There’s no Indian language in art yet: Prokash Karmakar (With Images)

December 17th, 2011 - 12:42 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Dec 17 (IANS) Indian artists are yet to work on an Indian language in art, says Prokash Karmakar, one of Bengal’s most formidable practitioners of contemporary art who, at 78, is still committed to his calling - painting stylised nature and human figures.

“The courtyard culture has been allowed to flourish (the erstwhile royal culture of patronage to artists) still exists. There is no awareness about art in society. India has not been able to uphold its traditional values in art,” Karmarkar told IANS here.

“There can be no universal language in contemporary art - do any of the great Western painters paint India or with Indian sensibilities that we should copy them?” he asked.

He still paints nearly eight hours every day.

“I paint daily at my studio in Bally, one-and-a-half miles (2.4 km) from the river Ganges, on the outskirts of Kolkata. I am preparing for an exhibition in 2012 in Kolkata which I want to open on 20.10.2012 - my birthday,” Karmakar said.

The maverick artist, who shot to fame after a pavement exhibition in Chowringhee (Esplanade) adjacent to the National Museum in Kolkata in 1959, has not changed his rebellious ways.

“I never wanted to be a copyist like the bulk of the Indian artists around me. I wanted to add an Indianness to my work. I went out of it (copying trend) and tried to paint tropical landscape.

“It was our own tropical breezes and light that I tried to capture on my canvas. Over the years, I developed my own language,” the bearded artist said in a rare moment of unwinding.

“In 1970, I left West Bengal during the years of Naxalism and went to Allahabad. I returned to Kolkata after 19 years in 1989. The years outside Kolkata gave me the opportunity to travel throughout India… I became a landscape painter after returning to Kolkata,” he said.

Karmakar has a unique style - a childish yet lyrical expression of rural Bengal and the Indian countryside that he paints in graphic details sometimes from memory.

He is also a master of figure - flowing human anatomies - which he paints from his years of experience as a self-taught student of figurative art.

“My father (Prahlad Karmakar who was awarded along with Matisse at the San Francisco Biennale) was a famous artist - a pioneer of nude study. He taught the boys of the government school of art nude studies at his studio in Kankurgachchi in north Kolkata.

“However, the studio was later vandalised and burnt down during the Hindu-Muslim riots in Kolkata (on the eve of independence). It was Kolkata’s first nude study studio,” the artist said.

He lost his father when he was 14. “My mother died when I was 17,” Karmakar said.

But the memories of the nude studies remained. “When the avalanche of refugees hit Bengal - I went to the Sealdah station to draw people till 2 a.m. I slept at the station,” Karmakar said.

The artist said he frequented Dilip Dasgupta’s ‘Studio’ for nude studies. Under the tutelage of Dasgupta, Karmakar refined his figures to a point of perfection.

He was also tutored briefly by his father’s one-time associate, Kamalaranjan Thakur, in applied arts technique.

“It was around that time I got a fellowship to Paris - to visit museums and write a thesis,” the artist said.

Karmakar has a fond memory of Paris years. “One day, I was drinking coffee at a streetside cafe. A car - an Austin - stopped at the cafe and six women aged between 18-19 in skirts alighted from the car - followed by Pablo Picasso, who came out of the car after them.

“I did not realise but the bearers of the cafe came running,” Karmakar recalled.

The artist studied at the Government College of Art in Kolkata for a year.

“And then I dropped out and joined the military (army). After one and a half years, I ran away from the army. I was posted at Murree near Ranchi. I lived like a vagabond - after which I got a job,” Karmakar said.

Karmakar is one of the few artists who has lived through the trials of the freedom struggle, the Bengal famine, partition and the Naxal rebellion in West Bengal.

The artist, who has won several national-level awards, is the founder member of both the Society of Contemporary Artists and the Kolkata painters. He was born in 1933 in Kolkata.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at

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