Themes on Time

TIME LEAVES its imprint on everything and everyone. "Past is past, let us live in the present," we tend to say. But the past is very much present in the here and now through its remnants like ancient architecture, sculptures and paintings. "Like any structure visible and bearing the marks of time, I too bear the marks ... but present," declares Amitabh Sengupta, an alumnus of the Government College of Arts and Crafts, Kolkata.

This belief comes through clearly in his paintings to be shown at the Artworld from April 11 to 19.

"When I encounter structures, as long as they are within my visual world, within a single frame of space and time, it is real and dynamic. Because this `me' is a zone where everything is present, anything before or after is a myth; and on those past and future we can go on speculating," declares the senior artist. Every mark on the old structures, be it the one created by time and the elements like sun, rain and wind or man made, tells us a story. Such stories come into being in Sengupta's paintings, with his current thoughts superimposed on the remainders of the past.

Some years ago, he used to paint interiors of contemporary homes in a realistic manner; there would be no figures; but still one could feel the presence of people in the room, as the sofa cushions would appear as if some one had just got up and left, with indents made by the body of the person and the wrinkles of the material making the viewer aware of the very immediate past. In the same way, facades of rock cut shrines like those of Ajanta and Ellora or temple entrances are depicted with all the details of carvings on the lintels, pillars, doors and the high relief sculptures like the Dwarapalakas. In `Time-Door' through the open door — above is a carefully painted lintel — is seen a figure seated on a stone, which appears more like a real person than a statue, though the arm is broken, as if someone is resting for a moment; the landscape behind him becomes quite surrealistic, a bird with a woman's head and chest flying in the vivid blue sky. The times zones move from the past to the present to phantasm in a seamless manner.

In `Nostalgia' too, such a doorway gives us a glimpse of different time zones - a painting of a folk deity of the South on the door post, in the passage way from the entrance to the area beyond the figure of a devil with horns, and just a little behind it a vaguely visible dancing figure and a moving female figure on the right, the lower half of which seems to be in water; and far beyond in the background is a ruined structure. The colours too range from bright red and yellow in the forefront to a cool blue at the back. Again Sengupta takes us through a world of fantasy. One may find a figure of Buddha walking through a solid wall or door; part of the Buddha appears like a sculpture, while some portions like the drapery are painted in a realistic manner. His preoccupation with the past and the undeniable present merge and re-emerge in every painting.

In applying oil colours, Sengupta uses a multiple layer technique, allowing the one below to appear through the layer on top. His canvases glow with pulsating warm colours offset by dark areas of green or black and calming shades of blue. His very technique of combining smoothly finished areas and highly textured parts of the rocks and sculptures help project his themes based on `Time'. He mentions that these days he takes shots with his digital camera of different objects or scenes and feed them into the computer to create imageries with the varied elements, when each of them become part of a context from which they cannot be separated. It is a similar technique that he handled in his paintings too.

Sengupta has travelled widely in the U.S., Africa, Europe and Turkey; he had studied art in the U.S. and Paris; had been head of Visual Arts in two universities in Nigeria for 11 years; has been art advisor in Nigeria and UNESCO. Living and working in Kolkata, he has several publications to his credit as also two video films.