It’s almost meditative to watch an artist at work. Observing Tapan Dash caressing and sometimes stroking his canvasses with varied brushes—thick and hard, sharp and soft, smeared in transparent oil or very lightly dabbed in white or plain solutions—or using his palette knife to smear colours and create layers and textures, is almost magical. What was on the canvas at the beginning of the exercise would soon turn into unexpected forms. Dash, working in oil and dry pastels, creates stories about emotional cul-de-sacs as well as drawing lyrical lines of pleasant liberation. From canvases stare out faces of men; faces within faces that reflect complicated, conflicted personalities that are supposed to lurk hidden inside all men.
“I don’t plan my work or do any pre-work like sketching the figures first on the canvas. I directly work with colours on the canvas and go with what I feel at that moment,” says the 47-year-old. “My figures are not muscular and those banana trees there are metaphorical,” says Dash, pointing at one of his paintings displayed at the ongoing exhibition ‘Expressions of Inner Journeys’ at MEC Art Gallery in Delhi that started on July 7.
Between preparing for multiple exhibitions starting in November all around the world, the painter reminisces about his work that has undergone the transitions that every artist encounters in the course of his creative journey; smooth transitions of pigments and the use of firm curves contrasting with subtle treatments. The palette knife does its job well on the backgrounds of the paintings, at ease with intricate patterns of Nature. In Dash’s work on display, there is an inescapable sense of tranquillity; a pastoral gentleness in the eyes of his subjects, the smooth wideness of their foreheads and the smiling visages that are sometimes enigmatic, other times intimate. “That’s why this exhibition is named Expressions of Inner Journeys,” he says.
Hailing from a village near Puri in Odisha, Dash explains that the elaborate religious rituals, folklore and colours of the rural milieu all are deeply ingrained in his consciousness and affect his work in a mystical manner. “I never consciously weave these stories into my paintings, but they somehow make their way into my art in the form of symbols and emblems.” His compositions marry tribal and folk forms with subtle sophistication. The theme and style of his work reflects Vaishnavite influence—probably derived from the incarnation of Vishnu, who is celebrated in his native place as Jagannath, who along with his consort Goddess Lakshmi, occasionally makes an appearance on Dash’s canvas.
The son of a mechanical engineer, Dash had initial discomfort with his parents over pursuing a career in art. “I was drawn to painting but could not explain this pull to my family, especially my father,” he says. He did a five-year Bachelor of Fine Arts course at the BK College of Art and Crafts in Bhubaneswar and moved to his current base Delhi.
With contrast as an oeuvre, Dash manages to create an illusion through multi-faceted subjects who pose questions to our lives, existence and values. Atypically, women are noticeably absent in his repertoire as if he is compensating with long, smooth feminine curves to significantly emphasise the flow of life. Through portraits, he seems to be subconsciously drawing his own portrait of the artist as a young man in a lost land.