My dear artists – Aabra’ca’Dabra – conjurors of urban street art

April 16, 2015, 17:45. A break between two sax-guitar-sitar jam sessions. Some of them – clothes and palms coated with thick paints – are busy with their brushes on the pitch road along Dhakuria Lake. The two amateur announcers reluctantly get up, once again rub the dust off their jeans and take yet another hesitant step towards the audience. “Here. Look at us once more – two idiots in white – the colour of peace, you see? We are Aabra‘ca’dabra. We like to do art. Art is magic. The space where we live today severely needs magic. We believe that anybody can perform a magical act like we are performing today. And in this time we live, road is the only road leading to that magic.”

They could have just uttered the spell: Aabra’ca’Dabra!

dhakuria4

Dhakuria Lake, Kolkata

The ‘performance’ that they are referring to is urban street art at its purest. It is a nonchalantly crazy blend of paint and music, movement and sound, talent and whim; a deceptively peaceful battle of the arrogance of aesthetic-intellectual elitism (almost annoying, though intriguing) versus the humbleness of rustic-bohemian intimacy (almost endearing, though incomprehensible). Last but not the least, Abra’ca’dabra is a chant about ‘art in protest’ and ‘protest in art’.

8B bus stand: Jadavpur

8B Bus stand: Jadavpur, Kolkata

Street art is often considered to be synonymous to begging – coins all around, a thin circle of half-bewildered half-amused mostly disinterested passerby crowd, an old mangy dog. A’ca’D is all that (except the dog, as of now) and some more. Deeply influenced by certain aspects of the mystic ‘Baul’ way of life, it is not contrary to the concept of begging. Similarly as the Baul, the A’ca’D ‘madhukori’ doctrine uninhibitedly offers its audience a fair share of pleasure, faith, knowledge, experience and realization as well as a promise of an alternate way of life in a coded language of art.

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My dear artists 6 – Chitra Sahasrabudhey

Artist

Chitra Sahasrabudhey is a painter of the people, in a medium where majority of her people have no access to – a contradiction that caught my eyes first, when Neeraja, her daughter showed her work to me in her laptop. However technology and humanity were never as vicious enemies as the romantic idealists would like them to be. Chitra Sahasrabudhey’s art is not of a romantic idealist – but again in some sense they are. Her digital canvas, style and subjects possess a romance that is so very mundane and minimalistic, and hence the more idealistic – especially in today’s so very shiny consumer world that we live in.

Nap

Seth (Businessman)

Thread

Knowing her daughter Neeraja for past one year, I have aspired to meet Chitra several times. One may have no lack of various motivations behind meeting a person as versatile as her, but for me it was mostly to meet an artist I have admired. Besides the place of art in politics has been a subject that I have opted to understand several times and she seemed to have an opinion about it,

Nrithya (Dance)

and more importantly she had a first-hand experience of being and remaining an artist as well as a political person, for whom the two fields often merged together.

Shakti (Women power)

I am not sure if I agree with (and it is totally irrelevant in this context)  the `quasi-Gandhian’ driving force behind Vidyashram, of which Chitra is one of the founder members, and which is a center for practice and preservation of people’s knowledge (Lokavidya). Based at Sarnath, Varanasi since 1995, Vidyashram came up as a result of the involvement of its associates with various other organizations working on people’s science and technology, with farmers and labours, and self-help projects for women and men through marketing their handcrafts and other products in the local markets. Among these organizations one that I would like to mention is Nari Hastakala Udyog Samiti (of which Chitra was the President), since women at work is a recurring theme in her painting.

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My dear artists 5 – Sudha Pillai

When I thought of featuring My Dear Artists for the first time, the aim was to proclaim my awe and respect towards my friends, or associates, who turned out to be amateur artists – and very good at that, and whom I met through professional or personal channels that had nothing to do with art. As it turns out these days, internet is prevailing over even my own little privy hall of fame, and I sometimes wish to include names, with whom I have not shared a smoke, or a trek, or a day out to an exhibition; but whom I nevertheless like to think of as my associates, or more precisely web-associates, whom I have met through social networks or blog surfing. Finding a new artist – irrespective of her already existing fame or the lack of it – in a remote blog or a deviantART page or such like, following an artist’s work over months in the web, suddenly stumbling upon her work in a physical space – a magazine, or a gallery with a flash of recognition – a combination of all this gives me such a columbus!

Superavana : scribble by Sudha Pillai

Sudha Pillai and her scribbles have been a source of great joy to me for the last few months. Journalist, writer, photographer, audio-visual medium expert Sudha currently is the Features Editor at Bangalore Mirror (Times Group) and a voracious scribbler through one of her Facebook pages.

Other side of the rainbow : scribble by Sudha Pillai

Last December, couple of her pieces – `Burden’ and `Mundane’ got me hooked to her page. `Burden‘ was a depiction of a squatting man with a hundred cobblestones closing in upon him from top – but with a hint of an upward gaze from below his hat – as if he has not entirely submitted to the crushing weight. `Mundane‘ was a checker-board decorated by trios of two adults and a child in each box with permuting genders – accompanied with the caption : It is the same with daddy-mommy, daddy-daddy or mommy-mommy. Which country allows a child to make such a decision on her own? Not ours! 

Here is Iron Chanu Sharmila –

Will the tube burn down the veil : scribble by Sudha Pillai

The narrative style and the strong, intricate lines in grey-scale in her drawings are confident and cognizant. It is often clearly a voice of a journalist – touching on issues such as yet another outburst of AAP racism by poet-leader Kumar Vishwas in Black and White or MP Home minister’s comment on safety of women in Chennai in relation to the amount of their body being exposed in public in White ribbon,  harassment of artist Balbir Krishan for being queer in Hangmen etc.

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My dear artists 4 – Soutick Saha

It has not been a while since I came across an artist, whose work I liked. But it has indeed been a while since I felt moderately magnanimous to post about one. It is a syndrome with a name. It is called self-engrossment (see how gross it is just by how it sounds!). There are few necessary ingredients such as collecting some snaps of the artwork, selecting the best few – or at least the ones I like the best (unless it is someone like Tejas, who paints three beautiful canvases and goes back to Mathematics), but most of all finding a free day, when I actually feel that I have some time for people other than myself, whew!

Soutick Saha is an undergraduate student at the Chennai Mathematical Institute (CMI), in the department of Physics.  I met him about a year ago in at a short art-appreciation course. It was one of those hardcore gatherings, where participants including myself determinededly and what is scarier very sincerely listened, chewed, learned, indigested, discussed and spat art all over the space. Soutick, with his many questions shot at the speaker with grave unstoppability, chilled my teeth to the roots within the first half an hour of the first session. But then in a few days I saw his paintings.

Of course this painting is called the divine love and what else can it be, but I will not hold that against it. The medium is oil pastel and soft pastel (and before I confirmed with the artist, I was thinking it was acrylic – so much for my artistic knowledge!).

Are they not beautiful? The one in the right – I think is my favourite! Take a look at his Buddhas too.

Among the works of Soutick that I saw I felt that paint is the right medium for him, or at least he is definitely more comfortable with it. But he has a way with pen drawings too and among many of his drawings this is the one I thought I quite enjoyed:

He has a set of thickly lined, serene but quite emotional pastel landscapes that verge towards the abstract. Some of these I liked instantly and some took a bit of time but eventually grew into me and I finally decidedly to consider myself lucky that I went to attend that art-course.

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My Dear Artists 3 – Octavio Arizmendi

Octavio is one of those totally involved hardcore mathematicians, with whom the first handshakes are always heavy with the weariness of having to touch a super intelligent alien from the ultra whateveritis galaxy. A PhD. student in Saarland, Octavio is on the verge of submitting his thesis within an obscenely short time period of two years since he began.

He is from Mexico, inheriting a brain full of complicated logic, coming from a family of lawyers. And he intends to learn German by watching German movie every Tuesday evening, without understanding ninety eight percent of the dialogue. But then the ways of super intelligent aliens are bound to vary from the common.

Within a few days I came to know that he was a footballer, and a painter too – thanks to Moritz Weber, a disciple painter under Octavio, working in the same department in the university. And while Octavio’s work in mathematics often brushed past my skull, without leaving a trace of understanding, I was much engrossed by the vibes of the tiny paintings of dark silhouetted buildings against yellow evening sky, made by him as a gift to Moritz. I was curious to see more. It was an ideal opportunity once John and I were invited by Octavio, Carlos and Barbara to visit their sixth floor apartment over an excellent Mexican dinner with chicken cooked in orange juice by Carlos, yoghurt pelted with apples by Barbara and red wine.

cuadro domino

The above is one of my favourites of his. I am worse than a novice when it comes to water colour, but it is not just because of his skill; what attracts me most in this, is the impression of a conversation that just came to a halt as I intruded in it. Once it feels like it was just a mellow correspondence, the next moment – an intense plot…

rino

I wish I had a copy of better resolution of the above painting. If he had told me that he really saw a rhino pushing a dead tree with his horn in a silent marshland, I would have believed him. But then if he had said that he saw in his dream an mountainside river with evening looming in, and later copied a rhino out of a children’s book of animals just to decorate, I would have believed him too. Point is, it did not matter, the effect was overwhelming…

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My Dear Artists 2 – Koustabh Chakraborty

Koustabh Chakraborty and I met through an usual cobweb of innumerable via-media university-friends and drifted away, till I rediscovered him during the celebration of Dr. Binayak Sen’s bail on behalf of united students forum. I had been away from my city for long, hardly knew anyone with whom I could share my part of joy and overwhelm, and halfway through the program I started considering my presence as that of a mildly unwelcome naive tourist trespassing into the realm of intense involvement of thousand souls. It was a small relief finding his familiar face among them. I knew that Koustabh wrote poetry. What I did not know was that he was a painter too. That time I was in search of a painter for designing a website, and it was just out of casual interest that I formally befriended him in Orkut, soon to be bowled over by his “Tomar Ghore Bosot Kore Koijona” (How Many Reside in Your Heart):

Acrylic on canvas is his favored medium. Another masterpiece by him is his Dalisque “An Odyssey from Nature to Cluture”:

I happen to be a proud buyer of a copy of his Untitled Landscape (because it reminds me of my childhood for some twisted reason) and he owes me a treat ever since.

Some of his work that I love just because of the strength of their colors and compositions:

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My Dear Artists 1 – Tejas Kalelkar

The idea of sharing here the random pieces of art that I had loved, is solely and shamelessly stolen from the Global Art Junkie. But fans have their own dirty rights of interpreting/copying/stealing their idol’s ideas. I ardently believe what Mario Ruoppolo told Pablo Neruda in one-of-the-most-beautiful-movies-of-the-world named Il Postino, as the poet accused him of seducing the fiercely pretty Beatrice with sly uses of his verses: Poetry doesn’t belong to those who write it; it belongs to those who need it. However, I cannot at the same time deny that I have somewhat been meaning to do this for a very long time. So many scraps of papers – smeared with paints, strokes, words… Some lovingly presented, some carelessly left at, some taken notice of only by vague chances.

What makes this essentially different from a general post about art is that I know these artists personally. None of them are anywhere close to professionals, but just forced to have sat and produced something out of a sudden whim that has been almost uninvitedly bothering them beneath their pituitary gland for a while. Thus my judgments, or rather emotions towards their work are very personal, as I believe it is indeed so, admitted or not, for any art appreciator living under the sky.

My first advertisement of one of those artists dear to me:

This is “Eyjafjallajokull” (the volcano in Iceland that was erupting just then), the Cracked Skull of Tejas Kalelkar. A unidimensional mathematician, a religious follower of jerky web-comics, a biker, a talker, a trekker, a meditator (specializing in Suryanamaskara that involves bending one’s body in certain queer positions for the entertainment of the viewers), an occasionally-aspiring-but-often-given-up-on-his-talents painter, and a friend. This is his second attempt ever to make a painting. His blog, where he writes down his thoughts once in a while can be found here.