Where life tells its stories in mellow tones

Talented artists have often chosen to be cartoonists or illustrators, for various reasons, among which the monitory factor cannot be wished away, especially if the publication or institution is well known. However, not every artist can aspire to such a career unless he or she has some special traits. Of these the first and foremost requirement is to have a command over drawing, followed by general knowledge and a sense of humour. Being up to date with current trends and news is a necessity. India has bred and nurtured a large number of talented artists, whose names have become synonymous with the publications in which their creations have been published. Among these is Debabrata Chakrabarti, whose illustrations appear regularly in one of India’s earliest and highly respected newspapers, The Statesman. A talented artist, Debabrata is not only known as an illustrator, but also as an art critic and curator, an author of books and for his special column (usually full of humour) in the Bengali version of The Statesman.

I had met Debabrata some years ago when he was in Delhi as one of the participating members of an art camp. While I was familiar with his illustrations, but for a couple of works at a group exhibition, I had never had the opportunity of seeing his work in entirety. I heard about his ninth solo exhibition titled ‘Then and Now’ at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kolkata, and was just in time to make it on the very last day and was really happy to have had this opportunity. Debabrata’s works in acrylics had been mounted in the foyer, which to my mind seemed the wrong place for the work of such a talented artist. But as someone pointed out, everyone who entered could not fail to see the show.

My first impression of Debabrata’s work was his use of a mellow colour palette. One could see a definite influence both in colour and imagery that seemed to link him with the style of the celebrated and reclusive Ganesh Pyne. It was much later that I read in his catalogue that Debabrata had indeed been influenced by Pyne during his student days, but let me hasten to add, that it does in no way diminish Debabrata’s work, which is unique in its dreamlike quality.

His fantasy world includes mermaids, floating under water or appearing on the surface as in ‘She’. There is also one that shows a hawk hovering menacingly above the sea, in which we can spy a mermaid oblivious of the hovering bird, relaxing underwater among shoals of fish. Among Debabrata’s best creations are The Warrior and his two Dreamscapes. The portrait of ‘Ramkinkar’ is unique in its concept. It shows the famous artist’s face, with an anguished expression, through a wash of dripping ochre paint — but nothing is clear and the dreamlike quality remains. Also worth seeing is The Magic Carpet, which features a boy enjoying a ride on a floating carpet — truly a child’s dream.

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

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