Artist Somenath Maity, whose works are on display in the city, recalls his humble beginnings

In artist Somenath Maity’s work, currently on display at Prakrit Gallery, one sees the juxtaposition of his childhood memories of a small town with bustling Kolkata chock-a-block with sky-high buildings. The result is a canvas of almost mythical quality — picture long façades illuminated by a crescent of a moon, or soft sunlight pouring out of a corner of an otherwise unlit space.

“Lighting in cities is never natural and that was shocking for me when I came from my town to Kolkata. When I started painting this series, I wanted to imagine how the natural lighting I had grown up with would make the city look,” says the artist.

Foray into art

One of the biggest names in the field today, Maity has not forgotten his beginnings. “My father too studied Art but couldn’t pursue it because of familial circumstances. When my Class XII results came out, it was a shock to him that I hadn’t performed well in English. A friend of his then took me to Kolkata to write the entrance exam for a visual art course. Unfortunately for me, there too the paper required me to write for 30 marks in English, and 10 marks each for drawing and painting. I was competing with city kids who knew a lot. I completed it, and ran back home in tears, because I was sure I wouldn’t make it.”

Driven by ambition

Not only did he make it, it turned out Somenath had come first in the entrance exam! “They weren’t checking my language skills in that exam, but were looking at my drive and why I wanted to be an artist. I wrote about my desire to see my works in print, on magazines and every ambition I had nurtured since I was a kid, and it turned out, I impressed them.”

As a young struggling artist Somenath found Kolkata to be friendly to artists. “I bought papers by the kilo and used to work with ink and pen as it was cheap. Those were my initial works — of slums of the city. Soon I changed to water colours and acrylic,” he muses.

For a long time, Somenath lived in a motor room of someone’s home until a woman who knew his father offered him the servant quarters in her home. “While I was vacating the room, a neighbour saw my paintings and asked me if she could buy them. I sold four for Rs. 25 each. That was my first sale,” says the artist whose work can set you back by at least a few lakh today.

“In my final year, I was chosen to exhibit at Lalit Kala Akademi and in those days it was big deal because there were barely any galleries. I started selling my works, and since then, I displayed my works at Lalit Kala for 10 years continuously,” he says.

(The artist’s works are on display at Prakrit Arts, 102, Greenways Road Extension, R.A. Puram till March 30)