May 15, 2017


By Subhra Mazumdar

In his well ordered sun-lit studio in the newly built satellite city of Ghaziabad, near Delhi, artist Pratul Dash is at work, sitting floor level, conceptualizing his concern for the environment. Though the works initially give the impression of finishing into painterly images of holiday-makers at a seaside, or a glimpse of a winter garden abloom with flowers, it is the quirky addition of a monster insect, or distorted forms, that provide the talking point of the artist’s dialogue. Deflating the idea of spreading a carpet of colours and then infusing the magic dust of his brush on the surface, in order to create an iconic painting, Dash drives home the point that his art is also his way of carrying forth the environmental message. 

Looking around at the other works that are cellophane wrapped and ready for dispatch to exhibition sites, the conversation turns to his recent exhibit at the India Art Fair 2017 (IAF 2017), which had riveted visitors at the fair before his signature-themed work around environmental concerns. A green campaigner in the truest sense, Dash has been conveying his message via his canvases alive with forms and landscapes that contrast the then and now status of the environmental situation. The Fair’s main draw was his display depicting a diminutive and lonely deer, located right in the centre, entrapped within the green jungle. ‘I was inspired by miniature figures,’ he continues, pointing to another large-size canvas where the surface is covered with a boy vendor holding a bunch of plastic flowers while the natural garden-like setting seems to be a recall of a more resplendent era.

Thus the large surfaces of his works seem to move on two distinct levels in their conceptualized format. The current depletion is directly impacted on the surface by barren landscapes or neglected and strewn locales, within a tell tale haziness. Behind this stark truth is a yearning for the past depicted through a single element, such as a single orchid stem in bloom. The concern about deforestation, which is paramount in his message filled canvases is therefore brought home through the sparing starkness on the surfaces of his artwork, which make viewers collect their thoughts and ‘write’ their personal resolves and discomfort at the changing scenario of environmental degradation, manmade and otherwise.

As one gazes closely at the large, room-size canvas in progress at his studio, one cannot help but quiz the artist about the myriads of images and forms, dotting the foreground while the upper division of the canvas remains a pristine sheet of a single colouration. Ever willing to interpret his art for his viewers, Pratul Dash shows that he is a thinking artist who ponders over each stroke of his brush before landing it on his canvas. Behind all the conglomeration of natural and figurative forms, the artist in him emerges as the spokesperson and commentator. Not that he indulges in his self-aggrandizement from behind the screen, but ‘by keeping myself as the protégé and victim of circumstances’. The scurrying squirrels scattered across the space, appears as remnants of the natural past and the canary shrieking to the audiences around, is the warning call that nature clarions imploringly, beseeching humanity to stem the tide of natural destruction and exerting him to bring about a transformation.

Exploiting the powerful messaging that can be achieved by flora and fauna, the artist alternates it with the mirage concept of the desert. The delusion that a mirage suggests, is his tool to pinpoint the hollow side of western advancement. More importantly, the permeation of this sensibility into the Indian psyche is reflected through a prominent ract of a bougainvillea stem which he states, ‘is not an indigenous plant species having been transported from elsewhere and which has now become part and parcel of the Indian setting.’ The burdened donkey in the foreground of this work, is ‘symbolic of the labour and burden of our lives and the setting in a desert plane indicates the outcome of draining the earth of its essential resources by our unmindful exploitation of it.’

With such loaded messaging being the wellspring of his art, Dash is quick to explain,’ I deal with canvases as a responsibility and must have an understanding of every area of the canvas and make it speak for itself through my strokes on it.’ Their large sizes he explains, ‘is because my stories are very “large”. It is not possible to subside them in a smaller space.’ The use of layering on his work surface, presentation of contrasting images, such as a mulla and a sadhu on the same canvas, or a rose ringed self-portrait buzzing with flies around his body, or a flower seller vending plastic flowers, present the stark truth. Paradoxically, they expose harsh reality with the artist as protégé sensitized by social and ecological transformation and seeking to reverse the downslide, through the power of his brush.