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Creative call from Kolkata

Sameer Aich says art schools are busy teaching students to become academic painters and not real artists



Samir Aich: `If you don't love human beings, you can never be an artist.' — Photo: Murali Kumar K.

"EVERYONE TALKS about Kolkata as a dying city," says Samir Aich. "For an artist, though, the city is still a paradise. It is culturally very alive, active, and inspiring."

These words are not said with a false pride because Aich, a Kolkattan since birth, had in the same city faced the wrath of the establishment even when was he was in his early teens. Falsely branded as a naxalite, he and many young men like him were subjected to threats, torment, and misery. "Those were terrible times in the late 1960s and '70s," recalls Aich. "Backed by police, it was the goonda caucus that ruled the city, harassing innocent people. When one of my cousins came down from Bombay, he too was mercilessly beaten up by goondas for no reason. I could not be a mute witness and retaliated with aggression."

For all his tough talk and strapping looks, the forty-eight-year-old Aich, who was recently in the city to attend an International Art Camp organised by the Lalit Kala Academy, is a cultured artist. Interest in arts had taken shape in him since early childhood. In 1973, when he was 16, he joined the College of Art, Kolkata. Five years later, he had trained himself as a commercial artist and set up his own advertising agency. His interest in fine arts drove him to experiment and innovate through his paintings. Though he participated in many group and solo shows, 1987 happened to be a defining year, when his work really gained widespread recognition.

According to Aich, an artist is a receptacle of all that happens around him. "When one begins to paint, you do not start with a blank canvas but a blank mind. All the experiences and understanding of life wait to find a creative conduit. Ultimately, the image that gets created is a reflection of those social interactions... A real artist, therefore, is one who is always free from any illusions and boundaries. He has to just allow, accept and assimilate experience, information, and understanding. If he is honest in that, he does not have to think or play-act; the image will emerge on its own because the canvas invents its own language."

Besides being socially conscious, he feels it is also necessary for an artist to retain his interest in humanity. "If you don't love human beings, you can never be an artist," affirms Aich. "At the same time, art is not a newspaper, which can make an artist to hurriedly react to every event or incident."

Aich vehemently believes that it hardly matters whether one is a figurative or abstract painter. What really matters is the content and how it is communicated. "And when I paint, I don't ever think whether my work will get sold or gain appreciation." Stressing on the role of good art schools and institutions, he says: "Unfortunately, they seem to be busy teaching students to become academic painters and not real artists. There is a big difference between the two. Aesthetic and cultural ingredients are missing in today's art education. And teachers are merely providing theoretical training rather than inspiring students to find their true and individual potential."

As one could observe during the camp, Aich's flow of creative energy was incredible. Even midway through the weeklong camp, when other artists were trying to provide finishing touches to one or two works, Aich had already completed five paintings, including three large-sized works! The images are as intense as his thoughts and beliefs. Caressing them with colour and contrast, Aich brings to life even inert objects like chairs and vases through swift, energetic and often minimal lines and strokes. The deep grey background through which colourful jolts and nudges surface, enhance the haunting silence and eerie feel and sensation. Against such a setting subtly suggested human and animal forms emerge to create potent images. Abstract but alive, subdued but not silenced — these battle-weary creatures still seem to barely but bravely endure their melancholic subsistence, even as their fragile lives seem to vindicate a basic survival instinct.

ATHREYA

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