On Soumyabrata Kundu
Updated: Nov 5, 2020
When in high school there are seniors you look up to. There are also those you hate. Soumya was one I didn’t know existed. Not until he passed out.
I first saw him sitting at the corner of our art class, gently drawing away in his sketch pad. He had come to visit after some university entrance exam for further advice from Goutam Choudhury, who was then our art teacher at Patha Bhavan, Kolkata. I remember getting the impression that he was a very private person. He kept mostly to himself and that’s probably why we never met in school. Some might say it’s because of my inability to make friends but don’t listen to them. It’s not that he doesn’t talk. He’s a fine chatterbox and is more than happy to join a conversation or an informed debate about art, politics or even ice cream flavors. The effect he had on me the first time had to do with his patience. He has the ability to listen to, and observe both the people he knows and doesn’t know. Silently and with care. His power to restrain criticism and withhold judgement of others and their works before thorough examination and accumulation of information, both visual and literary, is another great merit. This is something I notice every time we go to some exhibition or art show together. He is at once a good audience and a reliable shoulder when in existential dilemmas.
I have taken this daunting task of studying and writing about his works, in these formative years of his, simply to fulfill his wish to be written about by a great art critic- which of course, it seems, I am.
Soumyabrata is a final year student of Graphics and Printmaking at Rabindra Bharati University in Kolkata. Though A print-maker by training, he has a vast field of interests in both visual and audio visual formats of art. In this essay I am concerned only about his prints. His personal practice outside the academic regiment and the ideas behind it. Talking about his prints is exceptionally difficult and with good reason. First, he never does so himself. He never boasts of some great masterpiece that he completed last night or of some brilliant curator who praised his skills. His stiffness in this resolve is probably due to his believe of the universality of the artistic spirit- that everyone is capable of creation and is in some way or another an artist. He refuses, with all his being, to conform to the larger than life image of the artist. He never talks of himself in any way that might, in the slightest, insinuate that others are not just as capable. I admire this. However, it does make evaluating his works phenomenally more difficult. This is exactly what I conveyed to him when he first asked me what I thought of his prints. Thus began a conversation. For the first time we talked about his works. No, that didn’t make things any easier. If anything, I got more confused as to how to proceed.
So here’s the second reason for my difficulties: he believes that a work is forever open to interpretation. So much so that he refuses to define any of his works individually. Soumya, in his practice, focuses on the process of creating an image and leaves the result to the audience to view and understand however and make of whatever they are most comfortable with. Although, comfort isn’t exactly something one might instantly derive from his works. He begins the process and his audience has to continue it. Once he has reached an image which satisfies him, he stops. The viewers then have the duty to expand upon the works through their individual interpretations. Thus the work is never truly finished. It’s always alive. Always being added to. The works are thus, according to him, in a state of constant transformation.
This idea of keeping a work alive through a constant dialogue with it is probably the effect of the brief but meaningful art education we shared under Goutam Choudhury. This happened in our respective last two years of high school. Soumya’s idea of a flowing dialogue is akin to our teacher’s philosophy of an inclusive dialogue with the audience. Inclusion of the audience in the process arriving at the artwork long after it has passed from the hands of the artist. When comparing I must mention again that Soumyabrata is still in his formative years while our teacher is almost two generations older and at a very mature stage of his oeuvre. The latter has developed his concept more clearly to create and exhibit his works accordingly over many decades. My fascination is with how they share the fundamental aspects of their methods of display. They both choose to distance themselves from their works to give the audience a space to connect and engage with their works freely. To make of them what they will without interference or overbearing instructions. The key difference between the two is that unlike Goutam Choudhury who works predominantly with veiled, distorted and semi-visible humanoid forms, Soumya works with completely abstract images. Complex, expressionist and geometric forms which tend to further complicate what was already undefined.
Soumya’s abstraction is not without purpose. It speaks his emotions. Then again, that isn’t his aim. His philosophy of work is that everything is connected. He attempts to uncover these connections by bringing together and experimenting with contradictory visual forms. Wishing to create fluid associations among them so that there is a sense of movement and not just a few stiff shapes enclosed within a frame; movement that further develops these relations and blends them into one image. His experiment with forms is accompanied by a constant search for new mediums. He plays with their different capacities in printmaking and how they can suit his images. There is continuous dispute and compromise of forms and associations which sees to the growth of his subjects from one work to the next. Sometimes these images are quite violent.
One of his favorite modes of expression is zinc plate etching. His use of various textures which we see specifically in these intaglio prints holds together and adds to the idea of conflict. An etching might seem as if it has been scratched, bitten, shot and torn in all the possible sequences over and over. The tension of the forms and textures is almost always complemented upon by his use of oddly dark yet vibrant tones. Mostly orange and matte reds with dark greens and browns. All of this is done in some animalistic rage that betrays the small thin figure and sweet demeanor of the artist himself.
No one can be expected to become a great artist the moment they step into an art college. Soumya is aware that the path is long. He is honest to himself and diligent in his practice. If I had to really say something about his practice, I’d say it speaks of human fragility and duality. Not the binary good and bad but the infinitely changing contradictions inherent in us. His effort to find balance among visually opposite forms might be the same as the challenge we face every day. We try to find agreements between different inclinations and emotions at odds with each other. Only, most of the time, they’re far less colourful. The sharp corners, fluid curves, bold straight lines that do not give a care or scared little circles that just might break- all of these seem to me very real depictions of life. These images are states of mind. Jumbles of emotions we feel in our day-to-day complexities.
None of his prints are one sided appeals. They’re all heated debates. In each of his works he calls for a war among forms and witnesses through his own creation a battle of colours, shapes, lines and textures, of varied and often contradictory natures. The process of growth he desires in his works is added to as well as starts anew with every fresh image of conflict.