Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Art Ink: Santosh Kumar Das

Artist Santosh Kumar Das
'The artist himself is a creation of the mysteries of ink', says the Madhubani based 'Mithila' artist Santosh Kumar Das. I am yet to hear a better definition of an artist. He also says that artist is the world that he creates by ink. Das believes in the power of black on paper. I hold the 779th edition of 2000 screen-printed books created by Das assisted by his students Mahalaxmi and Shantanu Das besides the help of range of serigraphy experts. 

The book is valuable because you possess it like an illumined manuscript. There is something intimate about it; including the smell of the oil used for printing. The handmade paper on which the works are printed tells the story of mediation, a bit distant from the original creator yet carrying his touch in a strange way. In the days of graphic novels when anything that moves or has moved is made into a subject of graphic novel, the book of Das titled 'Black' stands out because it is not a set of illustrated narratives to form a comprehensive text but a book of independent drawings that could tell the story of the author in disjointed sequences.

The title of the book, Black has a subtitle that goes like this: An Artist's Tribute. Then I am disturbed by a series of questions: Is it a tribute to his mother who used to inspire him? Is it a tribute to the art itself? Is it a tribute to the style? Is it a tribute to its ethnicity? Is it a tribute to the ink? Is it a tribute to his teachers as well as students? Is it a tribute to his artistic life? Is it a tribute to the universe that has conspired with all the forces in order to make him an artist? 

By the time you finish reading/seeing the book, you come to a conclusion that this book is a tribute to all what have been numbered above. Das says how his mother who used to wheeze and cough during the night, kept a lamp lit with a lid on in order to collect the soot which in day time would become the colour to make a visual world. She, Savitri Devi was not only a painter but also a story teller. In her story telling sessions done on the terrace during the moonlit nights there came hundred and one characters alive that had inspired Das capture them in his works. 

Mithila painting with its own aesthetic logic and world view has been a domain of traditional women artists who imparted the skill and knowledge from generation to generation. Santosh Kumar Das took to this feminine visual language and explored his own self through its idioms. He created a repertoire of images and narrative patterns without breaking radically away from the norms of traditional renderings gave it a further edge capable of revealing his own world view as a contemporary artist.

In a way the book is a pictorial autobiography. Das says how he trained himself visually by looking at calendars and posters besides closely observing the women folk doing the paintings on various surfaces including the earth. He watched them demonstrating their skills for the visiting national and international enthusiasts who recorded their paintings. Das loved the lessons from the epics; he didn't initially know why Arjun had to shoot an arrow at a fish' reflection instead of the fish sculpture itself in order to gain the hand of Draupadi. Slowly he realised that it  was all about concentration and meditation, two essential qualities of an artist. This concentration sometimes had adverse effects also; while looking at people and their faces he used to miss his trains and buses!

Santosh Kumar Das has a wonderful visual repertoire. His narratives move in and out of conventions. At times he maintains symmetry and at times he puts all the weight to the left or right side of the painting to make itself balance on its internal rhythms. This book is a pleasure not only for eyes but also for the intellect. The book is produced by Tara Books. 

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