“Art is more than its form, elements and content … it is an experience.” – Prof. Anunaya Chaubey
I re-quote this here, with confidence as I have experienced it for myself. A brief interlude that it was – the visit to the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi was where it dawned upon me how much I had learned to see. From being paintings on the white walls, floor after floor – they now become pictures that have stories to tell, each with its own Lines, a different Perspective, some Volume, some Colours and of diverse Styles. When one looks at these as lessons to follow in the larger canvas of life, to see more and imbibe into one’s being, they are lessons for a lifetime.
One painting that really caught my eye was Bikas Bhattacharjee’s “At Opening Ceremony.” For want of being able to take a picture or finding it readily available in print or on the internet, I tried to choose another painting to write about. After all, it seemed difficult to choose a single art piece after having spent only a minute before each in a Gallery full of priceless works and then to further re-collect, analyse and appreciate it solely based on the power of one’s memory with all the learnings of this discourse. But the image of this painting stubbornly clung on in my memory, so I decided I would pay the NGMA another visit. This time I went straight to the 3rd floor, Wing 2 and sat myself down in front of this 91.5×92 cm canvas. Glancing at the title for a second time, I smiled to myself and thought it was a fitting title – ‘At Opening Ceremony’ had truly opened my eyes to it and to the world of the ceremony and majesty that is Art.
Bhattacharjee’s works usually depict the life of the average middle-class Bengali – their aspirations, superstitions, hypocrisy and corruption; this painting is illustrative of that. Oil on canvas with a texture that is not very smooth, what originally may seem like a lack of a finishing stroke on the work is deliberately done to keep a strong emphasis on chiaroscuro which is the highlight of the painting.
A woman who seems to be a wealthy socialite in a sleeveless green saree is about to cut a ribbon at an opening ceremony. There are silhouettes of people (mostly women) behind her, and she would be a silhouette herself had it not been for a strong beam of light coming from the top left that highlights her lips, her cleavage and her waist and hands that hold a steely sharp scissor positioned to cut the ribbon. The pouty red of her lips and the use of a yellow tinge at her neck that carves the swell of her breast and the gentle folds of her saree are subtly seductive and suggestive. The whole image had a deep Perspective too, as it is best viewed from the viewer’s far right – where one clearly sees the woman in the centre standing a little ahead of the people gathered behind her. The use of Colour is minimal – values of green and grey, with a splash of red (lips) or gold (a sharply defined bracelet) and white to carve out objects dominate the canvas. A striking factor is also that her eyes are completely in the dark – like black lifeless sockets set against the vital and bright red of her lips.
Realism with a master-stroke in the play of light is the distinctive style in this painting – Bhattacharjee is credited with bringing back realism to Indian art when most artists were leaning towards abstraction and distortion of figures. The painting carries with it a mysterious aura, of a story. Real and strong that it is, it could almost be stirred from a subconscious – considering the delicate prominence of the sexuality of the woman.
After for a few long moments (in fact I had lost track of time) before the painting I bid goodbye to the enigmatic lady at her Opening Ceremony albeit still perplexed, as my imagination kept forming a number of narratives that could be her story. It could have been a dream, a day dream, a figment of someone else’s imagination or a real occurrence nonetheless, but I left convinced that the painting was only a sub-plot in some larger narrative.