Keshav Malik essays

What was Prodosh Das Gupta like, as person? At the least he was unlike several other artists. A powerful intellect, a massive, overpowering personality, and yet shy. curious, susceptible, confiding. All his life he was sternly faithful both to the soil that gave him birth as well to art in a most authentic sense. He had wondrous capacity for the close 'reading' of art works as well as the gift of synthesizing ideas. This last proved fruitful in his own creations, which are both local as well as universal. He had at the same time, a marvelous sensitivity in verbal phrasing. And this we note in his reflections on plastic art, on music, the other performing arts, as well as literature.

What is sometimes called quality in art, he could recognize instantly, even of a kind that, in principle, ought to have been foreign to him. This speaks for his power of sympathetic insight into his fellow artists' souls. No wonder his sizeable notes on art (as well as his poems), which are most lucidly written. In effect Prodosh Das was an educated artist, without becoming a manifesto writing pedant or prig. The books he read shaped him, quite unlike no few oilier artists of the clay, who never touch a book. But though he had a clairvoyant insight into art and aesthetics, these crystallized into no narrow theory. Rather, what he made of ideas were highly original formulations. The word 'modern' in his hands had true connotations, it never became a fashion tag, as so often in overly self conscious artists. His ideas on art were never random, but aids in favour of artistic practice.

His study of form in art, led him to reflect on musical rhythm, especially considering that he was primarily a sculptor. In considering sculpture, which is essentially an affair of solid forms, the word rhythm imposed itself on him inevitably. Here is observed a different emotional process, than in music, and accordingly of a different emotional or aesthetic emphasis. Unlike a painter, who may apply heavy paint on canvas to give the illusions of solid form on a flat surface, the sculptor is actually handling and manipulating the forms of a solid material which can be seen from all sides. This is how Prodosh Das pressed into shape hard substance - like claw cement, stone or bronze. He would cut away at the material till the imagined form was seen. Thus his many 'mother and child' compositions, and indeed also his collages of newspapers. These too give out the same solid feel compellingly. Especially his 'egg' shapes are marvelous. Here the artist was dealing with an extra hard material but yet in which forms were so well designed that they accommodated all points of view.

All arts are conditioned by their material, as said above, and Prodosh Das had such close understanding of each material that he seemed to be finding tactile pleasure from all of them. In his paper ink drawings etc., he would be light as a bird on wings; lie also enjoyed the various textures of a material quite as a painter may. The sculptor, responding to the different qualities or feel of the material, his ideas on art too appear to have been effected by their characteristic properties, so that his works in clay are conceived only in terms of clay and never in stone. For him to copy it in stone would have been unthinkable. In other words, he was eminently ethical, self-disciplined. With him it was that Indian sculpture emerged from its imitative phase into a period of new creative art. Only Ram Kinker Baij and Devi Prosad Roy Choudhury were his spiritual kin.

Now even when several of Prodosh Das' works are vehicles of ideas they are, in one root sense, abstract in essence, such as his Twisted Form of 1953, a work in bronze. Here is a work which does not represent or attempt anything seen in nature, and yet, paradoxically is inspired by nature. One might say, it is distilled from a love of curving forms, even of human forms in rhythmic postures as his monumental bronzes Swyamukhi (1978), Broken Idol (1070). So that the artist's comments about cubes and cones and cylinders seem to receive sculptural confirmation in his actual compositions. These have a geometrical basis, quite as in ancient reliefs, say in Ellora. At the best of moments Prodosh Das delights us, especially in curvilinear and ovoid forms (Suryamukhi), and as appear to be exploring the fascinating rhythmic possibilities that arise from the carving of these, and as also the piercing of them with curved hollows (Convexo-Concave) whose supple continuity offers to the eye delightful sequences of suave shapes from any point of view. Here one is reminded of the smooth sea worn pebbles, but there is an immense difference. The sculptor's work is not the result of natural accident, but of the most sensitive awareness of the beauty of pure forms expressed in terms of superlative craftsmanship.

All our younger artists who wish to develop an understanding of the underlying elements of such forms, and the rhythms that govern art, should see his work and compare it with today's whimsical creativity. The power of non-representational form can be learnt not only from good painting but equally from a sculpture like his own.

His works, both figurative or otherwise, are entirely free of the violent distortions of forms that are such a stumbling block to many people's understanding of the present day art scenario. Prodosh's art could be contemplated without the intrusion of any disturbing thoughts, quite as seen in Hellenic sculpture. Indeed meditation is what the sculptures of Prodosh's vintage demand.

One cannot hurry over them. They are often serene and poised, and vet they are also so intensely alive with a tension produced by the balance of internal stresses and gestures of form. This way Prodosh Das created some admirable vital constructions in space. These suggest the inherent energies and lines of movement or such things as the flight of a bird, the sweep of a dancer's skirt, or the swell of a sail leaning before the wind. This sort of work is symptomatic of the tendency among artists to discard the actual evidence of the forces in nature, in an attempt to symbolize them in new ways - as basic impulses in themselves.

Interpreting Prodosh Das' work, then, is a matter of degrees, and of a point of view. In looking this or any other way a sculptor's work nevertheless requires that he not only exercise the eye, but also the mind's eye. The latter serves us even as we travel back in time to an artist's earliest efforts and then on to his maturest phases. In this ease, the artist himself acknowledged his debut to ancient Indian as also world art. The viewer too has got to do the same.

In his figurative and ink drawings, Prodosh Das Gupta has been able to reveal the energy in the human figure by his own unique emphases, stresses and gestures. It is how some of his works become impressive, powerful and moving, like the 'Woman and Child' series. If his Mother and Child have resemblance to an actual mother and child, the sentiment is conveyed with great artistic conviction. Thus Prodosh Das reveals the full beauty of the material in almost pure abstract forms.

Among the artist's foremost works are also the Egg Dance or the Egg Family. Here we have a formalized, or ritualized dancing. The figure in them are as if under possession, else are expressive of the human warmth, and of closeness. In Halves (1979), the artist worked cubistic forms which are heavy in appearance Such works stand for a kind of dialectic of contrary forces, and of a final synthesis. The Lying Amazon (1990) works out the form of 'superwoman', and which in effect is certainly most commanding.

Well, this is the way an excellent and educated artist's works go. And they go the way they do because he was moved both by the travails of the human lot, and by its aspirations. The artist reacted strongly against the decay that has set in modern life despite mankind's great achievements thanks to technology. Prodosh Das was not fooled by outer glitter. He, on the contrary, had the power to contemplate, and be struck hard by the awesome surrounding universe, and had no wish to conquer it. Indeed he was most repelled by the desecration of the face of the moon by an inhuman boot. This happening symbolized to him the return of barbarism, even in an age of much outward progress. So that his works represent love, the humane values and an affection for fellow men; for him no man was a stranger.

Now though Prodosh Das was a devotee of Leonardo da Vinci, this was not slavishly so. The cold scientific spirit of mere curiosity that makes mankind a detective was not for him. Rather, as true artists will, he praised Leonardo's art, but was silent as to that geniuses demonic power to think up mechanical gadgets. This way lay danger - the arrogance of power that desecrates the human heart. It is for this reason perhaps that his 'woman and child' series of works represents the maternal instinct so often. The ground of life for him was - to repeat love, and not feelingless knowledge.

In this particular value alone should be read the personal nature of this artist. His head and heart were in a true wedlock, and which in turn implies sanity on earth. The artist did not of course say this openly and yet that alone is his true credo.

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