The artist behind this 24x30 inch portrait, Sanjay Bhattacharyya shares his artistic journey.
The latest addition to the portraits in the Rashtrapati Bhavan is the portrait of the India’s 12th Vice President, Mohammad Hamid Ansari. The artist behind this 24x30 inch portrait, Sanjay Bhattacharyya shares his artistic journey.
“It is a small portrait so the focal point is the face. I have tried to create a glowing portrait and I tried to take maximum advantage of the background. He is an interesting character, his nose, the eyes – especially the eyes are fascinating. Normally, you see a flat eye colour in most human beings. I have painted numerous portraits, but Ansari’s case has really amazed me. From the top his eyes are dark to light brown and at the edge there is a grayish blue line. A very unusual eyeball. I had never seen something like this,” he says.
He tried to capture the texture and the folds of the coat worn by Ansari as well. “I try to keep all these elements because making a portrait is a painstaking task. So I try to do it in a disciplined manner by sticking to the reference — which was a photograph in this case. It is a small portrait but you can bring in a lot of things.”
But what is it that attracts Bhattacharyya to portraits? He says, “I think that this is a challenge for many people because a portrait is the most difficult subject to paint. There are hardly a few who can make portraits. You have to take care of minute details and you can’t divert and call it some kind of art. You have to capture the accurate similarity, that is the first requirement. But the requirement for resemblance is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Bhattacharyya recalls the time when he painted a portrait of Rajiv Gandhi in 1994. “It was not commissioned. I took the reference from a magazine cover. He was wearing an angavastram and his head was smeared with vermillion. By the time I had seen that cover, Rajiv Gandhi had expired,” he shares.
He used that cover and painted a blast of flowers in the background signifying his glory and death. It was later that a friend took the painting to Indira Gandhi, who loved the painting and kept it. Bhattacharyya’s personal touch to this portrait was much appreciated and he has since painted numerous portraits.
The painter has also worked on a lot of life-size portraits, like the one of K. R. Narayanan. He explains, “Life-size portraits have a huge canvas of 8 by 5 feet. So one gets a lot of empty space which many people tend to ignore. If you want to paint a good portrait, you should give a lot of importance to that space. You should think about the props you will use. K. R. Narayanan told me that he loves books and so we used that in his portrait. All details matter.”
However, Bhattacharyya also believes in surrendering to the canvas. He reveals that the relationship between artist, canvas and the subject is more complex than it seems. “It is not just the artist who commands the work, the subject dominates it. I also believe that the canvas is the master of a painter and it is better to surrender to it.”
Bhattacharyya paints uncommissioned portraits as well. The artist shares that he has felt indebted to one of his subjects – a poor girl named Khushba, who he clicked near Bengal border. “She was holding some fruit and had a stick in her hand, I painted her later and it was sold at a high price years ago. But it all happened because of Khushba. She had a huge role to play in it and it pained me that I couldn’t give her any part of the money I received for that painting. It pains me to this day but there is no way to find her.”
But in an era of technology and cameras, how feasible is it to paint a portrait? “I feel now we are competing with camera. I feel the one can beat a photograph, with a painting, if one puts in the effort.”