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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

From the discomfort Zone: Speaking Art

I came from Paris to meet the art lover on the last day of the exhibition.

Written by Shombit Sengupta |
November 3, 2013 3:29:36 am

After a forceful keynote address on leadership at a conclave organised in the US by one of my business clients,General Colin Powell,former US Secretary of State,agreed to pose for photographs with participants. I shied away at the opportune moment,so the keepsake picture at home has my wife alongside the General,but not me. On her query about my sudden disappearance,I replied,“Guernica.”

When Nazi and Fascist warplanes bombed the Spanish town of Gernika during the 1937 Spanish Civil War,Spanish artist Pablo Picasso was furious. He started painting his protest in Guernica,a huge 11X24 feet canvas. This painting has since become an anti-war icon,used extensively in the 1960s by anti-Vietnam demonstrators. A Guernica reproduction hangs at the UN headquarters in New York. When Powell presented the case for declaring war on Iraq in February 2003,Guernica had to be covered. Although I don’t support Powell’s move for war,I admire his sensitivity to conceal the painting that’s so imbued with anti-war messaging.

Art is a medium where you don’t require a visiting card. I’ve found art’s extreme power to always have two elements — execution on canvas or sculpting form and the artist’s imagination that creates influence beyond the canvas. “Painting is an instrument of war,” said Picasso. Art can be a medium of revolt as indicated in Guernica,or it can spark invention. Here are two examples of artists drawing the future,the latent movement of society. The automobile was ignited from 14th-century artist Simon Martini’s drawing,while 16th-century artist Leonardo da Vinci first drew the flying machine,the seed of today’s aviation industry. Art can be hetero-dimensional,converging ideas to be scientific,philosophical or seductive,communicating different elements to different people to take society forward.

Let me take you to an exhibition of my paintings I was invited to hold in the sophisticated Carlton Hotel in Cannes. As I’d started my consulting business,I did not want to sell my paintings. So I informed the hotel that my paintings were for exhibition only and not for sale. After the first day,the hotel PR person called to say that a genuine art lover and collector wanted to buy four of my paintings and insisted on meeting me. The PR person persuaded me to meet her at the very least. I actually found that even holding an exhibition of my simple paintings in this opulent hotel to be a total dissonance. There were so many different fragrances and decors in this lavish hotel — the prime lodging for film personalities who come for the Cannes Film Festival each year. Anyway,for politeness sake,I came from Paris to meet the art lover on the last day of the exhibition.

She was about 55 years old. We met at the hotel coffee lounge. The way she described my paintings was really incredible,expressing every detail of my art in unbelievable poetic language. She totally paralysed my idea of not selling,saying,“Come and see your beautiful paintings at my home anytime you want. You can even take them for exhibitions. You don’t look like an egocentric person so why don’t you share your pieces so others can enjoy them?” Nearly two hours had passed and I was totally mesmerised. “You do whatever you want,Madame,” I heard myself say. She signalled with a finger,and a well-dressed gentlemen wearing a black suit and tie who was waiting at a distance came. She showed him the paintings and he took them away while I got a big envelope from Madame.

I have to tell you about the way she gave me the cheque. She had already written the cheque. It was inside a gorgeous parchment packet,exactly the kind of paper I use when I do water colours. She took it out from her large Louis Vuitton bag. On top of the A4 size envelope,there were words written in French in fine calligraphy – “Idea and beauty without frontiers”. The respect she showed in handing over the cheque in this envelope was not of exchange of money for art: “As you didn’t tell me the price,just think that you are sharing your art.” Later I realised that art is another medium that brings you closer to an unknown person. As I accompanied Madame to her chauffeured Rolls Royce Silver Cloud,she left saying,“Au revoir l’artiste”. On opening the envelope,I was astonished that my art could fetch such a high value.

From my different art exhibitions in Paris and other provinces in France,I’ve come to know a few French women who lead extremely opulent lives. I’ve been invited to their homes to chat with them in small groups on occasion. They are very curious,often surrounding me with a lot of questions on art,my colours,my method of ideation. Sometimes they would even ask me to describe the activities of my day. Although they know I handle big projects in corporate houses as a consultant,they’ve never questioned me on it. I’ve observed their discussion with me was always in artistic language. I have never seen their husbands during these meetings which can be very provocative,even perverted,on bizarre topics like the bourgeoisie,sex,showbiz or “Money makes everything. When you have money you can enjoy all”.

One day,one of the women asked a question to which I still don’t have an answer. “You always paint on a white canvas,did you ever try a black canvas?” Another woman replied,“He may not have painted on a black canvas because his life started from poverty,it might already be his black canvas.” What bothers me about such genuine,opulent French aristocrats is their condescending attitude of sympathy for poor people whom they can never know. Another question I have is — what are the thoughts that play out in their minds? But the idea they’ve planted in my mind is still on my agenda. I have to do a series of paintings on black canvas.

Shombit Sengupta is an international consultant to top management on differentiating business strategy with execution excellence (

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