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Galloping towards stardom

Pratik Ghosh catches up with artist Sunil Das, whose success came partly by accident.

india Updated: Nov 22, 2005 20:03 IST

Sunil Das isn’t surviving only on horsepower. He gores his way through whenever he sees red (read obstacles). Way back in 1956 — as a second-year student at Government Art College — the sheer force of his strokes won him a scholarship for survival.

Life has moved on from there like an anonymity-to-stardom story. On January 8 , a six-day exhibition showcasing his drawings and paintings over the years will be launched at The Park, along with the release of a book titled Art Movement, Work by Sunil Das. The high-profile show is organised by the Delhi Art Gallery.

Looking back at those years of struggle, Das thinks his tryst with destiny (horses to be precise) was “partly accident and partly by design”. The grant from the college was a catalyst; the resultant effect was international fame, which originated from the Mountain Police stables on SN Banerjee Road.

“I have lived with them to observe their anatomy, body language and behaviour. Success came at a time when my batch-mates who used to accompany me to the stable ran out of passion,” says Das, who claims that no one in the world had worked so extensively on horses.

 
 One of Das' creation

He came back to his muse after 25 years, riding the ‘speed’, which only his lines could evoke. In hindsight, the artist feels “it’s the power, myth, history and love surrounding the animal” that have worked to his benefit.

In a way, the Bull series, which he did in Spain in 1963 when he visited the country for a month while in Paris on a scholarship, is reminiscent of its illustrious predecessor. He captured the varied moods of the animal — oscillating between rage and calm — in charcoal, inks and paint, acrylic and oil.

There is more to Das than animal instincts. He trod new ground with The Bangladesh War of Liberation, Underwater, Confrontation, Heads, Rotation of Mankind (inspired by the race against time), Women and Prostitutes (each culminating in a series) — a mind-boggling range of diversities that keep assaulting and embalming sensibilities, taking him to new heights of fame and driving him almost insane in his quest for the perfect expression.

The same restlessness is evident on the wall of his claustrophobic studio, which holds one of his earlier works in mixed media that evolved through doodles. “I’ve worked on anything that came my way, burnt slim pieces of wood, coloured foil and pins for new forms of expression,” says Das.

His guiding principle is a Napoleonic adage that worked best for Picasso. “Impossible is a word found in the dictionary of fools. All you need is confidence. Picasso didn’t spare any medium to articulate his thoughts, why should I?”

The arrogance isn’t misplaced. In a career spanning 48 years — punctuated by countless solo and group exhibitions in India and abroad, several national and international awards — with no signs of stagnation, Das isn’t making empty boasts.

The exhibition will open in New Delhi from January 8 to 13.

First Published: Nov 21, 2005 16:42 IST