Prof. Prafulla Dutta Goswami, M.A. Gauhati University

It was a pleasant surprise to have a regular exhibition of paintings at Gauhati on 14th April last. Modern Assam does not seem to have paid as much attention to painting as it has paid to music and the dance. There are amateurs; some even Art School trained; but they have not stuck to painting as they should have. It is amusing to find talented young men covering the corridors of the Shillong Secretariat in search of offers of a commercial type from the government. On the whole, modern Assam has lost the art of painting which was once vital and related to the life of the people. The tradition of painting initiated by Sankardeva and exemplified in the sixteenth-century Dasam-skandha Bhagavati, (recently published by Dutta Barua with the titles: Citra Bhagavata) and later in Sankhacura Badha and Hastividyarnava did not continue beyond the early nineteenth century when Assam’s social and cultural life went to pieces with the onset of the Burmese invaders. Old Assamese painting was conventional and purposive, as indeed most good art is, but in spite of traces of Rajput influence and the shaping directive of the Vaisnavite religion motifs borrowed from life were not missed the element of realism can be discovered in the animals painted, in the scenes of court life, and in the decorative borders on MS folios which evidence a relation with the textile and wickerwork patterns of the rural folk. The colours used were limited, being red; blue; and yellow ochre. The effect achieved was bold and clear in outline.
Mr, Asu Dev’s paintings in a way reminded me of the lost tradition of Assam’s painting. This was because of certain submerged trends which seemed to be caught up in Mr. Dev’s work. Mr Dev’s painting is purposive in a broad sense, one can feel the stamp of the land there; the colours used are also limited; being red, blue and yellow ochre. Mr. Dev, the family’s spoilt child, has roamed about a good deal, gazed at the sculptures near Gauhati and other places, examined closely the textile and wickerwork patterns of the rural folk, studied the daily occupations of the people in the plains as in the hills, felt the play of colour and air in lonely spots of Nature and has altogether 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 form on the diversities and contradictions of the setting of life, and, technique or no technique; it is the avowed purpose of Mr. Dev to transfer on canvas his vision.
Mr. Dev’s pictures are in three divisions-paintings, sketches and textile designs. The colours used by him are only three and their orchestration, if I may borrow a term from music: there is no blending of the colours in the usual sense, rather a patternisation with dabs of the pure colours. What is interesting to note is that one can hardly distinguish between his oil and water-colour paintings, because of this bold stroke of his brush. His technique reminds one of the “post-impressionists” of Europe. Seurat’s pointillism he has made his own: a large number of his pictures” evidence his attempt to paint in dots of pure colour. “Bazaar Day”, “Yard”, “Part time Work”, “Niloo”, all are exemplifications of pointillism. But the technique is modified where necessary and the same picture may show more than one technique; as in “Corn Field”. One is reminded of Van Gogh in “Corn Field”. In it there is the attempt to catch reality more intensely by a distortion of Nature. The strokes of the brush are energetic, there is a feeling of air about, and the total impression is altogether an excitement of life in the landscape. In “Youth” which has the effect of a Japanese painting, one finds the freshness and simplicity of the child’s vision-as in Rousseau’s untutored art and as perhaps in some paintings of medieval India. The economy of the Modern painting owes a lot to Cezanne who forced art critics to accept art as non-representational; as rather a creation of form; sometimes more realistic than a photograph itself. Skill is now less important than the artist’s vision or interpretation of .life, and the unity of much work found in various parts of the world, among technologically advanced Europeans and among Negroes much behind in many respects, is clearer to us because of Cezanne. One of the results of Cezanne’s prescriptions has been the attempt to represent the solidity of objects by the control of colour alone. In Mr. Dev’s paintings colour is the all-purpose instrument, line having been accorded a secondary place. Pure cubism is not there, but the sense of the solid and the geometrical pattern is felt in; most of his pictures. An untutored artist, he has learnt a good deal from albums and has surprisingly picked up many of the truths arrived at by older artists after considerable experimentation. In a way he is more in touch with life than Subho Tagore in spite of the apparent influence of western techniques influence of western techniques. He has learnt to depict life as Jamini Roy has done, with bold strokes and the minimum of pure colour. One feels in his paintings that his purpose is to show his kinship with life and that he has subordinated his technique to his vision.
His textile designs show his concern for things found in hidden corners and in the collection of knots of bamboos and trees and gnarled creepers which suggest various forms of man and animal. In these he shows his concern for ordinary representational Art, but his sense of realism is better evidenced by his choice of subjects rather than his manner-under- stood in the conventional sensed The two “City Corners”, by day and at night, are cases in point. Tribal life, for example, Khasi woman selling potatoes, appears in a fresh light.
As Mr Dev explains, “this life is full of vitality and colour, so why neglect it”?

Prof. PRAFULLA DUTTA GOSWAMI: A close friend who had observed the artist work for more than four decades. He had been the Head of the Department of Folklore Research, Gauhati University.

Copyrights © ANUTOSH DEB – MAY 2006