Chitrakar, The Artist

Benodebehari Mukherjee

Translated by K. G. Subramanyan


 

238pp 0

ISBN : 9788170462828


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When three of the four pieces by Benodebehari Mukherjee (1904–1980) that go into his book Chitrakar first appeared in a well-known Bengali literary journal, they took the reading public by storm. Everyone wanted to see them published together as a book. And when such a book did appear it was sold out in no time. Expressing his philosophy and approach to art and the work of the artist, it was praised by both critic and layman. It also received two important literary awards.

 

All these four pieces were written by Benodebehari after he lost his eyesight in the summer of 1957. From the time he started teaching in Kala Bhavan (in 1929) he was an important influence on the new generation of artists; and the paintings and murals he did between 1936 and 1957 assured his position as an important figure on the modern Indian art scene. In 1957 Benodebehari was just fifty-three and at the height of his powers. And he lived for another twenty-three years, during which he continued to work in a variety of materials. It was only in his final years that he devoted more time to writing and less to visual expression.

 

These four pieces of writing are broadly autobiographical. ‘The Artist’ (Chitrakar) is a selective reminiscence recapturing various pictures from the years of his childhood, apprenticeship and maturity, up to the time he became blind. ‘Master of the Household’ (Kattamashai) is a candid and complex fictionalized account of his struggle to come to terms with his blindness and continue to be creative, and the identity and ego problems that came with it. ‘The Creator’ (Kirtikar) is a simple, though telling, parable on the vanity of inordinate ambition that snaps the connection between the ends and the roots. And ‘Art Quest’ (Silpa Jignasa) is an informal causerie that outlines his vision on art, its basic elements and their differences in range and reference.

 

In this long life many things have happened. But only some of these have become an essential part of one’s life . . . The rest just make a bland calendar of events. I should mention at the outset that this is not such a calendar. I am describing here only that part of my life that I have known well. And having spent all my life painting, I confess that I am trying my hand at writing rather late in life.

Each man’s experience of life is quite unique. But still, men do have certain common experiences through which they understand each other. But it has fallen to me to have a kind of experience that is not easily comparable to anyone else’s. A passage from the world of light to the world of darkness opened a new chapter in my life. The story of this experience is the main burden of this book.

 


Benodebehari Mukherjee is one of the most influential and highly regarded artists in the history of modern Indian art. In the sensitive and empathetic hands of fellow artist, K. G. Subramanyan, once his student and now himself a major figure in the contemporary Indian art scene, this translation, appearing for the first time in English, is a precious and timeless document. 

 


K. G. Subramanyan is a veteran artist who has worked with a wide range of media and materials, exhibiting extensively both within and outside the country. A major retrospective of his work was held at the National Gallery of Modern Art, Delhi, in 2003. He has been part of the arts faculty at Baroda and is Professor Emeritus at Kala Bhavan, Santiniketan. His writings on art have been published widely.

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