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The Art of Satire

Avijit Mukherjee says the presence of surrealistic paradoxes  and humour are vital elements in his works and decoding these are a source of pleasure for his audiences

Traditionally, we have this idea that art is supposed to be a serious matter. At the opposite humorous art would be on the lowest ladder of our mental scale. However, artworks that make us smile or laugh seem to be invading galleries and art fairs: quips, tricks played to the spectator, pile-ups of incongruous objects and so on. Is this phenomenon the reason for the lack of understanding between contemporary art and its audience today? “The presence of surrealistic paradoxes and humour are vital elements in my works and decoding these are, I feel, a source of pleasure for my audiences,” says Kolkata-based Avijit Mukherjee. Creating a surreal combination of the animal and human forms, he uses his unique works of art to comment on the human condition. Mukherjee is equally skillful with his inky creations as well as the contextual meanings they convey. “On a technical level, my paintings are painstakingly and meticulously rendered and are about the interplay of forms, colours, textures, patterns and delicate detailing. To as great an extent as possible, I try to move beyond binary choices in my process of art making,” he adds. As a self-taught artist, who has been painting, sculpting and photographing for over 25 years, his works are personal stories and imageries. Mukherjee, whose forefathers took refuge in India from Bangladesh during 1947, presents human emotions through creating different layers on the figures. So much so that he would go to the extent of unveiling the organs under the skin to represent emotions. Vibrant colours are used on his acrylic canvases. In case of other mediums Mukherjee uses light colours. In the texture and imagery concept of Mukherjee’s canvas, desire comes through poetic messages– tranquil sublimity of human imagination, passion, nostalgic journey from past to present in its sphere of human imagination, love and childhood dreams. But his treatment is interesting in the sense that the fantasy created on the canvases has got the power to diffuse imagination in a materialistic world. “In my works, I take a satirical look at life and people around me, which has shadows of humour on contemporary life,” he says. Mukherjee, who couldn’t afford art college because they were a poor family, says his grandfather was a good artist and that may be the was very young, the onus fell upon his mother to raise her children, which to her credit she did, rising above all the setbacks. “I’m a commerce graduate. I took up a job and kept practising art with the help of a friend who was an art college student. It was very tough, but I still tried to make good art,” says Mukherjee, who is inspired by Vincent van Gogh, Picasso, Salvador Dali, Frida Kahlo and Indian masters like Bhupen Khakhar, Krishan Khanna, Ganesh Pyne, Bikas Bhattacherjee and one Bangladeshi artist Zainul Abedin. Talking about the various mediums he has worked with, Mukherjee says he started with watercolours and loved applying gouache on his works. “I got into printmaking and soon started woodcut, cyanotype, gum bichromate and made a printmaking studio at my house,” he informs. When he turned to woodcut-printing as an exercise in new media, he was fascinated by its versatility but unprepared for its intensity. “I got help from a Boroda artist in woodcut and later from an artist from Kolkata.” Mukherjee says he tries to situate his work along a complex axis of modernity and tradition, drawing inspiration from a wide range of sources. “Traditional as well as contemporary forms and content are to be found side-by-side in my paintings. The visual insights I hope to offer my audience are at both micro and macro levels,” he says. Delightfully engaging with pop-art meeting surrealism in highly detailed works, his latest series created in lockdown time narrate a story within a story – fine pen lines sketch out reason art is in his blood. Having lost his father when he the details with watercolour to fill up and narrate a second story. It has simple motifs around which the artist knits a complex narrative, leaving ample space for the viewer’s imagination. “As the Corona pandemic continues to rage and forces us to come to terms with unprecedented physical and social contact, I turn to my art to remind me, perhaps even assure me, of interconnectedness in all its forms. The terrible human tragedy of this has also brought other factors into consciousness the clash of cultures; strength and willpower; victory and defeat,” he says. “These works give voice to my emotional and critical responses to all that I see around me. At a time of severely limited contact, they make me feel as though I remain part of an interconnected world of thoughts, images and ideas.” Mukherjee says various issues such as climate change, healthcare, industry, agriculture, migrant labour and the interactions between these factors are articulated in his works. “If nothing else, this period allows any creative individual the choice to remodel societal structures and relationships and also look at addressing the great challenges which lie in our future,” he adds.

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