uring a recent one to one with Samit, I questioned him in detail on the issues that affect him most. A little to my surprise, I learnt that Rabindranath Tagore has had a dominating influence on his psyche. Samit was visibly excited as he described Tagore’s love of space, evident in the poet’s group of five houses in Santiniketan. Each of these houses is an architectural milestone when it comes to both an aesthetic and practical use of space. The houses also speak eloquently of the importance that Tagore laid on the correct use of physical space so as to create mental space for the occupants.

The very fact that Samit chose the architecture of Tagore as his post-graduate thesis topic, despite being a student of fine art, is an example of his fascination with Tagore and his love of built-in space. However, his love of Tagore also stretches to an intense appreciation of the poet’s life and art. The jottings that Tagore used to obliterate the unwanted parts of his writings, mainly his poems, became pictorial exercises of considerable merit. Samit believes, quite correctly so, these bear ample testimony to Tagore’s fondness for playing with space divisions in visual art. Even Tagore’s trademark voluminous robe that was tailor-made for him and which he always wore in public, is an amazing example of space surrounding a man, cascading down in baroque abandon.

This love of space has led Samit to explore the potential of visual communicability of space in two directions that have very little in common but share an umbilical link. The narrow confines of ‘Book Art’ and the wide spectrum of photography take his creative fancy with an astonishing degree of intensity. As reading becomes more digital, there has been a rise in the creation and appreciation of the book as totemic or iconographic object. Book Art has grown from an esoteric medium with afew dozen practitioners and no audience to a field with thousands of artists, a wide audience, and a developing K-12 curriculum. The act of ‘Book Art’, for Samit as for many others, is to produce a single copy rather than an edition, and to place it in an exhibition. Samit’s
works often combine linguistic and visual literature and he integrates conservation bookbinding with conceptual art and many forms of printing technology. He consciously tries to invent unique and alternative book structures that are metaphoric or sculptural in _their construction and bear the unmistakable quality of visual space in which everything appears to find a space for itself with ease and finesse.

The same is also true in the way he composes each frame of his photo-essays. Samit has graduated from the twin lens reflex of a Rolliflex to state of the art digital zoom as easily as the proverbial fish taking to water. The transition from analogue prints to digital quickies has therefore been an easy one for him with only the telling difference in immediacy with which Samit can now read and edit his snaps. Seen at the raw and unedited stage, his photo-visuals still capture an aura of the space, mostly architectural, that he seeks to capture with his lens.

It is only in the very recent past that Samit’s artistic passion was channeled into the conventional confines of rectangular canvases and paper to paint on, in oil and acrylics, and even the earthy fragility of diy pastel. His earlier experimentations of organizing ‘space’ in ‘Book Art’ have paved the way for a stepped structuralism of multiple cut-mounts to selectively emphasize a favored angle. His drawings have become amazingly complex with layers of space and  photographic collages. Everything he has done in the past has resurfaced in the new avatar – which I collectively label ‘space scapes’. The obvious limitation of size, in canvas and paper, dictates the mental expanse that he brings to the space of a canvas or a sheet of paper. How he creates his spatial magic on canvas, mostly in black and various shades of gray with occasional bursts of color, by overcoming dimensional limitations, is a feast for the eyes and food for thought.

The image of a giant mechanized crane, with its complex overlapping of crossbars, has attained iconic significance in Samit’s canvases and easily creates the ambience of city life in all its schizophrenic complexity. Samit reduces the cityscape into a visual poetry of clumsy horizontals and upstart verticals and plays on the communicability of its boring geometry by varying its opacity and depth, thickness and angularity. He also plays with the space between the black horizontals that echoes the stifling ambience of a cosmopolitan city with increasingly reduced breathing space. The geometric monotony of repeated rectangles on the skyscrapers also permeates Samit’s canvases with communicable visuals and absolute originality.

That, however, is only part of what Samit and his recent art is all about. ln fact, he only uses a rich visual surface to lure his viewers to enter his painted world and decode his painted contexts. ln him, content and context merge into a viewable reality and assume a far more complex interface, one that is equaled only by the complexity of urban life. Dematerialized image making is a facade that Samit loves to create, partly to camouflage his love of space but mostly to declare his love for Gaganendranath Tagore’s silhouette style.

His works really finish themselves. lt is indeed difficult to guess where he started in any given canvas, and even more difficult to determine when it finishes as some of it is deliberately left incomplete, like the subject itself. His pictures work best as stories with neither a proper beginning nor a conventional ending and open themselves up to a viewer only when viewed at length. The artist and his art here merge into a single entity.

Arun Ghose,

Kolkata, 2007

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