Of cast and canvas

Copy: Lalu Prasad Shaw is best known for his tempura paintings like one of his earliest works, ‘Asha Lata’ which captures locals during Shantiniketan’s winter fair. At 80, Shaw is still versatile in his craft having dabbled in several mediums. He’s worked in printing, especially etching, lithography and graphics for 18 years. Notably, he has received the National Award in 1971 and an award from the Birla Academy 1976 for his graphic art work. In his ongoing show curated by Jyotirmoy Bhattacharya, Babu and Bibi bronzes, the artist and sculptor explores the ‘babu culture’ of Kolkata.

We meet him, true to his roots Shaw is dressed in a blue starched cotton kurta beaming at visitors to his show’s inauguration. It has taken Shaw two years along with young sculpture artists, Akhil Chandra Das and Tapas Biswas to complete the Babu and Bibi series. “I have been inspired by the Kalighat Pat or Kalighat painting and [have] used it to depict the traits of middle-class Bengali men and women during earlier times,” he explains. “Anybody can easily understand these sculptures; there is no intellectual reference to this theme but a witty depiction,” he states simply.

At the beginning

As a child, Shaw was deeply influenced by his art teacher, Pinakinath Bhattacharya’s paintings. He learnt from Bhattacharya by accompanying him on Sundays, developing his own skills with water colours and sketching with pen and ink. A big influence has been the sculpted idols of Durga and puja adornments traditionally made by the Malakars (community of Bengali craftspersons). One of a family of seven siblings, Shaw grew up under financial constraint and faced initial resistance for pursuing art. He enrolled into the Government College of Art and Craft, Kolkata (Bhattacharya’s alma mater) in 1954. Noted artists like painter and draughtsman, Ganesh Pyne and the Bangladeshi painter, sculptor and puppet artist Mustafa Manwar were his peers at art school.

After graduation, Shaw taught art for 18 years covering painting in watercolour, pastel and clay modelling in various schools of West Bengal. Later, he taught graphic art at his alma mater and eventually moved to Kala Bhavan in Shantiniketan.

The bhadralok

With his new sculptural work Shaw chooses to focus on many familiar Kolkata tropes: trams, hand-held rickshaws, fish markets and of course the people. He chronicles the changes brought into the Bengali society under British India that resulted in the financially mobile babu culture. This strata of society – a refined, foreign-educated class spent time in finer pursuits like dance, drama, musical soirees, parties and pigeon racing. One of Shaw’s favourite artworks from the collection is ‘Babuana’, that depicts a Bengali babu walking with a fish in one hand and resting an umbrella on the other. He shares with us, how a hilsa fish was used as a mould to add authenticity to the work.

The artist admits that age is beginning to catch up with him, “Now that I am old, I am not able to get the tonal clarity [I desire].” But he’s determined to continue working, “If I do not work, that would be death. Whether the work is good or bad, I [will] continue working. Only time will judge,” Shaw states emphatically.

Babu and Bibi bronzes by Lalu Prasad Shaw is ongoing at Gallery 7, Kala Ghoda until May 20

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Printable version | May 13, 2021 2:11:36 PM |

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