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Where illusions blur the real

Artist Partha Bhattacharjee is making illusion appear real with the age-old art technique Trompe l'oeil at a display in the capital.

art and culture Updated: Apr 29, 2008 14:37 IST

Ten steps away from the wall, a woman looks straight at you, her hands resting on a block of wood. Move closer and what seemed so real turns out to be a painting using a technique called trompe l'oeil - a trick of the eye and artist Partha Bhattacharjee's signature style.

"My paintings signify what everyone is suffering from these days - illusion. Quite often we fail to distinguish between people who are fake and genuine. From afar, my paintings seem something else - draw closer and it's something else," the Kolkata-based Bhattarcharjee said during one of his exhibitions in the capital. <b1>

Trompe l'oeil is an age-old art technique in which an optical illusion is created so that a two-dimensional painting actually appears three-dimensional. It was extensively used during the Renaissance period when Italian painters used the technique in frescoes and murals.

It has also been used in several Hollywood movies such as "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind", "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" and "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory".

"But in India, I haven't seen anybody else doing similar work. There are artists like Vijendra Sharma who mix sculptures and paintings, but it's not trompe l'oeil," Bhattacharjee told IANS as he stood near a what-appeared-to-be-a-window on the wall.

A specialist in oil paintings, it's been only a little over two years since he adopted this genre of trompe l'oeil painting.

"In the epic Mahabharata, Duryodhan suffers from an illusion when he thinks that he can see beautiful scenery which actually doesn't exist. When you juxtapose that in the present context, you realise that everyone, in some way or the other, is suffering from something similar".

"That inspired me to try out this art technique - a teaser between the real and the surreal. An exhibition of my paintings using this technique in the Jehangir art gallery in Mumbai in 2006 was greatly appreciated by all. There has been no looking back since then," said the 47-year-old, whose canvases sell for anything between Rs.200,000 and Rs.700,000.

"Most of the artists in Kolkata say that my art is a fusion of what is and what is not. Although this technique is taught in art schools, using it is not easy because it's challenging and gives a lot of importance to fine detailing, in different angles, in order to give the impression of depth," he added.

According to a Bijon Chowdhury, Bhattacharjee's art gives new meaning to expressionism.

"He has superseded the distinction between abstract and figurative art," Chowdhury said.

Taking approximately five days to a month's time for each painting, depending on the "flow of idea", Bhattacharjee said he took five months to complete the body of 25 paintings which was up for the exhibition in the capital recently.

"It would be difficult to say which one of the paintings is my favourite. There is a set, however, which I particularly like. One portrays a woman in 1908, immensely powerful but quiet, holding together her family. And the other is that of a young woman in 2008, fiercely independent but not using all her powers," the artist said.

Wood, which features in almost all his paintings, forms a cross between a bare backed man and woman in another painting, giving the impression that they have been crucified.

"This painting is a tribute to Rizwanur (Rahman) and Priyanka (Todi). When the hue and cry was raised after Rizwanur's mysterious death, I was very upset but kept quiet. All that frustration has been focused on this painting which signifies that true love never meets," Bhattacharjee said as he pointed to the scores of names like Anthony-Cleopatra, Laila-Majnu and Salim-Anarkali, being painted all over the painting.

Rizwanur's mysterious death in Kolkata after his marriage to a Hindu industrialist's daughter created an uproar not just in his city but all over the country.

"The last painting that I did using trompe l'oeil was that of Rabindranath Tagore's Gitanjali. On that I have written a poem in Bengali which translates into 'I am searching for truth in the world'. And that's exactly my state of mind- a search for truth through my paintings," he added.