Somebody said that motion is at the heart of every painting by Tirthankar Biswas, which seems right if one looking at his works. The subjects are as disparate as men and women in life. Tirthankar Biswas’ works were part of the theme “Chasing dots…” at the “Desi Canvas”. Born in Naihati in 1957, he studied at the Government College of Art and Crafts, Kolkata. He has taken part in different solo and group shows in India and abroad. In an email conversation, I try to understand the artist in him.
Ashish: What is the story behind you becoming an artist?
Tirthankar Biswas (TB): I became an artist to protest against my father’s atrocities on me since I visited Bangladesh to witness the turmoil during their freedom struggle in 1971. I did that without any information or permission. As a protest, I made some cartoons on the subject of the atrocity. Within some days my father had discovered the cartoons. But this time instead of hitting me, he laughed loudly and insisted that I start drawing/painting and then admitted me to an art college in Calcutta. Eventually, I became an artist.
Ashish: What inspires you to put your energy into art?
TB: My paintings come spontaneously from the store of imagination. Since my childhood, I have gathered my imagination from the visible world as well as from non-visible feelings. The subjects of my paintings vary from “Scam Smelling Dog” to “God Giving Blessings” and from ”Female Nude” to “Terrorists Terrorised the World”. But the common denominators in my paintings are the moment, the movement and the kinetic force. It can be a sixer, hit by an energetic cricketer; it can be a deer escaping from an approaching tiger; it can be an out-posted hut from a flash flood; it can be the heads of palm trees, swinging with the monsoon wind. Sometimes I use a realistic approach, sometimes semi-realistic. Just like my subjects, I also use a variety of mediums. From diluted ink to pencil, pastel, charcoal, acrylic and oil colour depending upon the nature of the subject.
Ashish: What materials do you use in your paintings?
TB: I generally use waterproof ink (raw or diluted with water; I use the ink bottle directly instead of using a brush to draw on paper), oil colours and sometimes acrylics too.
Ashish: How have you evolved as an artist? How would you describe your journey so far?
TB: What the art critic Ratnottama Sengupta says abut me may be relevant for above question.
“Unreal! A cyclist speeding in as a blur can’t be the doodhwala! But he is, the milk-white splash off the can says so. A baul, ektara in hand, is a saffron whirl. The five figures shadowing a dog are the Pandavas on their final journey to the Himalayas. Those two figures under a tree – are they lovers, or is it a portrait of an argument? That man on a banana-stem boat – he must be out fishing, he can’t be escaping a flash flood! And what’s that splash? An archer, his bow and arrow, or the determination to conquer?
Motion is at the heart of every painting by Tirthankar Biswas. The subjects are as disparate as men and women in life. Indeed, life is what links the unpredictable images born out of meditation as much as an accident. But it’s certain from the shadowy images that the artist isn’t after reality, though you can’t classify these as abstract art. Half real half unreal, not flesh-and-blood but the distilling of a full-bodied reality that you may see, but never touch – these are inhabitants of the twilight zone where it’s never day nor ever night.
How did Tirthankar turn away from the realism that is the hallmark of the academic training at the Government College of Art in Kolkata? How come this student of Bikash Bhattacharya, known to paint portraits delectable in their fidelity to the subjects, finds joy in kinetic life? The breach with that glorious tradition came unsuspected, as Tirthankar sat in a corner watching a shadow on the wall. It unhinged a Pandora’s box of possibilities, spiritual as much as aesthetic, as the artist meditated over the reality of that unreal form.
Until then, painting was a purely personal act for Tirthankar. ‘Never paint in public, under the watchful eyes of observers,’ his masters had advised, and the instruction got embedded deep within. So while serving in an office, he could only marvel at others who carved out moments from their 9 to 5 existence to chisel a work of art. One inspired moment, Tirthankar held a nozzle to the paper and started swinging with the tube. When he took a break to look at the dots-and-lines, he found they’d acquired a life of their own!
As Tirthankar played with colours, his pen started skating on paper. Soon he found the fluidity of ink rendered it the most effective medium for capturing the movement of a shadow, its fluidity, its speed. The swiftness, spontaneity and sureness with which his hues play hide and seek with light led late critic Krishna Chaitanya to liken Tirthankar with Gopal Ghose. But watercolour, allowing no room for correction, was out of the run; so was acrylic, which fails to lose its synthetic stiffness. Once he picked the oil-based medium, creating broad sweeps with the tube as spatula, his signature style emerged like Venus out of the ocean.
Typically, Tirthankar says, ‘White paper prompts me, not a desire to comment or critique.’ However, being a social creature, our deepest thoughts and dreams and fears have to do with ourselves, our neighbours, our friends, our enemies, more so when they have taken shape. Tirthankar’s moving images are shadows of children playing, of a man on his morning walk, or a woman with her pet dog. Only, Tirthankar’s handling transforms these homely everyday situations into sheer lyric.”
Ashish: Who is/are your favourite artist(s)? And why?
TB: Although I like realistic paintings very much, my favourite artist is the late Ashesh Mitra, my teacher/mentor, who also made very good portraits besides abstract paintings. I also like the paintings of MF Hussain.
Ashish: As an artist what do you think needs to be done in order to reach out to more people?
TB: Exhibitions should be held regularly at public art galleries (also set up of more public galleries by the Government). Some NGO or other organisation should come up with the idea of regular exhibitions at parks, on the road side and other areas like metro stations with affordable art displays.
Ashish: What differences do you find in the audience of India and abroad?
TB: Awareness of art is more in western countries than in India.