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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Drawn to Perfection

Expressionist postmodernist Sunil Das, ‘master of the horrific in art’, passed away on Monday.

Written by Vandana Kalra |
Updated: August 11, 2015 12:00:14 am
talk, Sunil Das, artist, painter, post modernist, F N Souza, indian express Sunil Das’ themes varied from women’s emancipation to his famous bulls and horses (Photo courtesy: Aakriti Art Gallery, Delhi Art Gallery)

“His paintings are often about death and horror… (He is) a master of the horrific in art,” noted FN Souza of the work of the Bengal master Sunil Das. On Monday morning, the postmodernist expressionist, Das, breathed his last at the age of 76. Survived by his wife, the Padma Shri awardee died of cardiac arrest at his Kolkata home.

“He was very prolific, fun loving and large-hearted. He often attended exhibitions featuring works of fellow artists and was extremely popular,” recalls Vikram Bachhawat, director of Aakriti Art Gallery. His gallery in Kolkata would be exhibiting possibly the last of Das’ works — two figurative sculptures created last week — in an exhibition later this month, featuring his work alongside other members of the Society of Contemporary Artists, of which Das was a founding member. “He was not apprehensive of taking risks and always encouraged others in the group to experiment. In his recent works, he moved towards minimalism, focussing on white,” says Aditya Basak, artist and member of the Society.

Born into a middle class family, Das’ father was a businessman. Interested in art as a child, he initially joined a local art school, and later graduated from Government College of Art & Craft in Kolkata. While he canvassed for gender equality — basing several of his works on the exploitation of women and the need for emancipation — he is best known for his deft depiction of bulls and horses. “I must have done 7,000 horses between 1950 to 60,” noted the artist on his website. It was while on a French art scholarship at the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts in the 1960s that he travelled to Spain for a few months and reportedly developed a passion for horses and bulls. Back in India, he frequented the stable of Kolkata’s Mounted Police, where he often observed and sketched horses. “He was a genuine and warm person. With a career spanning over five decades, no one could beat him with horses and bulls, he was the number one. A thorough draughtsman, he was extremely good with drawings. Unfortunately, he did not get his due,” says Ashish Anand, director of Delhi Art Gallery that organised a retrospective of his works in 2005-2006.

Kolkata-based artist Samindranath Majumdar recalls him as an inspiration for the younger generation. “He was one of the most important artists of our time, who had the power to embrace several styles, from abstracts to collages, optical illusions to figurative. One thing common between all of this was the vigour and energy with which he painted. He was young at heart till the very end,” notes Majumdar of the master who also worked at the Department of Handloom and Textiles, Government of India. Basak adds that no one left empty-handed from Das’ home. “He supported younger artists, guided them and also
offered monetary support.”

Holding the distinction of being the only Indian artist to have won a National Award (the Shiromani Kala Puraskar) while still an undergraduate, his works are a part of important collections world over, including National Gallery of Modern Art, Delhi, Glenbarra Art Museum, Japan, and Ludwig Museum in Germany.

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