Bright, sparkly, rippling with life and energy, bursting with love and longing, artist Samir Sarkar’s paintings are sheer poetry written with colours
TEXT: TEAM ART SOUL LIFE
For many artists, the idea that acrylics belong in a kindergarten classroom rather than an established painter’s studio begins in art school. Professors have been known to drill art students with unspoken rules like “don’t paint a large sculpture red,” “don’t put a circle in the middle of a composition,” and “serious painters use oils, not acrylics.” This final generalisation, passed down from one pompous painter to the next, is, in many ways, a grave misfortune. “For the past 25 years, acrylic colour has been the main medium for my paintings,” says Kolkata-based contemporary artist Samir Sarkar. “After doing the line drawing on paper or canvas, and many layers of colour, the subjects and people are slowly given shape using more layers of colour,” he says. Since he uses fast colours, Sarkar says his figures have a definite brightness about them. “They are inspired from Egyptian paintings; thus, the figures are drawn in the same form, the clothes they wear have long lines making them look taller and, in a way, Egyptian. Most of my paintings are of 42½X48½ size, which takes about 100 hours to complete,” he informs. If you look at his work, it’s like sheer poetry written with colours.
Bright, sparkly, rippling with life and energy, bursting with love and longing. Vivacious yet leaving you with a sense that real life would struggle to match up with those colourful renditions. Using strong visual elements and bright colours, his artwork makes you want to just sit there and get lost in the fantasy world. An Armyman’s son, Sarkar remembers having to change cities every two-three year’s during his childhood. While most teenagers would hate relocation because they have to leave their friends behind, move to a new school and start life all over again, it wasn’t the case with Sarkar. Being a born dreamer, to him the pleasure of travelling and seeing new cities was too strong to regret leaving the old behind. Relocating from one army base to another allowed him to explore many cities and its culture, while feeding the budding artist inside him. Each city that he lived-in, helped him grow his visual experiences, picking up bits and pieces before he moved along. Also, according to Sarkar, “Travelling so much as a kid forced me to get better at communication and understanding human behaviour.” This exposure to different cities and its culture has paid him good dividends, because it has allowed his work to connect with the people and reflect on the society we live in. He showed early promise when he started painting and sketching in school. “When I was in 8th standard, I had a classmate called Raju, who was brilliant at art. His work fascinated me. It made me wonder how he could use simple strokes to make beautiful artwork that brimmed with life,” he recalls. Inspired by his young friend, Sarkar started on his own artistic journey as a little curious kid looking for a medium to tell his stories. While he started learning by himself, living in Kolkata, he happened to be residing in the vicinity of some leading Indian artists. Persistent to learn and improve his work, he would simply land up at their house asking for advice and suggestions to improve his work. His dedication paid off and he joined a diploma of visual art programme at the Academy of Fine Arts (Kolkata). Soon, he was doing solo shows and exhibitions, building his own signature style. In 1996, he met Mother Teresa. He was so moved by what she was doing that he started working with her NGO, Tomorrows Foundation. Being one of its founding members, their goal was to help kids on the streets. Tomorrow’s Foundation is committed to all-round development of children from underprivileged backgrounds to help them become self-reliant and enjoy their right to a dignified life.
Sarkar was instrumental in the development of the ‘TF Card Project’, a way to bring about economic independence for the children from Kalighat brothels (a red-light district in Kolkata), streets and slums. Working with the organisation for many years helped him a great deal as an artist. It allowed him to better understand human emotions and the power of bringing a smile on someone’s face. According to him, “I never understood humans could have such humility and simplicity. When you work with these children, they will tell you stories, which are often filled with pain. It makes you appreciate life a lot more.” Experiences like these give you the strength to wake up every day and want to bring a positive change in the world you live in, and for Sarkar, the medium for change is his canvas. Besides the story and the bright colours, one of the most fascinating things about his artwork is the headgear. Sarkar believes that the headgear is a symbol of power. It helps an individual stand out; but it’s more than just a fashion statement. It puts an additional responsibility on the bearer, sending out a message to the world, giving hope to people from different walks of life. “All my paintings have people wearing some headgear that has a face painted on them, which depicts the double-faced nature of people. Like what we see in some professions where people wear uniforms like policemen, nurses, army personnel or the Pope. It’s the headgear that represents their identity. Likewise, in my painting, the headgears are the depiction of our true identity,” he explains. “It’s the true fact of our inner soul. And people can wear a face that may be different from the real one. People do carry multiple masks to hide their true nature, and eventually put up what suits them in this momentary world, concealing the actual character of their personality.” Like a story, Sarkar’s paintings have a lot of themes and messages, but they all revolve around strong emotions and relationships. He usually tries to depict these strong emotions through the human face he paints. He says that many of his paintings show two faces, which depicts multiple characteristics that each individual depicts when interacting with different people. “We are not the same when we deal with different people. Humans have learnt to react depending on who they are engaging with,” says Sarkar. According to him, “Music brings harmony to life and helps connect our senses.” As far as family is concerned, he says that “I have seen so many broken families that I try to show family bonding, affection and love, hoping that maybe my painting would bring about a positive change.”