At the very start of this year, I walked into E, Soumyadeep Roy’s exhibition, and was left with only one thought – O!
There is a freshness, originality and flavour to his work that leaves an impression which is very difficult to rub off. He is not just an artist, but also a storyteller. His meticulously crafted creations will demand the undivided attention of your vision and at the same time, let your mind travel in imaginative delight. There is an undeniable pool of talent in today’s youth, and from this very generation pops up a conceptual thinker and very talented artist, who does not believe in the concept of abstract art and creates what is true to himself, and relatable to all. Here is a closer look at Soumyadeep!
>>>>>A Look at Soumyadeep’s Creations<<<<<
BongRong: What was the first memory you have of painting? When did you know that this was it?
Soumyadeep: I can’t put a finger on it. As far back as I remember, I was drawing. Even as a kid I was drawing on walls and whatever I could get my hands on. I loved Art even before I started making Art. Art, as in every little thing. Kumortuli was very close to my house and I used to visit it often in my childhood and get very excited about everything I saw, the whole craft put into it. That was sort of my first interaction with art as such.
Then, sometime around class 7, I was happy and satisfied with this painting I made, which was a rare instance. And then, I thought, this is something that makes me really happy. I could feel myself. Or at least get a sense of the need to express, and the joy of that expression through Art. So, that’s when I knew.
BongRong: It is indeed a rare thing for any artist to be truly happy with their work. But, what is not common among all artists is their work process. Every artist has a specific state of mind which they get into when they are creating their artwork. What’s your zone like?
Soumyadeep: There are times when I would end up doodling stuff that I am not always conscious of, maybe during a lecture, or I end up making a sketch that I am not aware of. Then I revisit them and I try to organise them. It’s like they are mistakes. And the artwork becomes the organisation of the mistakes.
BongRong: Your paintings usually have a story attached to them. So, what comes first – the artwork or the tale?
Soumyadeep: I love stories. I organise my mistakes, like I said. So, if I have a story in my mind, then I would try to make layouts about how it could be told. And then these elements start coming in and they fill up the stories. Here are a few from my earlier, formative years as a painter.
The burning matchstick is the individual who is having his moment and this matchbox is the society. Once the person has had his moment of individuality, he can never go back inside it. The Ship itself, it sails on. And it’s been trusted for a very long time. The ship sails on and the other matchsticks lie like dead people. They can never go back.
The person on the left is stuck in his block of spirituality. This one on the right is stuck in his block of material reality. And the person in the middle is walking towards spirituality but is looking back. The other two don’t have faces, but the one in the middle does. He is sensitive to things and therefore he doesn’t have a block. He is stuck in the middle. Then you have the goddess of materialism on one end with the Horn of Plenty and on the other end is the same goddess who helps the spiritual person out. But the person in the middle is the one who is godless and he has no block.
I believe an artwork is ultimately examined under, and sometimes used by certain socio-political ideologies, regardless of whether the artwork aims at it or not. The use/misuse of Art would vary spatio-temporally. So the only ideology that the artist is left with is the aesthetic one. It is the aesthetic ideology upon which the artist can really work.
BongRong: We, and I am sure a lot of our readers too, have observed that your paintings are never just about one frame, but about a journey. They don’t just show point A or point B, but everything in between too. What’s the story behind that?
Soumyadeep: I am very confused as a person. And I cannot always relate to any of the extremes. I can think in terms of the middle. I can empathise with both. I don’t believe in black and white at all. I hate artwork with a moral stance. Any Art that has influences of moral prejudgements – they end up becoming propaganda. They don’t have the subtlety of Art and they become sentimental. I believe that Art is about capturing the sentiments rather than being sentimental about it. And there is a very thin line. Even when I am taking a stance in the middle, it can never be objective. No matter how much I love it to be, it won’t be. I will have a certain bias. But at the same time, I wouldn’t want to relate to any of the extremes.
BongRong: At this point of time, there is no doubt that Art brings you incredible amounts of happiness. But, if you had to pick one instance when you felt the happiest ever, what would that be?
Soumyadeep: Actually, there are two. There was this one time I was making a study of a labourer, while waiting at the station and I made his sketch and he seemed really happy. The expression on his face – I think that was enough to bring me to joy. That was one and the other was of course the exhibition.
BongRong: What was the highlight of the exhibition for you?
Soumyadeep: The entire week actually. It became like this space that I felt like I could welcome people into. It was like a mental image that was projected in a small manner.
BongRong: Why did you name your exhibition ‘E’ ?
Soumyadeep: I don’t like defining things. They end up becoming a black and white thing. The less you state, the subtler it is. E was the least I could do to name the exhibition. Just one letter.
BongRong: So, what drove you to choose this one alphabet?
Soumyadeep: Initially all my paintings were named with E- Entangled, Evolution, Emergence. It was not planned. I realised it later when I was making this folder and saving the paintings and I had to choose a random name. I was about to go with the usual hgfjcvjvjv or dzxdgfhv, but then I noticed that all of them started with E, so I decided to go with E.
BongRong: Your family was very supportive during your exhibition. Has that always been the case?
Soumyadeep: Yeah, it’s always been like this. My parents and my sister have always been there for me. My Art, they were very cool with it. After school, I was facing a dilemma about whether I wanted to study art formally as a subject or not. They supported me throughout and left the decision to me completely. I eventually decided not to formally approach art. An artist is sensitive to things around and within. I believe that an academic approach, a formal approach makes it blunt, makes it mechanical, an everyday routine.
BongRong: So, instead of formally studying Art, you chose to study two streams which fall under the broader category of Art – Literature and Film. Do you think your studies have in any way affected your Art and made it interdisciplinary?
Soumyadeep: Very much. It helped me relate to a lot of things. It helped me situate my Art as well. I can see myself in the broad perspective of things. It showed me how the whole thought process has evolved or changed over the years in the different streams of art. And I don’t think beyond a point these restrictions of literature or music or art remain. They just overlap and become Art in general.
I remember I had done this painting on an actor figure and how this person uses a mask that is different from his own face. And different people look at him through their own glasses. And they end up seeing the mask, but uniquely, from their own perspective. And I planned the whole thing from my own perspective. And then I read Conrad’s works, his Heart of Darkness, watched Rashomon and I realised that it’s the same approach. And I felt happy about it. I felt connected.
BongRong: Despite the fact that you decided not to study the subject, we are sure that you must have been influenced by a few great artists. Who are the people and what are the styles that captivate you?
Soumyadeep: I am very eclectic when it comes to loving Art, as there are so many schools and so many artists that I love. It started with Kumortuli. Then I discovered Rembrandt, I discovered Klimt, Schiele, Klee, Kandinsky, Gaganendranath. It was sort of magical! Like I said, an artist is sensitive to things, and these people help to point out how art helps to underline the very essentials of life. The everyday things that you might end up missing. You see it with their eyes first, and then you rediscover things. You just learn to see things and feel things and be sensitive. Rembrandt influenced Van Gogh. Van Gogh would influence artists after him. It is like a tradition. It is like a tradition to change the traditional way of looking at things. You learn to look at things, rediscover them in your own way, and these Artists show you that there are so many different ways of doing that.
There are a lot of artists from India whom I find fascinating. The different Rajput miniature schools, the paintings made during Jahangir’s period, Mansoor as a painter- I love them all. Especially Nihal Chand from the Kishangarh school in the 18th century. He has been one of my favourites for a very long time. There is a story behind him. There was a king, Savant Singh, his courtesan, Bani Thani and Nihal Chand, who was a painter in the king’s court. The king was also a poet and the courtesan was also a poetess. Savant Singh had a separate identity as an artist; he called himself Nagari Das. Nihal Chand started observing them. He transformed them through Art. Through art, you connect people around you. I find that very relevant. The skill and subtlety of the artworks of Nihal Chand is beautiful, I have no words for it. And again, one could relate the duality of the person- as an individual (Savant Singh) and as a mask (Nagari Das) with that of The Picture of Dorian Gray. In both the cases the mask is more of the individual than the apparent individual himself.
BongRong: What do you think about Bengal folk art?
Soumyadeep: Celtic art and the art work during the Seljuq Era-I am extremely fond of the two. Specially the paintings done on ceramics during the Seljuq Era (11th Century) , which I find to be very similar to the potochitra paintings done here, in Bengal during the 19th Century. In a pot painting, you will see Ram as a next door guy. It’s not grand. It’s more down to earth. You can relate to it. I love that about folk art. It’s like they own the literature. It becomes their own. And that brings out the intimacy in the Artworks. The sentiment.
BongRong: Do you think Art is appreciated enough in Kolkata?
Soumyadeep: There have always been a handful who have appreciated Art and they are still there.
BongRong: Why do you think that is? People are artistic in their own way. A woman can take a lot of trouble and apply lipstick, making sure it does not get out of the outline of her lips. But when it comes to their preference, like a movie, they are not perceptive of uniqueness. They get drawn to trends. Is there a psychological blockage or barrier that leads to this?
Soumyadeep: I think most people have a limit to the kind of things they would like to be exposed to. Everybody is in some way or the other, appreciating art and it needn’t necessarily be art in the strict sense of the term. You end up being sensitive to certain things at the end of the day, in some way or the other. You can’t do everything at the same time and sometimes one thing just ends up creating a block for the other side. There are some people who would just love brilliant films, but then they would like mediocre artwork. It’s the same for artists as well. There are artists who love great artwork and make great artwork, but then when it comes to film, they might just like the trendy ones.
BongRong: Now that’s something to think about. Let’s move to lighter subjects. Can you tell us about some funny incidents that have happened in regards to your artwork?
Soumyadeep: I made this one painting in class 10, but now I’m very embarrassed by it. It was about this person who is stuck in the web of technology, family, knowledge and wealth. He is nourished by it, but he can’t get out of it.
I remembered this funny thing. It was in the Academy of Fine Arts and this kid just comes up to the painting and asks his father, “Baba, otaki?” and the father very seriously goes like – “Ota Spiderman.”
There was this other time during the exhibition. After looking at this painting, this person went like – I think the painting is very good, but it would have been better if you had put it the other way round. And, I had it in my mind. And I made a painting which was the other way round.
BongRong: Hahaha, well, it was an inspiration in a way. So, what’s in store for the future?
Soumyadeep: I’m still as confused as ever. I have been planning an Art project called ‘Death and the maiden’, for which I’ve been collecting and making images for over a year now, even though I have very vague ideas about how or what I want it to shape up to.
BongRong: We, at BongRong, wish you all the best with all your endeavours. After looking at your paintings and knowing the stories behind them, we are big fans. Until your next exhibition then!