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BORN 1960  India

Mangalesh Dabral

This city will always pursue you. You will walk
the same streets, grow old in the same neighborhoods,
will turn gray in these same houses.
You will always end up in this city. 
                                                             -Constantine P. Cavafy

Cities are like lovers. They welcome you, touch and caress you with the hands of their luminous streets and dark mysterious alleys, and their lamp posts seem like the signifiers of some unknown civilization. You could laugh, weep and dream with them and they will listen to you and never let you alone. They seem in perpetual waiting for those who are in love with them. The allurement of the city is such that if you enter it once, notwithstanding the complexities and hardships you come across, you will never go back, never leave it because, as the great Greek poet Cavafy says, the ‘city will always pursue you.’ Most of the people who, some decades ago, came to the cities from rural areas, villages and small towns must have experienced the awe of entering those sprawling spaces , wondering as to how one could live there and  eventually staying there forever. Slowly, the city grows upon you and you fall in love with it.
Somenath Maity is a painter in love with Kolkata, where he came as a country boy from his lush green village Darua in East Midnapore district in West Bengal (now Pashim Banga) and observed the city life while travelling in the double decker buses. Even though he faced a number of difficulties in meeting the ends meet, he kept pursuing art studies at an art institute run by the eminent artist Shuvaprasanna. During his formative years, cityscapes of Kolkata, its historic architecture, ruins and living houses, its streets, squares and pavements, lights at night, traffic signals, and the solitude of neighborhoods had a lasting effect on his sensibility and these concrete images formed the understructure for the ensuing abstractions on his canvases. Despite being a keen observer of Kolkata’s daily life shimmering with the toiling masses, there is minimum human presence in his canvases, but what is remarkable is that he creates a poetic vision by depicting things used by the common and downtrodden people. Thus we see handcarts without their pullers, resting in a corner, charpoys, and the utensils of kitchen, a handpump, forlorn staircases, abandoned ladders, thatches and doors of the makeshift dwelling places for the poor, and the railings separating them from rest of the city. Such images mark one of the early phases of Somenath’s work. His canvases of that period represent, on the level of content, a deep concern for the backyards and the margins of the city where the poor, toiling people live in misery and, on the level of form, a jigsaw puzzle -like quality that requires a close look at each and every detail in order to understand the artist’s statement. With a strong drawing base, such canvases are unique in their starkness and almost monochromatic quality. Invisibility of human beings in Somenath’s canvases is also a profound statement on the city life where imposing structures take the centre-stage and people often become secondary, marginalized and negligible.
Relationship between the ‘concrete’ or ‘realistic’ and the ‘abstract’ has often been a matter of debate in the world of art. Many artists hold that an abstract painting should not be viewed as something corresponding with some reality. It’s somewhat like the unending arguments about the content and the form in the field of literature. American abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock was of the view that ‘abstract art should be enjoyed jus as music is enjoyed.’ True, abstract art is not an imitation of reality or a parallel depiction of it, but it does have a relation with the reality which is often complex and dialectical in its nature. In the abstract art, realism gets transformed into what can be called a ‘higher or heightened realism’. For the Italian sculptor Constantine Brancusi, abstract was the most realistic because ‘what is real is not the exterior but the idea, the essence of things.’ 
Somenath’s canvases are superb examples of the dialectics of reality and abstraction, of the ‘heightened realism’ as they do not just provide  the exteriors, but depict the essence, the soul of the city, and may be, for this very reason Somenath does not portray the obvious landmarks of Kolkata such as the Victoria Memorial, Chowringhee or Howrah Bridge, a difficult choice for an artist so immersed in his city. Somenath’s Kolkata is much more  interiorized, it’s a Kolkata that transcends  its physical appearances, a  city within the city where geometrical shapes, angles and triangles, domes, turrets and minarets of a building, temple, church  or mosque, balconies, doors and railings of old and new houses  cast semblances upon each other and form another place. Watched mostly at the twilight or night, when the dust of the day settles on the pavements, shadows and silences start growing, and, in the words of American poet Langston Hughes, ‘the city goes to bed, hanging lights above its head’, Somenath’s cityscapes  overwhelm and invite the viewer to be wrapped up in its solitude:
City of emptiness, city of the white façades, city where one lonely dangling lantern 
Wavers aloft like a taper before a marble sarcophagus, frightening away the ghosts;
City where a single white-lit window in a motionless blackened house-front swallows 
The hosts of darkness that stream down the street towards it;
City above whose dark tree-tangled park emerges suddenly, unlit, uncannily, a grey 
Ghostly tower whose base is lost in the fog, and whose summit has no end.
City of midnight,
Bury me in your silence.
City of night,
Wrap me in your folds of shadow.
(Excerpt from John Gould Fletchner’s poem)
Somenath’s later works mark an interesting journey from forms to colors, from concrete to semi-abstract to pure abstract where shapes start merging with colors. It is remarkable that in his new canvases, Somenath avoids painting what he has observed, but paints what he feels about what he has observed. There are of course visuals of the city that are quite layered and imposing, but they belong more to a ‘felt’ space rather than a ‘seen ‘one. Even though having a sound drawing base--which is one of the important traits in his works-- they speak mostly in the language of rich and vibrant colours, their sharp angular shapes, triangles, quadrangles and arches become softer and smoother and the blacks and the grays of earlier canvases turn into reds, yellows, greens and blues in their all hues and layers. In these canvases Somenath emerges as a master colorist.
Somenath’s cityscapes are beautiful, illuminated, and enchanting. They are solitary and dream-like too. They provide a visual treat, but what is more striking is that they seem to unfold some mystery to you and you wish to remain in front of them for as long as you can. This has been possible mainly due to Somenath’s masterly use of light in his colors. He has succeeded in producing the inherent light of each and every color he has used. The great French painter Paul Cezanne has said that ‘light is something that cannot be produced, but must be represented by something else—by color.’ Somenth’s colors represent fascinating variations, layers and hazes of light and create a pervasive veil of atmosphere. In a number of his canvases we see a vast and stylized sky with various hues, clusters of stars and an occasional half moon, and all these images form a grand dream of atmosphere. The lights of the city at night were one of the first images Somenath came across as a boy from village. It’s no wonder that they remained with him and became a part of his consciousness and creations. Since then, he has been listening and talking to the city, walking round it, dreaming and lamenting with it and finding a world with every footstep. He dreams the city in lines, colors and lights, and creates poetry in his canvases. 
                            (Mangalesh Dabral is a well-known poet and journalist. A  Sahitya Academy Award winning litterateur, he writes on art, music and cultural issues.)



1979-85     Studied Fine Arts at Visual Arts under guidance of Shuvaprasanna, Calcutta.
1980-85     Five years Diploma Course in Fine Arts from Indian College of Arts and Draftsmanship, Calcutta.


2002-03      Senior Fellowship, ministry of Culture, Govt. of India
2002      AIFACS Award, New Delhi
2002      Birla Academy Award, Calcutta
1995      AIFACS Scholarship, New Delhi
1993-94      Research Grant from Lalit kala Academy, New Delhi
1992      All India Youth Art Camp organized by IAAI
1986      Cultural Dept. of West Bengal
1984-85      B. P. Poddar Memorial Scholarship, College of Visual Arts, Kolkata
2012      Jury of All India Camel Colour Art Contest


2013      Tao Art Gallery, Mumbai
2013     Prakrit Art Gallery, Chennai
2013     Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai
2011     Lalit Kala Academy, New Delhi
2011     Tao Art Gallery, Mumbai
2010     Tao Art Gallery, Mumbai
2009     Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai
2008     Sanskriti Art Gallery, Calcutta
2007     Art Space, Calcutta
2006     Mahua Art Gallery, Bangalore
2006     Art Folio Gallery, Chandigarh
2005     Time and Space, Bangalore
2005     Tao Art Gallery, Mumbai
2004     Gallery One, Gurgaon
2003     Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai
2002     Birla Academy of Art & Culture, Calcutta
2002     Trivenikala Sangam, New Delhi
2001     Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath, Bangalore
2000     Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath, Bangalore
1999     Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai
1998     Birla Academy of Art & Culture, Calcutta
1997     Rabindra Bhavan, Lalit kala Academy, New Delhi
1994     Birla Academy of Art & Culture, Calcutta
1991     Birla Academy of Art & Culture, Calcutta
1991     Bajaj Art Gallery, Mumbai
1989     Tagore Art Gallery, Airport, Calcutta
1986     Academy of Fine Arts, Calcutta


2007     One Man Show and Artist in Residency at Manhattan & Warwick, New York, Fremond,San Francisco organized by Kala Fine Art, Texus
2007     Group Show at London organized by Mahua Art Gallery
2007     Imprints – Indi art Show at Ueno Royal Museum, Tokyo, Japan, Curated by: Kalpana Shah
2007     Royal Academy, London organized by Art Alive
2006     Group Show at LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts, Singapore Organized by Tao Art Gallery
2006     Group Show at London organized by Aroshi Gallery
2002     Henley Festival, U.K.
2002     Group Show and Artist in Residency at Barn Gallery, Henley, U.K.
1991     Group Show at Greenwich Citizen Art Gallery, U.K.
1991     Group Show at Ipswitch Art Gallery, U.K.
1983     One Man Show at Stuttgart, West Germany
1983     Group Show at Stockholm, Sweden