An artist’s alibis and excuses …
I am fascinated by the beauty of Nature and as an artist, I prefer to explore the nuances of nature in abstract forms. In fact, I never paint realistically. Rather, for any particular subject, I try to create a form by surrendering its objective form to colours, and conceptual lines, shapes, and patterns.
My chosen medium is enamel painting in which we use special vitreous paints that offer an extensive range of vibrant colours. The special colours used in this rather cloistered medium can give life to abstract shapes or even just lines and directions. In the end, my efforts are directed at creating an image that speaks for itself and captivates the viewer with vivacity.
I believe expressing the inner beauty of nature can be the sole aim of a visual artist and I do not wish to convey any message through my paintings. Neither do I think one should explain a painting because I believe a work of art should itself reach out to the audience in a way that can never be expressed in a verbal language.
Ancient Craft, Modern Art
Enamelling, that is, the technique of fusing powdered vitreous enamel colours on metal plates was possibly invented in Egypt. Thereafter, Greeks, Celts, and Chinese too used enamel on metal objects. The technique has been practised through the millennia mainly to create jewellery and other decorative art pieces. And the process produced such fascinating effects that enamelled colours have even stood in as substitute for precious gemstones in ceremonial objects.
Application of this sturdy, time-tested technique in the field of visual art in recent times has opened up a captivating vista, an entirely new medium that has immense potential for both indoor paintings as well as open-air murals as they are practically weather-proof.
We, the artists who work on this medium, use vitreous enamel colours (inorganic pigments) with silica on a metal plate, mostly steel of copper. But unlike in other forms, the painting is incomplete even after the painter has shaped out her thoughts. The final work is then produced by heating the plate in a furnace at a precise temperature for a precise length of time. The process of heating is repeated three to four times to attain the right depth of colours, and the right texture.
Through heat treatment, colours melt and become a part of the substrate. Depending on the composition of the glass, enamel colours can be transparent, opaque, or opalescent. But always, the vitreous colours offer a special kind of vibrancy and also, a tactile quality that isn’t found in other mediums.
Before I end, let me make another point about the process. In the other mediums, say oil painting or tempera, we are certain about the end result. But in enamel paining, the process that goes inside the furnace is beyond an absolute control and so, it lends an element of unpredictability.
Sometimes, the painter has to accept disappointments, but often, the element of uncertainty produces charming surprises.
A painter’s journey
After completing a post-graduate course at London School of Art and Design, (presently [new name]) in 2019, I had to keep away from painting for a long time because the drifts of life took me to another direction.
When it was time to reboot – the year was 1993 – I was confused about the medium to work on: Indian Painting, the genre in which I had been trained ever since I picked up a brush, or what I had learned under the tutelage of Sri [name] in London: enamel painting. Ultimately, I opted for the latter, moving on from the canvas to steel plates.
Since enamel painting was not an established form of art in India then – it still isn’t – finding right art materials was a huge challenge initially. Fortunately for me, late Debi Prasad Niyogi of Sur Enamel, Kolkata helped me in a big way to source the paints. He also introduced me to a refractory whose furnaces I have been using for firing my plates, a process which I have explained above.
That was how my journey with enamel painting began almost 25 years ago … It has been an exceedingly rewarding journey.
I have participated in art and industry camps organized by Tata Steel at Jamshedpur and conducted workshops at Jamshedpur school of Art, which too is under the aegis of Tata Steel. I have run a number of workshops on enamel painting at the Government College of Art and craft, Kolkata (my alma mater), Jindal Iron and Steel Co., Mumbai, and Kala Bhavan, Visva Bharati, Santiniketan.
I have also worked as a visiting artist at Bristol School of Art Media and Design, University of West of England.
Besides group exhibitions, I have had several solo exhibitions in India and abroad. My paintings have been collected by individuals and organisations like Tata Steel Jamshedpur, the Steel authority of India, New Delhi, the Ministry of Steel, Government of India, India International Centre, New Delhi, the National Mineral Development Corporation, New Delhi, Alliance Franchise, Bangalore, the Gems & Jewellery Park, Salt Lake, Kolkata and Ramakrishna Mission, Belur, West Bengal.
Tata Steel, a leading steel manufacturer of the world, has the motto “We also make tomorrow.” True to their faith, they have recognised the future potential of enamel painting and have supported me throughout my career as a free-lance enamel painter. This exhibition too has been sponsored by them. I cannot thank them enough.