Within artist Nandan Purkayastha’s deceptively simple-looking paintings lie a world of imagination. If you look close enough, peering between the clean lines and the precise colours, you can see the complex and diverse elements that make up each work.
Purkayastha's fascination for folklore and mythology began during his childhood in Assam, when several influences, including Buddhism, converged in his life.
Goddess Durga floats on one of Purkayastha's canvases, flanked by an asura, or a demon. The work Celestial Realm shows the process of creating a Durga idol: from the shaping of the clay, to the addition of the colours, all the way to the statue's journey to the sea for immersion.
“It is always about how we perceive things – someone may see religion in my work, others may see a larger narrative of strength and beauty," said Purkayastha, who claims he is not a religious man but a believer.
"For me, at some level, the art form is more important than the characters themselves. Durga, Kali, Raavan, Ganesha are all strong characters."
Another element that shows up in most of Purkayastha's paintings is his fascination with masks – a common narrative prop in many theatre forms.
“Masks are used by different people for different things," said the artist. "A clown uses a mask to make people laugh, while some use it to hide their real emotions. There is a mask for everyone.”
Purkayastha said his use of colour was inspired by his travels to Spain and France. "I don't usually use colour in my works," he said. Festive Fantasies is the first project by the artist in which he has used colour liberally.
“I saw Picasso’s cubist works for the first time, but I wanted to create something that combined my fascination with colour with my own roots.” His exhibition includes abstract works that bring together Indian folk art and European influences.
Purkayastha trained at the National Institute of Fashion Technology, and his training in fashion is evident in the attire and hairstyles of his characters – the flowing skirts worn by Durga and the fine detailing on Solomon's sleeves.
"The training for incorporating detailing is something that is in built now," said Purkayastha, who would distractedly doodle clothing details on the margins of his notes as a student.
"When I began working on the series four to five months ago, I started with stories, then brought in and started drawing characters. I saw the colours and architecture around me on my travels and those became a part of my drawings. Some of these were very deliberate choices that I had made. The fashion-related aspects of the paintings, however, was just my natural training kicking in."
"Working on Festive Fantasies has changed my entire outlook," Purkayastha said. "Using colour has opened up a whole world of possibilities for my art. I now want to work on installations and 3D art works that would incorporate all the art forms that I have learned to work with over the years."
Festive Fantasies by Nandan Purkayastha is on at Gallerie Ganesha in New Delhi till November 14.