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A Savage Encounter

This is a story of an artist and his city, Prokash Karmakar and Kolkata at the closing years of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century. During the turn of the century and the end of the second millennium, he started to work on a series of twenty paintings, roving round the city of Kolkata .... Know more?

About The Artist

Prokash Karmakar has lived in the city most of his life. He is one of the great gifts that Kolkata has made to the mainstream of modern and post modern Indian art, during the second half of the 20th century and the first decades of 21st. From the early 1950s, he has been very active in the field......Know more?


Brief Biography
About the Painter









The Artist

Prokash Karmakar has lived in the city most of his life. He is one of the great gifts that Kolkata has made to the mainstream of modern and post modern Indian art, during the second half of the 20th century and the first decades of 21st. From the early 1950s, he has been very active in the field. Twice he was absent from the city for some time. Once when he received a French Government Fellowship to live and work in Paris for one year in 1969-70, with an allotment of additional funding to tour Western Europe . The second time, circumstances exiled him to Naini, the twin town of Allahabad at the confluence of Ganga and Jamuna. From 1971, for many years he lived in this semi-urban industrial town. At last he thought he had enough. In 1983, at the age of fifty, he decided to take voluntary retirement.

Not far from Kolkata, in the outskirts of Bally, he built a two storied house replete with an atelier on the mezzanine floor. Here he lives tucked away in the lush tropical greenery of the countryside, within twenty-five minutes of commuting time from the city in an electric train.

Recently he has bought a large station-wagon type car that helps him to journey into the metropolis in chauffer driven comfort and luxury.

Apart from his creative work, he has been undisputed leader of the art movement. In his younger days he had tried to popularize art by exhibiting on the Sadar street pavement in 1959, in fact on the railings of the Indian Museum . He continued his expositions in unusual places like the coffee House and the University campus. He was the founding father of the annual Calcutta Art Fair in 1968. It was held in the open air for years, at first in a municipal corporation park at the centre of the city and later in the grounds of the ‘Rabindra Sadan’ arts complex. He was a founder member of two most important artists associations – the ‘Society of Contemporary Artists (established in 1961) and ‘Calcutta Painters’ (established in1963). During the initial phrases of the open air fair, ‘Mukta Mela’ (1971) he took out a procession with one of his major painting hoisted as a flag accompanied by a band party playing wind and percussion instruments.


He has always projected himself as a serious artist who is willing to entertain his public. The media sensing his popular appeal has given him unconditional support on such occasions. Moreover, he has donated his paintings to auctions in aid of national and international causes – war, famine, epidemic, flood, crises in Cuba and Vietnam , rehabilitation of children in distress, refugees, destitutes, prostitutes and endangered wild life.


His showmanship and humanitarian concern have won him a very large following even among those who do not understand art. He participates in many national and international level art camps throughout India . In spite of his star and celebrity status, he is not averse, unlike his equally famous peers, to participate in workshops with corners of the country. He is a charismatic artist par excellence able to capture the imagination of the layperson, connoisseurs and experts at the same time.

His value Scales

He has made his art and life to act as a link for every type of relationship – physical and platonic, aesthetically mysterious as well as the kind that radiates strong obscure feelings for others. He is a creative existentialist, a strong believer in the efficacy of human bonding. He feels people are not faceless. Everyone has an individual face and a name. As a result, his paintings have always been anthropocentric. He wants to understand all aspects of humanity, the gene pool that he shares with everyone else, gather together the sum total of all human experience, and get to the bottom of the collective unconscious , as it were. He senses that setting up of a network of relationship helps in understanding the world. Personally he tries to reach out and place himself at the others level in every respect. In the process, he circumnavigates the dangerous straits of his ego, the inflated sense of superiority every human being nurtures secretly, and enters into soulful communion with people. He gently batters through their resistance while probing for the right wavelength.

Even the down and outs, individuals from the lowest depth of society, begin to understand that he is one of them. His egalitarian behaviour and attitude is so natural, genuine and authentic that they drop their guard and start speaking freely. His discrete charm puts the streetwalker and the housewife, the intellectual and the illiterate, the seasoned politician and the gentle folk at their ease. Without being aware, they throw away their secretiveness, their sense of privacy and begin talking about their problems, apprehensions and also their dreams.

An Artist as an Existentialist

The existentialists are divided into two groups. On the one side there are the theistic existentialists like Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky, Berdyaev, Jasper, Buber and Gabriel Marcel. On the other side, there are the atheistic existentialists like Nietzch, Feuerbach, Camus and Satre. Karmakar belongs to the atheistic variety, but strangely enough, the ease of his personal relationships reminds one of Marcel’s approach. Marcel possibly would not approve of Karmakar’s drunken revelry, bantering sarcastic speech punctuated with rough abusive language and romantic sexual amorality. In Karmakar’s behaviourial pattern, there are strange elements remnants of remote customs that point to peculiarities of ancient fertility rites. These aspects might not have found favor with both groups of Western existentialist. Possibly C. G. Jung could have been indulgent and D.H. Lawrence would have surely approved.


Existential Pantheism
Karmakar may not admit, but there are definite streaks of pantheism in his work. His landscapes with ponds, lakes, streams and rivers, crooked yet erect trees, tall an d small grass, lush tropical vegetation growing in abundance, rugged terrain, mangroves and jungles, the ever-changing sky, the variety of moods of nature during days and nights and diverse seasonal characteristics, hint sometimes at a harmonious and other times to a chaotic world.


Yet he is an atheist who is against every form of organized scriptural religion. He thinks they are the breeding ground of obsessive ritual superstition, fundamentalism, communalism, sporadic violence and international terrorism. His sense of at-one-ness with nature is not, he feels, religious. It rather acts as a shock absorber when the ride becomes rough and bumpy.

Some of his later landscapes are an extension of his earlier violent paintings of urban turmoil and alienation. Particularly his paintings of menacing cloudy sky, the awesome approaching storm, and mad winds blowing in destructive vengeance indicate this aspect.


The two types of reality he paints may seem contradictory and mutually exclusive. Karmarkar maintains that nature is a duality of absolute calm and mindless violence. In a sense it is schizophrenic. Human nature reflects this duality both in personal and group life. Karmarkar believes, it is through experiencing nature in its benign as well as virulent forms that human beings can hope to understand their own constructive and destructive patterns of behaviour. This understanding would help them to overcome alienation and depression.

Karmakar knows that his paintings are not socio-eco-political manifestos or ethical blueprints. But symbolic visual revelation of his realization. Through painting he has reached a stage where he can take a diversion. Bypassing his ego, he can now empty himself of his sense of  self-importance, not be frightened or perturbed either by the peculiar traits of others or for that matter, the unpredictability of nature. A stage is then reached. Here one is ready to accept any eventuality without reserve. In that sense, his figurative and landscape paintings are complimentary. They are, in a matter of speaking, ethical explorations, aesthetical adventures and visual dialogues of understanding and harmony.

At this point a question may arise. Does Karmakar’s recent series of paintings on Kolkata fit into the patterns of his life and work? Or are they entirely different? Before we attempt at an answer, it would probably be wise to measure the depth of experience out of which his philosophy and art arise.









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