Between The Lines

Between The Lines

Amitava Das is now one of the most important artists from his generation,known for responding to socio-political surroundings in a distinct manner.

The geometrical grids act as multiple frames. Thick brushstrokes are swirled to make heavily oxidised black areas and archetype human figures,and trees emerge from thin lines. Born in the year of India’s independence,

Amitava Das is now one of the most important artists from his generation,known for responding to socio-political surroundings in a distinct manner. Four decades of his work is now being celebrated through a mid-career retrospective at Delhi Art Gallery. He speaks to Vandana Kalra about his work,influences and the art frat.

Do you think this mid-career retrospective is a true representation of four decades of your work?

I can’t say if it is completely representative but the gallery does have an extensive collection. As a student at Delhi College of Art in the ’60s,my work was set in the interiors. I made work that was part of academics,as well as separate work for my own learning,most of which was paperwork,since I did not have a large space to work. The early ’70s was a time of political turmoil,gradually the human figures became suppressed. I started using symbols,such as the dagger,to show violence.


In the mid-70s,we saw more life and landscapes in your work. You also started using more colour.

By this time I started teaching at Jamia Millia Islamia. I travelled from west Delhi to the institute via Ring Road,which was surrounded by vast lands that reminded me of my childhood in Shimla. This is when I discovered the morning haze,spatter of rain,green grass and trees in

my work.

Were there any direct influences on your work?

There were moments that stayed with me. When I was in class X,Lalit Kala Akademi had an exhibition of French art from the 15th century to early-20th century,comprising works of Pablo Picasso,George Braque and Joan Miro. I actually touched Picasso’s work,which felt great. Two years later there was another exhibition of American contemporary art,with artists such as Jasper Johns and Roy Lichtenstein,whose works were different.

You abstained from making sculptures and installations. Was there any particular reason?

I don’t do sculptures because I have done that on a very large scale when I pursued exhibition design. I worked at India Trade Promotion Organisation for 24 years. My work was architectural then,I designed India pavilions at trade fairs across the world. In Moscow,I was given a huge glazed wall to work on. I did a tapestry mural that depicted Krishna Leela with the help of 250 women from Mehrauli village. The last project I took before I quit exhibition design was to design the India pavilion for the Cannes Film Festival,in 2002,when Devdas was India’s official entry.

You enjoy reading poetry. Do you see poetry in your work?

I used to read a lot of poetry,especially French poets such as Baudelaire and Rimbaud and Bengali poet Jibananda Das. I also heard a lot of music,read philosophy,including works of Sarte and Camus. Although this did not directly influence my art,it played a big role in the development of my artistic sensibilities.

You shared your studio with Manjit Bawa at Garhi. I believe you hung out with Tyeb Mehta and Akbar Padamsee in Delhi.

Manjit and I were the only painters at Garhi back then. We were more of friends,like I was with Akbar and Tyeb. Unlike now,there were no junior or senior artists. The Coffee House was like an adda,where people from different cultural pursuits came. I remember Tyeb narrated how he went to England with only

£5. I found that fascinating. I think it was Akbar who recommended my name to Pundole (art gallery). Kali Pundole offered me a show but before that Mrs Alkazi — who used to run Kunika Chemould — came to me. For a student it was a very prestigious gallery to exhibit in. My works sold well,I think some of my teachers felt jealous.


The exhibition is on at Delhi Art Gallery,11,Hauz Khas Village,till September 7. Contact: 46005300