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Close to Events (Works of Bikash Bhattacharjee)

Close to Events (Works of Bikash Bhattacharjee)
Item Code: IDC207
Author: Manasij Majumder, Foreword by M F. Husain
Publisher: Niyogi Books
Edition: 2007
ISBN: 9788189738242
Pages: 250 (Illustrated Throughout In Full Color)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 12.5" X 10.0"
From the Jacket

Launching his creative career in the late 50s, Bikash Bhattacharjee stood out among his contemporaries by making hard-edged chiseled realism the core appeal of his canvases when realism or naturalism of every shade was considered a retrograde trend. Bikash’s strengths were his exceptional technical mastery and his power to charge the tangible appearance of the surface with the reality of the depth beneath. He was admired not merely for the near-illusionist evocation of realistic details, but for the obvious or subtle distortions in his imagery as a key to their complex multi-layered meanings. His realistic idiom is fascinatingly robust and compulsive, laced with rich irony, strong-veined allegory and lush visual metaphors. His portrait-based images enact the artist’s own experience of our time with all its dark social and moral tones and textures.

Close to Events: Works of Bikash Bhattacharjee deals with Bikash’s early life in an old North Calcutta locality, the urban social ambience that shaped his creative personality and explores why he chose to remain ‘close to events’ and free from the dominant trends in post-Independence Indian art. It also analyses the technical and stylistic development of art with detailed exposition of some of the themes and subjects in the major series of his paintings.

Manasij Majumder is a well known name in the field of art writing in India. He started out as a lecturer in English in a college affiliated to Calcutta University, but throughout his teaching career he wrote regularly on Art, Theatre, Dance and various other cultural events in a number of newspapers and magazines, notably Hindustan Standard, Desh, Sanandam The Telegraph and Ananda Bazaar Patrika. After retiring as Reader in English, he now continues to write on Art, profiling artists, introducing catalogues and exhibitions as well as full-length studies of several major artists. He writes regular Theatre reviews for Ananda Bazaar Patrika, and is a good hand at polemical writing. Among his major Art books are Sakti Burman, Dreamer on the Ark and Art Moves, Works by Sunil Das.

Publisher’s Note

It was a pleasant day in January 2005. I was at Rustom E. Daroga’s house, staring unblinkingly at a painting on the wall, instinctively drawn to it as I would be to an experience that moves me. It was by Bikash Bhattacharjee. Called Morning, in the midst of the baseline emerged a head like the rising sun. Shortly thereafter, research on another book took me to the Amar Mahal Museum in Jammu and Kashmir. One of the exhibits was eye-catching, and at a second glance, heart-rending as well: a mother appeared to be watcing over her children from heaven, as it were. This painting was part of Bikash Bhattacharjee’s well-known Doll series executed in 1972. A couple of days later, I was to see yet another Bikash Bhattacharjee masterpiece: a portrait of Dr. Karan Singh and his wife Smt. Yasho Rajya Lakshmi, in their living room.

Was this serial encounter with Bikash Bhattacharjee’s work a sheer coincidence or was there a larger design yet to manifest itself?

A month hence, I happened to be in Calcutta and found myself taken up by a six-panel mural at the Park Hotel: two ladies sunning a quilt on the terrace balcony, on a winter morning; a girl looking through a window by the spiritual light while pigeons dot the parapet; children frolicking on a hot summer day; a rickshaw-puller wending his way through a water-clogged street in Calcutta on a rainy day; Durga Puja being held, in early autumn, in a grand old but ramshackle mansion; the second Hooghly Bridge by a dull autumn day.

An entire lifecycle depicted metaphorically through the changing light in each panel, the mural was evocative of Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. I was tempted to call it The Six Seasons.

Back in Delhi a week later, I ran into Sanjay Bhattacharya at the Aryan Art Gallery. Sanjay asked me if I would be interested in doing a book on the oeuvre of Bikash Bhattacharjee.

Suddenly all the chance-encounters of the last 3 months seemed to make sense.

We met at Sanjay’s studio to discuss the book, and he very kindly rung up Parbatidi, Bikash Bhattacharjee’s wife, in Calcutta, to fix up a meeting. In hindsight it was more than a meeting-it was a turning point for me.

On the given day at the appointed hour, my colleagues Chitra and Utpal Shome, and I found ourselves in Bikash Bhattacharjee’s calm and quiet living room. In a short while, the grand master clad in a white pyjama-kurta, was wheeled in very affectionately and caringly by his wife.

He knew about the book and while he warned up to the idea, Parbatidi spoke to us of the paintings by her husband that adorned the walls of the living room. He listened to her intently, his mind churning out fresh ideas that would never make it to the canvas: the hands could no longer wield the brush.

Delighted by now at the idea of the book, he, however, gently reminded us of many artists breathing their last shortly before any definitive monograph was published on them. of course, we made light of the affair little knowing that he had drawn up a prophecy.

Of the many names that we suggested to him as the prospective author of book, he handpicked Manasij Majumder. The writing was expected to get underway in six months.

Bikash Bhattacharjee and Parbatidi hand-held us, especially Chitra Shome through the making of the book and gave invaluable suggestions and inputs including the technical details of each painting.

By late September 2006, we were ready with the first cut of Close to Events: Works of Bikash Bhattacharjee and presented it to him shortly before the Frankfurt Book Fair 2006. What he saw may have initially seemed like a blur for tears welled up in his eyes. He held the first cut lovingly as though it were a child, expressing the desire to have a book launch on 22 December 2006, for his son and daughter were expected to be in the country with him and Parbatidi at the time.

We needed to take the first cut now to the final cut.

On 19 November 2006, art lovers were in for a shock.

Bikash Bhattacharjee had a cerebral stroke. Suddenly all attention was focused on nursing him back to health. Nothing seemed more inhuman than to press the family for details on the book during such trying times. In the circumstances, we carried forward our work to the best of our ability, hoping he would pull through. Alas, such was not to be.

After a month-long battle for life, on 18 December 2006 at 9 am at Belle Vue Nursing Home, Bikash Bhattacharjee breathed his last, surrounded by his family. He was cremated the same day.

I was on my way back from Germany when I received the news, and wanted to visit Parbatidi and her children. I was asked to wait for a couple of days.

On 20 December, I arrived I Calcutta and headed straight for Bikash Bhattacharjee’s house. Nothing seemed to have changed. I met Parbatidi in the same living room, and I looked in the direction of the space Bikash Bhattacharjee had occupied in this room when I had first met him. I almost expected him to join us.

After a few minutes of absolute stillness, Parbatidi told me about her husband’s last days. For her he was still around, for he lived in his work. I listened to her wrapped up in my own memories of the grand master. It was a short meeting.

As the moment of my departure drew close, we knew that we had found common ground-keeping Bikash Bhattacharjee alive in his work.

In Close to Events: Works of Bikash Bhattacharjee the painter is omnipresent, and I hope the reader shall embrace the experience of being guided through the pages of this monograph by the grand master himself.


A preface is the last thing that the author writes and expects the reader to read as the first article in the book. There is a scholarly confusion about, and mistrust in, what the preface claims to do-say what is coming up in the text the follows. What it actually does, since it is written as the last piece, is say all about what has already gone before. So the scholars would like to call it post-face, not preface.

But mine is, nevertheless, a preface in which the author says something not after the book is written but before the reader is going to read it. There is no need to tell him what the book is all about-a task best done by the title and the visual text. An art book has in this sense a unique advantage over all other kinds of books in which the reading text holds the centre stage even when profusely illustrated. Especially an art book introducing and interpreting a major artist of our time. Every time I have treated such a subject, I have felt as though I come between the artist and is audience. For, thanks to the print technology of today, the principal and the most attractive content of the book are the excellent reproductions of the artist’s works. The reader can himself read the visual text minimally aided by the basic information provided about the painter and his works. But why should a text of 33,000 words interfere with the reader’s direct enjoyment of the pictures, many of which are quite familiar to the regular habitué of the Indian art scene of the last three or four decades?

There are good reasons why any Indian artist, especially an artist like Bikash has to be written about extensively for readers both at home and abroad. Indian art scene today is poised on the threshold of a new era of riding piggyback on a rapi9dly expanding art market. Indian contemporary art is attracting more and more people who were complete strangers to the art world till the other day. The primary draw, of course, are occasional news reports of big money exchanging hands at auction sales of Indian art and of events mounting Indian artists in the wide world abroad from San Francisco to Singapore. But the process also generates a good deal of genuine interest in the art of our time. More and more people are now keen to know and understand contemporary art, often as part of efforts to cope with their own time. They include young collectors as well as those who can afford to buy art only in prints and reproductions and they want to read lucid exegetic texts about art and artworks.

Bikash, like many artists of his generation, as I have already said, is a special case. He has painted compulsive images of our familiar reality, the faces of our time portraits of life lived in the last few decades since Independence, but seen with a discreet probing eye. As a result, each frame he paints contains a rich, complex, critiquing and sometimes hermetic text that needs close reading. Much of the book I have written is, therefore, taken up with detailed references to the subject/content of his imagery, adding to the bulk of the text. Even then that covers only a fraction of the vast body of Bikash’s works created over four decades. My only satisfaction is that I have been able to discuss some of is major works whether as a series or as individual canvases.

Interpreting the works of artists like Bikash is a task that no art-writer worth his salt can avoid on the plea that meaning varies from individual to individual and therefore should be left to the viewer’s own response. No artist is worth his reputation if his works say the same thing to all the viewers all the time. The meaning of a good painting never stays static with well-defined contours but remains anchored in a nebula of suggestiveness. This ambience of suggestiveness gets across differently to different viewers especially after a generation switch.

A host of contemporary events, socio-economic and political, had direct bearings upon the canvases when Bikash painted them but those events rapidly recede far into the past with every new generation coming up, especially after the great divide in recent history marked by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of globalization. Any exegetic text has to locate the meaning of the works in the contemporary context without tying them down to it. The future generations of viewers will definitely benefit from the contemporary response to Bikash’s works. Nevertheless an art audience will always enjoy the freedom to read an artwork any which way they like. I have often ignored the artist’s own understanding of his works or his intended meaning evidently encapsulated in the titles. What Bikash painted as a sheer fantasy may acquire for an audience a decade later very definite social connotations in a changed context.

Close to Events: Works of Bikash Bhattacharjee takes us through the world half-created and half-perceived in the paintings of one of the most gifted contemporary artists of India. Since I want readers to join me-not necessarily only art cognoscenti but also those with nothing more than an intelligent interest in art-I have chosen a path not laid across territories of new-fangled art theories, jagged with abstract jargons leading to an esoteric goal. Noting is tougher than to write a text on art that makes a good easy read and my best reward, therefore, will be if the reader, while leafing through the book, get hooked by the words as well.


Publisher’s Note12
1Spring in the Old City: The Formative Yeas19
2Character and Individuality-A Dialectic61
3Think of the Subject First95
4Many Faces of Eve137
5Scripting Social Reality185

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