Kolkata — Bikash Bhattacharjee, who dominated the Indian art scene like a colossus for decades, died here Monday after a prolonged illness. He was 66.
Bhattacharjee, one of India’s most eminent painters, had been suffering for long and was confined to a wheelchair. The end came at around 10.40 a.m. in the city’s Belle Vue Nursing Home.
He was born in Kolkata in 1940 and lost his father at a very early age. The growing years were ones of struggle and strife. From his early childhood, the rooftops and alleyways of north Kolkata where he lived, the crumbling walls of buildings, the variety of people living there, including women, wove a certain magic in his mind.
In 1963, he graduated from Indian College of Art and Draftsmanship. He began teaching at the Indian College of Art and Draftsmanship in 1968. Later, from 1973, Bhattacharya began teaching at the Government College of Art & Craft and taught there till 1982. In 1964, he became a member of the Society of Contemporary Artists
“He was one of the best figurative painters in India. He could handle human anatomy excellently. Nobody else could do that. He was a master in both oil painting and pastel,” said painter Wasim Kapoor.
“When he painted in oil he seemed to be a master in that, when he used watercolour he was a master in that medium. He was versatile and a master in every medium from oil to watercolour and pastel,” Kapoor said.
“I am heart-broken by the news personally. In Indian art this is a big loss and cannot be filled ever. We respected each other. He was an exceptional personality,” said eminent painter Paritosh Sen.
“The loss is immense. He was an extremely outspoken person. There were few like him in the art scene and he helped many painters too,” said Ganesh Haloi, another noted painter.
Besides painting the city and its people that he knew so well, Bhattacharjee was also an accomplished portrait painter. Both Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi came alive on his canvas.
Realism was Bhattacharjee’s forte. In the process, he explored the possibilities of oil as a medium to the extent that he could depict the exact quality of drapery or the skin tone of a woman, the mouldering walls of an old building as if by magic, according to art connoisseurs.
He also achieved mastery in capturing the quality of light. His love of cinema had a lot to do with this. Bhattacharjee had also worked extensively with pastel.
The artist collaborated with late Bengali writer Samaresh Bose and illustrated a fictionalised biography of artist Ram Kinkar Baij. The project was incomplete because of Bose’s sudden death.
At his best, Bhattacharya achieved an enigmatic quality in his paintings that work on many levels from the visual to the subconscious. Female beauty was a major preoccupation, but he also created a varied cast of characters in his canvases – old men and women, children, domestic help.
The ability to create an authentic milieu as a background to the characters heightened the drama of his paintings. Bhattacharjee excelled in his animal studies too.
A fake Bhattacharjee was found at the Osian’s art auction in New Delhi this year.
His daughter Balaka Bhattacharjee is also an upcoming painter.