post World War II period, this style captured the imagination of a large group of painters including Max Ernst, Rene Magritte, Pierre Roy, Man Ray, Paul Delvaux, Joan Miro, Salvadore Dali and others. Each of these pioneers had a different point of view and the best way to see their work is by visiting to national art galleries and museums abroad. We briefly touch on the link between the imaginations of artists of the 1930s and 1940s and the art being created by today’s painters in India.

But what is surrealism? The creation of ‘surrealism’ brought in a new form of expression and offered artists a way of conveying thoughts and feelings through a world of fantasy. Followed dadaism, ‘surreal art’, was exactly what it means — art that is not real and may just be a figment of the painter’s imagination. If we look at the works of artists who were the pioneers in this movement, we will see that the rendering of objects in their works was carefully painted and true to life. The subjects however were not ‘true to life’ and often quite bizzare.

Andre Breton, considered the founder of surrealism ‘was considered its leader and until his death in 1967, the guardian of its purity’. Today’s painters appear to be on the right track and are in fact following what Breton had written in the 1920s in his Manifesto of Surrealism. Breton wrote, “We are still living under the rule of logic ... under the pretext of progress we have managed to banish from the mind anything which could be accused rightly or wrongly of being superstition or fantasy ... if the depths of the human mind contain strange forces capable of reinforcing or combating those on the surface, it is in our greatest interest to capture them”.

The summer exhibition at Gallerie 88 in Kolkata, which concluded on July 14 offered the works of 10 young artists each totally different from the others —both in subject style and colour. Pappu Bardhan, the artist whose work I particularly liked, is a post-graduate from MS University, Baroda had exhibited two canvases and in his work the ‘surrealistic streak’ was clearly visible. These were large acrylic paintings of fruits or vegetables and to me they looked like enlarged potatoes. At the base of each fruit, Bardhan had opened a door from where young men and women are shown pouring out. Bardhan is on record in saying, “Under the glitz of material attractions lurk problems that riddle city life ... my paintings are an expression of my hopes and disappointments of such an urban existence”. Is he, perhaps, drawing attention to couch potatoes let loose?

Most of us know about Salvadore Dali’s obsession with timepieces. His melted watches draped over the arm of a chair or hanging from the branch of a tree, must have been shocking when painted in the 1930s, but are unlikely to bother today’s viewers. The best link we might say would be in reference to Time and refer also to Rene Magritte’s painting (1939) Time Transfixed; that hangs in the Chicago Art Institute. It shows a clock on a mantlepiece and a steam engine chugging out, from the fireplace below — steam and all. We now cut to 2009, to artist Amlan Dutta’s Evolution of Time, exhibited at the 42nd annual exhibition at the Birla Academy of Art and Culture. The painting shows old telephones spread across a sandy desert and a postcard — both items almost extinct today.

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

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