Chittaprosad belonged to a group of Leftist artists who in the 1940s defined modernity in Indian art. But he stood apart on many counts. Unlike most others, he never formally trained in art. He protested the Brahminical order he was born into by dropping his surname, Bhattacharya. He obsessed more about content when others were taken with form. And through his stark linocut prints — a process by which images carved on soft linoleum surfaces are transferred — he created a visual language that’s difficult to ignore.
“His use of linocuts could be a transmutation of his interest black-and-whites, where the starkness is higher than in the mitigated soft images produced by most other kinds of print-making,” says Sanjoy Kumar Mallik, associate professor at Shantiniketan’s Kala Bhavan who has written on the artist and has translated his letters for the sleek companion volumes brought out by Delhi Art Gallery (DAG) for the retrospective.
It’s difficult to prise apart Chitta the political activist from Chitta the artist. When he was picked up by Communist leader PC Joshi in the early 1940s to generate images for the party’s publications, Chitta was known for his political posters. His great moment came in 1943-33 when he travelled through famine-ridden Bengal and produced a searing documentary of destitution. He borrowed from Soviet iconography to depict the common man as a hero.
Along with shrunken-to-the-bone adults, majestically framed children kept recurring in his works. When he left the Communist Party in the late 1940s, his focus on children grew sharper. He became more interested in storytelling and puppetry. “More than his political philosophy, it was his humanism which came through,” says Mallik.
This retrospective, coming 33 years after Chittaprosad’s death, tries to capture the man as well as the artist.