Bhabhesh Sanyal - born in Dibrugarh in Assam in 1904 - grew up in the midst of bamboo groves and bush hillscapes. His inner desire to move out of the land of his birth eventually drifted him to Lahore in 1929 as a young trained artist from Calcutta, proficient in the arts of sculpture as well as painting.
His inborn love for nature often took him to Kangra and Kulu to delight in the serene beauty of these valleys. In the landscapes that he painted there, he expressed his deep responses to the mood of nature. Sanyal, though working with great facility, had produced competent portraits with a strong feeling for the suffering humanity, his periodical spurts of longing for being one with nature confined to preoccupy his interest in landscapes. Even after the Partition of India in 1949, when he moved to Delhi, the rivers in and all around the suburban landscape of Delhi inspired him to lay a different punctuation on the content and significance of landscape. A few touches of bright colours, suggesting village women add an element of life into his landscapes. This in fact reflects his deep feeling for humanity and become symbols of delight in the simple dignity of the rural folk.
Sanyal’s interest in landscapes or, I would say, the mystery of nature, has not only continued but in fact increased. He has been regularly visiting his old haunt in Andretta, in Kangra Valley, to feel the intoxication of nature for an inner or spiritual peace and where he has recently painted a large number of masterly works in oils and water colours. His latest works in water colours were exhibited in New Delhi recently.
It is a great joy for all of us who have known Sanyal for nearly four decades now, that at his age of 83, he continues to feel a great infatuation with his work. He undoubtedly achieves an unconscious rhythmic quality in his works and captures the life spirit in the forms and characteristics of the hills and valleys of Kangra, his first love for a long time. His hills and valleys, sometimes placid and broad, sometimes sharp and ragged, are full of varying beauty of movement and connected rhythms. The heights, depths and surfaces of the forms of the hills and mountains are spontaneously transformed into curves, dots, dashes and colour washes merging into the overall scene of a place which always is an imaginative spot emerging out of the impact of his environment and surroundings.
As he says, “I start out with nothing in my mind, but when the spirit begins to move the brush, forms of hills, mountains, clouds, trees, fields and paths present themselves on appear as a circumstance of the moment. And soon, with the rapid movement of the brush, the scene seems to manifest itself better than the actual scene.”
Sanyal’s recent landscapes possess an elevated refinement and are marked by structural elegance, as in ‘Fluidity’, ‘A Glimpse’ and ‘Lighter Hue’ where the structure and mood is built through highly spontaneous brush work. These are based on the principles of calligraphy - a spontaneous and rapid use of brush - depicting a life movement inherent in the forms of nature. They possess an archaic simplicity, richness and vibrancy in colour and atmosphere and are executed with great ease and effortlessness. The undulations of hill forms, rocks and trees, though each having its own shape, together possess a related unity. The harmony has been recreated with the force of movement at a creative moment. His hand and mind and brush and colour seem to have cooperated to produce some highly inspired works. The rhythmic movement seems to have flowed out from him generously and freely without any obstruction and deliberation. He has put a dot here and a dash there and the objects seem to take form.
The brush strokes are masterly laid and vary according to the fancies of the movement without any stiffness or slapdash freedom and thus create a better sense of stability. His ‘Drama in Sky’, ‘Evening Glow’ and ‘Approaching Sunset’ are masterly examples of his inspired handling of the brush loaded with the media. The gathering clouds or changing clouds with infinite variations of movements are executed with harmony, poise and calm. The clouds neither depict a form nor any substance but a movement, a flight.
In his ‘Waves and Mist’, ‘Dark Mountains’, ‘Mist and Mountains’, ‘In Patchy Colour’, and ‘Floating Mountains’, he achieves an extraordinary rhythmic content and the right disposition and proportion with uninhibited freedom. The hill tops vary but are orderly and so are the tree forms. The clouds and rocks steep into a vapour atmosphere enhancing the drama of nature.
The branches cross and recross one another, while the tree trunks go straight up with and firm strokes of the brush as in ‘Sketchy View’, ‘Dream View’, ‘Temple Tree’, and ‘Garden Corner’. His ‘Distant Peak’ is a fine picture of a valley with few sparse rows of trees to lead to the distant hills-done without much detail yet full of suggested beauty. Sanyal is a master in suggesting forms without details and create an effect which is not drab or common. The variations in colour and tone giving a suggestion of location and depth and forming a natural scene comes not from the brush but from the mind moving along with guiding the brush in perfect control.
The compositional schemes have been achieved with a great insight. The mountains, clouds, mist hills and plains are inter-related and unified by one general rhythmic movement all over the format of the picture and organised into a cohesive whole - compact and natural -achieving a balance in form and mood. The landscapes have the flavour of his experience and expression of - his mind.
When the heart is seized with passion, the beautiful hues and colours flow out from the tip of the brush as if guided by a mysterious force, capturing and recording an exquisite impulse in every mark it makes on paper. Sanyal’s works reveal an inimitable ease and mastery in the use of brush.