INTERVIEW WITH CONTEMPORARY INDIAN ARTIST DEBASISH DUTTA
There is an exquisiteness and freshness in contemporary Indian artist Debasish Dutta’s paintings, like the delicacy of spring flowers or the scent of a forest. His dreamy palette of pinks, blues and teals transports viewers into a lush paradise, far away from the anxieties of urban life. These scenes of rolling hills and interlacing branches, teeming with blossoms and birds, also pay homage to a natural world that is quickly disappearing.
Debasish spent his childhood in West Bengal in a town he describes as “idyllic,” a place that eschewed politics and embraced culture. His upbringing there set the tone for his artistic style and eventually led to the peaceful landscape paintings for which he has become known. While he experimented with many different themes and styles early on in his career, it is his Nature Series, his current and his most popular body of work, where he has found his truest expression and deepest resonance with viewers.
In a recent interview, Debasish reflected on his path to becoming an artist and his inspiration from the natural world.
Hello Debasish, it is a pleasure to have you with us! How did you get into art? Were there other members of your family who were artists?
I am the only one in the family with an artistic bent of mind. My father was a small business merchant, and my mother a housewife. But I come from a village near the Bangladesh border, and our town, like most in West Bengal, had a strong art culture. Even as young children, everyone was encouraged to take lessons in art. We had a couple of artists from our village who went to Shanti Niketan and I was very inspired by them. I knew then that when I grew up, I wanted to go to art school in Calcutta.
Tell us something about your art journey. What have been the milestones in your artistic career?
I studied painting at Rabindra Bharati University in Calcutta and then did my Masters in graphic art from MS University in Baroda. After I graduated, I took up a job at the International School Of Hyderabad to teach art to the students there. I did that for a few years but continued to paint on the side and even had two shows at Jehangir Art Gallery during that time. While I enjoyed teaching young kids, I did not like the politics and stress that goes with being in a bureaucratic environment. After the success of my shows at Jehangir, I felt confident that there was a market for my works and decided to become a full-time artist.
There is a certain gentleness to your art — the viewer immediately feels at peace. What inspires you?
I am passionate about nature. Often, I take off alone to the jungle. I live in proximity to an army camp, which is surrounded by dense forests that turn lush green during monsoons. The Champaner-Pavagadh heritage site is also close by. Before Covid, I also used to travel to the Himalayas for stretches that extended to a week or more.
From Char Dham yatra to my treks in the mountains, my journeys and these landscapes have greatly inspired my work. Unrestrained urbanization has eaten up our forests and I believe my art, particularly the Nature Series, can inspire people to conserve what we have left.
Can you tell us about the various themes you have painted over the years?
Back in art school, I painted two different series – the Honeymoon and the Matrimony series. I also painted a Journey Series, which was inspired by Chinese art, a portfolio of paintings featuring tiny figures. Even though I studied graphic art, I have primarily been a painter in my career — you need a lot of equipment such as lithograph machines to make graphic art, but painting can be done anywhere, even from a small room.
A couple of years ago, a friend sent me a few photographs of cherry blossom trees in spring. I was fascinated by the delicate pink color of the flowers. I began painting them, and this bolt of inspiration launched my most popular Nature Series, which I am painting to this day. It is very detailed and painstaking work and I typically spend 12-14 hours a day working in my studio.
Can you describe your painting process?
I begin by sketching the idea with a pen and pencil. And then I further develop it using watercolors. My ultimate medium is acrylic painting on canvas.
Which mentors have been key influences in your artistic journey?
While still in art school, I had exhibited some of my paintings and even managed to sell some of my works. My senior, Diptish Ghosh Dastidar, had dropped in to see them. In my arrogance, I told him about the works I had sold. He turned around and asked me, “Where are you in these paintings? I don’t see you… I see other artists in these works.” That comment has stayed with me. It had disturbed me so much that I could not paint for a while. Over the years, it has inspired me to find my own voice.
Ghosh advised me to go to Shantiniketan and speak with Dilip Mitra, an art teacher. Mitra motivated me to dive deep into Indian art heritage and explore genres such as Indian miniatures, which have greatly influenced me.
What would be your advice to young artists and recent graduates?
Working as an artist isn’t an easy life. Do you remember that dialogue from the movie Sholay? “Jo dar gaya woh mar gaya,” or the one who is fearful is dead. As an artist, you will face a lot of problems; the road is tough. But if you persevere and are ready to struggle, you will surely get results.
What would you have been if not an artist?
I like sports! I love football, and I was a district champion in badminton. Maybe I would have been a sportsman if I was not an artist!
Thank you so much, Debasish!
To browse our curated collection of contemporary paintings by Indian artist Debasish Dutta, visit https://laasyaart.com/debasish-dutta/. If you would like to make an appointment to see these works in person at our Indian art gallery in Palo Alto, please reach out at email@example.com or +1 650-770-9088.
— Sonia Nayyar Patwardhan