Prof. PRAFULLA DUTTA GOSWAMI,
Neo-vaisnavism gave to India more than religion: it enriched the country with dance, literature and painting. Assam’s painting tradition is primarily Vaisnavite, as may be seen in works like Hastividyarnava and Samkhachura vadha. In fact, this tradition of line and colour is crying to be rehabilitated. Modern Assam has not been able yet to create a fresh tradition as vital as the medieval one. It was a revelation when Asu Dev copied some of the paintings from the seventeenth century Chitra-Bhagavata as murals in the residence of late Dr. Bhubaneswar Barua. The panels immediately caught attention by reason of the bold design, the harmony of the blue, red and yellow and a sense of realism revealed by these religious paintings of an avowedly conventional type.
Asu Dev’s preoccupation with medieval Assamese painting indicates to a certain extent the source of his inspiration. He has been born and brought up in this part of India, with its distinctive cultural tradition and attractive pattern of different types of people and varied scenes of natural beauty. In fact, Asu Dev has built up his philosophy on what is seen and perceived around him, only he adds the light that never was on sea and land to what he finds. He has been influenced by techniques, European and Indian, but he is no fashionable artist. He is too obstinate to be somebody’s show-boy. He has moved about much among the various types of people of this land of green plains and forested hills; he has observed the daily occupations of the rural folk; he has felt the play of colour and air in lonely places and altogether has developed a sympathetic communion with the background in which he has had his being. This communion has lent him a convincing and coherent vision which imposes its own pattern on the diversities and contradictions of life, and, technique or no technique; it is the avowed purpose of this painter to transfer on canvas his vision.
More than a decade ago I had written about an exhibition of paintings that he had given at Gauhati. At that time I wrote that he had been influenced by the pointillism of Seurat and the bold strokes of Van Gogh and that he dealt in a limited range of colours. In some of the paintings exhibited by him he evinced the freshness and simplicity of the child’s vision characteristic of medieval Indian painting. On the other hand, the perceptiveness and economy of his technique could be felt in a panting like ‘In the morning’, representation of a clump of bamboo which I retain as a personal souvenir, in this picture the pale blue of the dawn percolates through the golden leaves of the bamboo grove and there is a suggestion of fresh air and hopefulness in the atmosphere. The work here is not in bold and rapid strokes, but detailed and painstaking, and the line is also more in evidence.
Being a modern painter Asu Dev does not rely too much on the line: his art is not representational in the conventional sense, particularly in his recent work. This trend towards non-representational painting began with Cezanne at the turn of the century and is paralleled by the scientific discovery that physical forms are not absolute, but relative. In art the trend led to impressionism and cubism and their various derivatives. In Dev’s art also light is the major instrument of his technique, This leads to various experiments with colour, sometimes too mixed and blended to be definitely characterized and at other times adding a new dimension to the geometrical and cubist patterns behind his pictures. Take for instance, ‘Spiring time.’ The grove of trees swayed and forced onwards by the wind has existence in reality, it has a sense of form, but its value lies in the artist’s vision that has been imposed on it. The blending and shimmer of colour, the trend of the line, though subdued, indicate the sudden discovery by the artist of the vitality and richness of experience that nature may give us sometime. A similar success with colour is seen in ‘Boat’, one of Dev’s latest paintings.
The sense of the solid is evidenced in particular in ‘Birth of new life’, an interpretation of the Umiam Hydel project near Shiliong. Here earth lies bleeding as it were, only to erect a new township on her bosom. A sculpturesque effect is also given by ‘Desire’, the desire of the earth for the moon, while ‘Self-portrait’ with the stolid artist pressed on by his wife and child suggesting earthly worries, is wholly sculptural in design. Pointillism at its best is seen in ‘Pine Avenue’, with its sense of depth both vertical and horizontal. It is also a splendid exercise in colour blending.
AsuDev has certain paintings which represent experiences easily assimilable by the common observer, for instance, ‘Fishing in the mud,’ a girl probing for fish, a typically Assamese scene, ‘Life to the lees’, a group of famine shrunken persons, ‘Night awake’, a vision of the congestion of Gauhati from the railway over bridge. These also are not pure representation, but carriers of a certain message almost moral, if I may use the term.
As all these show, Dev’s art is acquiring a new depth commensurate with his experience of life and artistic practice. That he has been carrying, on his lonely torch in the midst of public indifference and pecuniary difficulties not only speaks well of his stamina but also of his calling for this personal art form. It is because of such persons as Dev that art has ‘remained the one way possible of speaking the truth, to minds like mine’ to echo Browning.
ABOUT THE WRITER:
Prof. PRAFULLA DUTTA GOSWAMI : A close friend who had observed the artist work for more than three decades. Was Head of the department of Folklore Research Gauhati University.
This is his second write-up on the artist. From the 1965 Exhibition Catalogue.
Copyrights © ANUTOSH DEB – MAY 2006