“Do you go to gym regularly?” That's the question you cannot but ask Sisir Sahana as he lifts a big heavy red block of glass that looks like a bull.
“No, but I can do this just as a mother can lift and cradle her child even when the child is four years old and weighs more than 20 kilogrammes,” grunts Sisir Sahana as he heaves and adjusts the glass sculpture against the winter sunlight in his Banjara Hills studio. “It comes with practice and with love,” he says in a studio which looks less like an artist's workplace and more like brick kiln. Outside the studio is a small electricity-fired furnace. Wearing a yellow striped kurta, a bouffant hairstyle, restless fingers, expansive gestures, Sisir Sahana looks like an artist. Hear him talk animatedly with the burr and cadences of Bengali and his passion for art comes through. See the curvy glass sculptures at various exhibitions, with an intricate play of light and shade with colour and you can grasp the fact that Sisir is trying to do something different. Step inside the studio and you realise his creativity is not as easy as picking up a paper, a pot of colour and a paint brush. “I mix this silica, soda, borax and other chemicals to make transparent glass, then the molten glass is poured here,” he points to the box of wet sand. He shows a pencil sketch on a paper and using a spoon he scoops and shapes the sand into the image of Ganesha. “This is a flipped image and it takes years of practice to get it right,” says Sisir who began his tryst with glass at Santiniketan under masters like K.G. Subramanyan, Suhas Roy and Jogen Chowdhary. The molten glass in a mould is then transferred to an annealing furnace where it cools over five days before Sisir gets to work on it with glass grinder and pots of colours.
“I wanted to do something different. I wanted a new dimension for my creativity,” he says sipping a cappuccino at a multiplex.
Sisir came to Hyderabad as a painting teacher in Hyderabad Public School and stayed on in the city. “The earliest image that I have about painting is the one which I did of rain near our house in Mangalpur (in Bankura district of West Bengal). But that was not the first time I drew something. I was always drawing. Even when I went to Mangalpur Primary School the white pages of my maths notebook invited me to draw. It was madness,” remembers Sisir about a time when his family, including his father, were dead against his taking up drawing as a career. A little older, Sisir one day ran away from home to Calcutta thinking he will be able to do something only to return sheepishly the next day. “But my brother realised the seriousness of my pursuit and he got me admitted to the Burdwan Art School run by Samar Mukherjee. It was Samar who financially supported me at the Santiniketan,” remembers Sisir about his struggle to pursue art.
The same rebellious spirit imbues his conversation as Sisir raves and rants about Indian art. “A few days back I was at the Smithsonian and I discovered that the works of most Indian artists are reproductions. If the concept is borrowed, what is yours? Where is your creativity? I think that is the reason why Indian art is not prized very highly. Except for the works of a few well-known artists, Indian art is still a riddle abroad,” says Sisir.
Isn't working on glass more technique and less art? “Sometimes I get angry and want to stop doing it but once I finish a piece the satisfaction I get is immense and that keeps me going,” says Sisir as his supplier calls. “The oven could not be fired today as I didn't want to take chances. I have only 50 gm fluorspar and 50 gm antimony,” he tells the supplier.
“Some nights I wake up with a sweat when I cannot get ideas. I feel empty. A lot of people who come to see paintings and sculptures feel it is no big deal to do this but they don't know the torment when we run out of ideas. Sometimes it acts as a powerful jerk to discover and find something new. Real art cannot come out of a life in total comfort. Art is an expression of inner self and not that of creature comforts,” he says.
A creatively restless soul, Sisir has also made two films: an autobiographical tale called Prithvi and another Maati-o-Manush which attacks the fanaticism and blind faith in villages.
“Who knows, I might give up doing what I am doing and focus only on movies,” says Sisir Sahana winding up the conversation.