Calcutta Painters: Going with the flow

At the city’s Dhoomimal Art Centre, artworks of the Calcutta Painters, one of the oldest art collectives of India, are on display, celebrating 60 years of artistic expression
Calcutta Painters: Going with the flow

In January 1964, Calcutta Painters, an artists’ collective, had an exhibition at the AIFACS gallery in Delhi. The collective has come full circle, celebrating its 60th anniversary through an exhibition in the same city where they had held an exhibition to mark their first. The exhibition features various artworks by nine members of the collective, second-generation modernists in Indian visual art.

“Before the Calcutta Painters, there was the Progressive Artists’ Group (started in 1947) in Bombay and Calcutta (Paritosh Sen was a founder member), which wanted to break away from revivalist and romantic art and encourage an Indian avant-garde,” says Subrata Ghosh, the collective’s secretary.

“They looked towards the West for inspiration and borrowed their techniques. However, some felt they needed to keep the ‘Indianness’ intact. Thus, Group Eight came together in 1964, which later became the Calcutta Painters.”

The sea stories

Ghosh, a member of the collective for the past 18 years, paints various manifestations of the sea and its connection to mankind.

“In 2022, I visited the Marc Chagall Museum in Paris and saw his 107 works from the Bible, which beautifully captured Noah’s Ark. This was eye-opening for me, as I related it to Manu from Hindu mythology,” he says. Ghosh believes that the story of human existence resonates similarly across religions. Just as Noah saved mankind from the Biblical flood, Manu, according to mythology, also saved the seven sages and essential seeds of life. This served as the inspiration for Ghosh’s ‘Kayak’, which portrays waves, a boat and human figures. Ghosh is of the view that Paris has inspired many great minds.

“The prehistoric site of Brittany, at the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, has megalithic monuments, which are one of the first signs of mankind’s existence,” he adds.

The site dates back to 4,800 BC to 3,500 BC. Radio carbon dating confirms that hunter-gatherers, who were also sailors, initiated the earliest European Stone Age civilisation here. Ghosh’s ‘Fisherman’ aims to capture the site’s essence and is layered to symbolise the evolution of mankind.

The river of life

Although the exhibition features artworks by nine artists, the pieces follow a common theme. Sudip Banerjee, the vice president of the collective, presents ‘Flow’, a series of paintings that portray the journey of life, comparing it to the route of a river; rocks symbolise life’s hurdles. “I am always fascinated by rivers, as I live near the Ganges. Like a river, human life has hurdles. And yet, humans continue to strive. This is what I have tried to capture,” he says.

The collective, one of the oldest in India, continues to grow with new artists joining it. Anup Mandal, a sculptor who joined in 2022, shares that this is his third exhibition with them.

This time, he has brought ‘Bioscope’, a 66 x 22 x 21-cubic inch sculpture. “Like a bioscope that shows many pictures, my creation attempts to depict the different aspects of human struggle — hunger, dissatisfaction, and hard labour,” he says. It is inspired by what he observed of his father, a farmer.

Calcutta Painters currently has nine members, with Jogen Chowdhury as the president, Sudip Banerjee as the vice president, Subrata Ghosh as the secretary, and Anup Mandal, Gautam Bhaumik, Niren Sengupta, Rakesh Sadhak, Shibaprasad Kar Chowdhury, and Sushanta Chakraborty as members.

The exhibition is on at the Dhoomimal Art Centre till March 16, 11am to 7pm.

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