Mumbai art gallery pays tribute to Prodosh Das Gupta

Updated: Sep 22, 2019, 16:15 IST | Anju Maskeri

Prabuddha Das Gupta's genius father, Prodosh, was an artist who liked to remain behind the scenes. Today, 40 years after his last exhibit, his work is getting the attention it deserves

Prodosh Das Gupta
Prodosh Das Gupta

Prodosh Das Gupta (1912-1991) was a sculptor at a time when it wasn't easy being one. The profession involved neither fame nor fortune. His wife, Kamala, also a sculptor, had to give it up to look after the children—Prodosh's younger son was the much-revered fashion photographer Prabuddha Das Gupta. "Had my parents taken it up as a full-time vocation, I wonder what would have happened to us," Das Gupta's older son and photographer Pradeep Das Gupta says.

Although the father and son did not end up spending much time together—Pradeep left home at 16—there was no evading the patriarch's artistic influence. "What I find remarkable about his work is the longevity. Permanence was essential to his art." It's one of the reasons why a large chunk of his installations were made in bronze as opposed to steel or marble. Although extremely difficult to mould, it offered dynamism and subtlety and mystique.

Out of the shadows

Twenty-two years after his demise, Das Gupta's extensive body of work is far from losing its relevance. He's often hailed as India's Henry Moore. But, unlike the popularity of the celebrated English sculptor, memories of his Indian counterpart have ebbed and flowed from Indian consciousness. Case in point, Prodosh Das Gupta's work was last exhibited in Mumbai in 1979.

ProdoshPic courtesy/Estate of Prodosh Das Gupta and Akara Art

Now, thanks to Puneet Shah, founder of Akara Art, Das Gupta's works return to Mumbai on September 26, when his gallery will host 'In Quest of form and content–Prodosh Das Gupta', a solo exhibit of the pioneer of contemporary Indian sculptor.

The 16 works on display will be part of the gallery's 10-year celebrations. "The idea of having this show was in sync with our programming," says Shah, sitting in the cozy Colaba enclave. The gallery is housed in Churchill Chamber, opposite Taj Mahal Palace, and was in the news in July for a fire that killed one resident. Thankfully, the gallery managed to save all their artworks.

To Shah, showcasing Das Gupta's work is a good way to turn the spotlight on artists whose works deserve recognition. "We wanted to showcase artists who haven't been given their due," Shah says. Das Gupta, however, wasn't one to hanker for validation. "It's true that he never put himself at the forefront. He would work and allow his work to speak."

Aristocrat
Aristocrat (1990)

As with several artists, Das Gupta's genius is being recognised only posthumously. There have been three exhibitions in the last decade across the country. "But, they were always part of a larger show. There has never been a solo dedication," says Shah, who got in touch with the Das Guptas who agreed to the retrospective in a heartbeat.

The works span his lifetime. "If there's an installation from the '40s (Pounding Corn, 1949), you'll also see another from the '70s (Maternity, 1979)," says Pradeep, who will be flying down to Mumbai from Delhi next week. "We had to apply patina to a few, and have done so without tampering with the form and materiality," says Shah. While Genesis II (1982) and Egg Nest (1975) are from the original mould, Aristocrat (1990) and Devil and Dame (1949) has a new cast.

Remaining rooted

Born in Dhaka in 1912, Prodosh Das Gupta studied sculpture at the Royal Academy of Arts and LCC Central School, London, and the Ecole de Grand Chaumier, Paris, after completing his initial studies in sculpture at the Government School of Art and Craft, Chennai, and the Lucknow School of Arts and Crafts.

Puneet Shah
Puneet Shah, ownder. Akara Art

While in Lucknow, he'd also studied music. It's a fact that few are aware of, Shah says. "His knowledge of music influenced his aesthetic. You'll find a certain rhythm in the works."

In 1940, after returning to India, he founded the Calcutta Group of artists along with artists like Rathin Mitra, Nirode Mazumdar, Paritosh Sen, Hemant Mishra and Gopal Ghose.

"The ideology of the group was to break away from conventional styles, and to move towards a more global aesthetic while still retaining their Indian-ness," Shah says. His works reflect this. Though a great admirer of the concepts propounded by European masters, Das Gupta was deeply rooted in the fibre of Indian philosophy, Shah adds.

"While Aristocrat (1990) has elements of Italian sculptor Ignazio Jacometti; tall, totemic, elongated forms, Mother and Child reclining (1976), is very Moore-ish, where he explores concave and convex shapes."

mother
Mother and Child reclining (1976). Pic/Suresh Karkera

For Shah, the most intriguing feature is the predominance of the cosmic egg shape in his compositions. "He used the embryonic form extensively, which is also to indicate the crux of the universe," says Shah. His first solo exhibition was held in 1945 in Kolkata, and was followed by several others at the Taj Art Gallery in Mumbai through the 1970s. From 1957 to 1970, Das Gupta served as curator of the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), New Delhi. In 2008, the NGMA hosted a major retrospective of his works, 17 years after his death in 1991. "He has been an underdog on the artistic scene, Shah says, "He's one of many."

Interestingly, this will also be Akara's first show dedicated solely to sculptures. And that's telling. According to the Shah, in the last decade, the three-dimensional artform is finding its space not only in galleries, but in homes too. "Sculptures are dynamic and awe-inspiring," he says.

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