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Updated: December 2, 2010 19:37 IST

Living with change

SWATI DAFTUAR
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A work by Kobita Sen: Portrait reworked using fabric. Photo: Special Arrangement
The HIndu A work by Kobita Sen: Portrait reworked using fabric. Photo: Special Arrangement

Kobita Sen on her works that take on a new life as she grows.

In 1989, Kobita Sen had her debut exhibition at the Shridharni Gallery in New Delhi. After over 10 years, she was back in the city with works that spoke volumes of how much she has grown and changed as an artist. At her recently concluded exhibition at the Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre, Sen brought paintings reflecting a constant shift and change in perspective.

Titled I Kon I Kali, the exhibition was clearly put together to underline a rhythm and harmony that Sen thinks is central to her work. The icon and the Goddess Kali both highlight a sort of search for identity and individuality. “My paintings show the way in which I view the world. There is a sort of visual disorientation in my work.”

Certainly, Sen's broad and sure strokes of very definite colours do not leave place for any sort of blending and smoothening. Her paintings, both landscapes and portraits, remain striking and bold. There are actual edges to her work, and the surface of the canvas literally rises and falls.

Sen has been experimenting with newer, fresher forms and techniques. A number of paintings, done much before, have now been covered with tissue fabric at strategic and meaningful places. She points at a nude now dressed up with sari and tissue and says, “I like changing and shifting perspectives. It's possible to view an already complete work and bring out something newer. What a painting says to you never stops changing.”

Not only does Sen play with textures, she uses the very shape of the canvas, moving away from the otherwise straightforward squares and rectangles and giving it a sort of semi-circular shape. She then uses this shape to paint figures, once again in unique postures, moulding and fitting them within the shape of the canvas. “The new canvas shape opens up so many new dimensions,” she says. “It can be turned in any way possible, and with each turn, the painting shifts to fit the viewer's eye. Once again, this is just another way of playing with perception.”

Her portraits, a lot of them self-portraits, show this aspect of her work too. They aren't about beauty and form. Sen stresses that she uses her portraits to bring out what's inside a person, the core so to say. She lets her models sit back and relax, and says that's when they ‘go within and show themselves'.

She isn't just a painter, though. Her first love, she admits, will always be pottery. “That's what I began with, and it's still my passion.” Many of Sen's paintings have also been done using colours she's made herself. She also sculpts, and her exhibit had a miniature sculpture that is surprisingly akin to her paintings, created with the same bold and thick strokes. It's almost like seeing her portraits in three dimensions.

“I'm afraid all my work is rough. I don't try to make things look beautiful, just honest.” This honesty though, shines through in all of Sen's work, and obviously, the beauty follows.

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