Artists don’t fear time. They time their strokes, thoughts and theme over a piece or series of works, but they don’t really like to live under the constant fear of minutes and hours sweeping away. So when a mid-career genius like Paula Sengupta tells you she fears “she was running out of time,” you tend to grope into her anxieties. “I fear I have only 20 productive years remaining. The body tends to slow down gradually. And you feel the pressure of time. There is still so much I have to do,” she says. “I am relieved that I could complete curating the sizeable print collection available at the Delhi Art Gallery. I was keen to publish my research on the history of Indian printmaking that sprawls to massive 400 years in a year’s time. I can concentrate on a solo series now.”
Sengupta, who was trained in traditional printmaking in Delhi and Santiniketan, is an intelligent seamstress, a prodigious printmaker and academician with an exceptional control on the skill of blending history and art history into her work. She was recently in the Capital to introduce her book, The Printed Picture – Four Centuries of Indian Printmaking, at the exhibition curated by her under the same title at the Delhi Art Gallery. It’s the first detailed and chronological history of Indian printmaking displayed in the country.
“The Delhi Art Gallery had a sizeable collection of prints. Then, Pradip Bothra, a long-time print collector and connoisseur had acquired a huge body of works,” she says. “Initially, over the documentation, I found a lot of gaps. The works had to be chronologically arranged. These are the significant parts of Indian artistry and there is no awareness among art lovers for prints, the processes and the history. My PhD thesis is on foreign indigenous influences in printmaking and the access to the two collections made everything easy,” she adds.
The display explores the era of modernism and covers movements and artists on the lines of chronology, and not the process of printmaking. She says: “The revolution began when Nandalal Bose moved from Calcutta to Kala Bhavan in Santiniketan. Bose did not subscribe to the British idea of printmaking and looked at a new language that was neither occidental nor oriental. His students like Ramkinkar Baij helped nourish this new line of thought. The real shift came with Chittoprasad, Zainul Abedin and Quamrul Hassan who introduced printmaking as the medium of social and political protest. The untrained artisan used folk and classical influences, given more texture to the heritage. Their inheritor Somnath Hore pushed existing boundaries with expression and material.”
Sengupta’s next series will feature at the India Art Fair 2013. It is inspired by Polo, the sport. “I am learning to ride horse. I told you I fear running out of time,” she signs off with a smile.