Artists

Published in The Times of India, 1958, p. 7

One of Delhi’s most non-conforming artists is, paradoxically enough, among the capitals enviably placed portrait painters. Even in his commissioned work, however, Biren De says as much about himself as about the sitter and always manages to say it in an agreeable manner. He owes his success to his talent and to his luck.

De had his first stroke of luck when as a student he earned expulsion from the government art school, Calcutta. For id his Principal then had ignored De’s adolescent audacity, the student would have, in due course, outgrown it and shaped into a potential gold medallist and there would have been an end of his career.

By refusing to draw as he was told to, De took a serious risk. But at his age any risk was worth taking. He at once decided to look at the world differently, and to paint it as he found it. He had his next stroke of luck when he arrived in Delhi with no plans but full of ideas. It was there where he received his first major assignment with the help of his host and admirer; architect John Terry who introduced him to Sir Maurice Gwyer, the Vice-Chancellor of University of Delhi.

Sir Maurice taking a sympathetic interest in De’s dreams, asked him to paint murals ay the new Convocation Hall. No subject was prescribed, no style or size. The artist was expected to be the sole judge of his own creative impulses and limitations. All that he was told was to sum up in his compositions the spirit behind university education in general. What eventually emerged from his brush was a series of four panels, by no standards significant except as an earnest endeavour of an inspired artist. This happened many years ago, and De has since achieved much.

De’s work at its best has a striking individuality about it. The line has a rhythmic flow, the palette, a warm sensuousness and the composition, a touch of spontaneity. He has no interest in any fashionable formulas, nor has he any use for traditional moulds, despite the classic poise and proportions of his athletic looking figures. His attitude towards modern art is rightly intellectual and is in contrast to the irritating affections of most of his Indian confreres.

Essentially, he is Indian, both in inspiration and imagery, though his accents may sound strange. Even his abstract compositions are in the best tradition of Indian decoration, though the eclectic synthesis that he achieves conceals his indigenous influences. While rejecting everything repetitive, whether Eastern or Western, he tries to evolve a vocabulary based on his own equipment and experience.

But De’s portraits, which are artistically as satisfying as his other work, reveal a different state of mind and a different set of values. Here he never sacrifices likeness for the sake of some vague, half-baked abstraction, nor does he merely reproduce likeliness; he animates it. Few artists in India can paint such intensely vital portraits as De does. For his mastery in this genre, he openly acknowledges his debt to Augustus John.

Published in The Times of India, 1958, p. 7
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