With flowing white beard and snow-white hair, Chandra Shekhar Dey, who comes from Chittagong Art College, speaks about his work and ideas. This was over a delicious chicken roll, at the Bengal Gallery café, on a sunny afternoon. “Shekhar Da”, as he is known to many, who respect and admire him for his infinite knowledge of art and related subjects, has always had patience to discuss visual art. Mellow and yet outgoing, with time for nouveau concepts such as installations and video art, Shekhar is certainly “a man for all seasons”. Being with him is like a breath of fresh air. Gentle but outspoken, he does not mince his words. Poised and confident, after decades of teaching and guiding, his philosophy and ideas remain simple and easy to absorb.
Speaking about why there is a wild rush towards abstraction across the world, the artists says that advertisements, electrical connections and media extensions like the mobile phones etc bring in a lifestyle so different from the one before. He says, “For better or for worse, the world has changed. Artists today watch many TV channels. They are just couch potatoes or lounge lizards. It is not easy to assimilate the flow of knowledge. There is confusion in the amassing of knowledge. The disciplined artist, however, does not jumble up his concept of lines and colours. He remains cool and confident in his selection of subjects and textures – as much as possible and probable.”
The artist says that one can get distracted and mesmerised by the political, economic and social matters that compound the life-style around him. It is difficult not to be overwhelmed by the turns and twists of happening around him. He says, “What happens in the US, the UK, Middle East, Tibet, India and China, with all the holocausts happing in the world — he can’t remain totally impervious to them. An artist feels and thinks – as much as the next person. How can he not care about the global warming – when even the rickshaw-puller and the taxi-driver are speaking about it. The average man on the streets speaks about price hikes and bashing of automobiles – for apparently no rhyme or reason.”
Each one is concerned about “roti, kapra aur makan”. It’s impossible to live in an ivory tower these days. “In poetry, drama and fiction, today,” says Shekhar, “There is the same mélange of confusion. It is the mirror of the state of affairs today, the world over. One second, one sees a billboard: and the next, one sees something else. It is a life of extreme competitions. The stress and mingling and mixing in our lifestyle are too much to bear for the average thinking person. The control is not at the hands of intellectuals but corporate demands. When the artist sits to paint, he is concerned about which gallery will sponsor him. The canvas, paint and brush prices have shot up. The artist has to survive and buy his materials. He can’t remain in pervious to the reality around him. There is chaos all round the artist, and every creative person.”
How did leading icons, like Zainul Abedin. SM Sultan, Qamrul Hasan, paint in a manner that cannot be surpassed? Were there more inspiration, dedication and determination in artists of those days? What we see today is not so rich and amazing in style of subject matter, surely. Has there been anyone to equal or surpass them—surely not. Is it because the world has changed—and the artists are doing whatever best they can under the circumstances?