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Quest for the Sublime

Niren Sengupta’s canvas can add colour to the dullest room. A man of sublimity in art, he invokes motifs from animal world, birds, contemporary life and spiritual existence. Team ART SOUL LIFE in a free-wheeling interview with the artist

Tall, lean frame with joyful eyes, sums up the artist Niren Sengupta’s warm persona. An aura which binds you instantly. An accomplished artist, a devoted teacher, a firm believer and an eternal optimist, Niren Sengupta is everything a teacher aims to be. Hailing from a rich business class family of Bengal, which was into jute trading, Sengupta never went through the pangs of poverty many top echelon artists flaunt as the path to success in the world of art.

“We were six brothers and except for one, all of us were into art. In fact, we had a great time reviewing each other’s work,” recalls Sengupta. Art may not be in the rich business class family but surely it was in the genes. Niren’s brother Rabin Sengupta is another well-recognised artist. “Yes, my mother was very artistic in her own way. She would make very beautiful alpana during festivals.

Today I feel sad that in those days we didn’t have any camera like today to click the photos of the beautiful alpana. Actually, my mother was my inspiration to be an artist,” he reminisces.

Basically, a science student, Niren Sengupta later landed in Calcutta Art College. “In those days, every father aimed to make their children doctor or engineer. I had to complete my graduation in science but my drawing was so beautiful the teachers kept my practical file in the college,” laughs Sengupta. “Later I got admission in Art College. Surprisingly, they did not teach water colour in the course. Most of the things I learnt on my own. In fact, this aspect helped me improve the syllabus of Delhi Art College,” the teacher recalls.

Before coming to Delhi Art College, Sengupta taught in BTS College. “I would hire a boat and lie in the boat enjoying the sky. I would just drift in the river,” but this is not what he was to enjoy for long. “One day the principal of the college came to me with a paper. He said there is a vacancy for the Principal of Delhi Art College. On his insistence I came and I got the job,” he says, as if thanking someone up there. “You know, I have faith in God and my ancestors and I believe in myself.”

A deeply spiritual person, the artist never let it reflect blatantly in his works. “I follow the Rama Krishna Mission and often visit the Belur Math in Kolkata. Swami Vivekanand has left an indelible mark on my life. In fact, the head of Ram Krishna Mission in Delhi would often invite me. These things helped me paint well but there is no conventional depiction.” His works are expressions of inner reflections laced with beauty and serenity. He immerses himself in the spiritual and aesthetic sphere at the same time seeking creativity in communion. “There is no definition of art. Several people experience the inspiration from within but very few have the skill to express themselves,” the teacher reflects. “Art, music, writing all are inter-related. The same recital by the same musician is different on different days. In the same fashion, I can never rate my work as good or excellent. It is a kind of expression which is never 100 per cent complete,” he adds. “Sometimes, I criticize my own work,” Sengupta grins.

Niren Sengupta’s canvas can add colour to the dullest room. “I love to use bright colours. Earlier, I worked a lot in black and white. But after I visited the tribal areas, I fell for the bright colours. I feel if bright colours pep up my mood, it can work for everyone.” A man of sublimity in art, he invokes motifs from animal world, birds, contemporary life and spiritual existence. He is able to convey the emotional outcry through strong colours and soft hues. There are small strokes, precise lines and volume, all in the same canvas. Niren’s compositions play with and balance contrasting colours from the realm of warm and the cold colours to present a harmony of possible hope.

Even if Niren cannot be slotted as a painter of abstracts, a feature that separates his paintings from many of the abstract painters is the latter connect with nature. He does not paint landscapes. The underlying unity is emotion in them all. They all are spiritual. His movement in the direction of spiritualism is very clearly indicated in of his paintings.

During his tenure as the Principal of Delhi Art College, Niren Sengupta must have come across several talented artists but he mentions three names which are especially close to his heart. “I see great talent in Neeraj Goswami, Shampa Das and Satyen Ghosal,” he mentions them with a twinkle in his eyes. Not to forget some of his contemporaries Shobha Bruta, Jai Zharotia and Kalicharan Gupta, both of whom were his students.

Niren Sen Gupta has been teaching for more than three decades at graduate and post graduate levels in reputed art institutions. He is a member of Calcutta painters and executive member of Academy of Visual Media, New Delhi. Decorated with many highly esteemed awards like AIFACS Award and NBT Award, Award for Humanity Udayan Care, Niren’s works can be found at well-known galleries like Lalit Kala Akademi and with many private galleries in India and abroad.

Once a teacher, always a teacher. Niren does not shy away from offering a word of sound advice to the young artists, “do not paint to sell. Paint to enjoy art and believe in yourself. Have faith in God and your ancestors, they will help. I give two options to the young people because they may not have seen God but surely, they have seen their ancestors.” This coming from the master of colours and composition who moves beyond the trance to romance in a single stroke is worth philosophical and artistic rumination.