Sukanta Dasgupta’s fascination for chaos is underscored by a deep devotion to discipline. Without it, it would be impossible to explain the transformation he is able to summon on a canvas – turning tiny, painstakingly cut pieces of paper, to resemble careful brushstrokes.
“The lack of stillness or orderliness is very much a part of our lives,” he said. “I get inspired by such ‘uncovering’, as I call it. Simple and pristine beauty waiting patiently underneath the chaos. To an extent I can define my work as interpretation of something many have come across.”
Dasgupta, who lives and works in Pune, has always preferred “papier colle” to all other techniques of artistic expression. Papier colle is the art of using materials, especially that which has already been printed on, to create an independent piece of work.
“This medium may not be as popular as oil or water colour, but [it] has the versatility required for expression,” said Dasgupta.
In his body of work titled Celebrating the Ordinary, Dasgupta uses papiers colles to explore scenes and visuals that one encounters, but often misses seeing. Recently on display at the India International Centre in Delhi, the works echo the Japanese Wabi Sabi aesthetic, which celebrates imperfection and focuses on three things: nothing is permanent, nothing is complete, and nothing is perfect.
“My works are certainly not based on some rare sights only I have experienced,” said Dasgupta. “As a result, my works would invariably bring out a sense of familiarity. Some of the works specifically celebrate ordinary people with extraordinary courage, large hearts and a deeper understanding of our existence.”
In one canvas, Dasgupta recreates a pond overrun with lily pads, a plant that can overwhelm other plants and certain water animals if allowed a free run. Dasgupta celebrates the still waters where the lily pads thrive, and the tranquility of the scene that underlies an insatiable drive for life.
In another, he moves to a market, defining a busy street, where customers throng hawkers. Through its chaos, the work manages to indicate noise, smells and movement frozen still for a moment.
Though rarely used now, papiers colles was once used by many greats, including Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Juan Gris.
In an essay he wrote on why he favours the technique, Dasgupta wrote:
“Henry Matisse revived collage and brought in new methods and fresh vocabulary. [He] worked for the last ten years of his life entirely with cut and pasted paper. He mastered the art so well that he was able to say ‘scissors can achieve more sensitivity than the pencil’. He made papiers colles an independent medium and generally did not take help of other mediums to create his expressive paintings.”
Dasgupta selects and cuts paper exactly as if he were choosing brush strokes, keeping in mind the texture, direction and length.
“In this process, it is only the colour of the paper which is of importance, the content of the picture is irrelevant,” he writes. “At times a specific portion of the printed matter is included, to emphasis the idea.”
Papier colle is an unpredictable art technique. “The outcome,” Dasgupta writes, “is apparent only when the work nears completion.”
“It is unpredictable at times and can generate multiple images. The medium, with its sharp, contrasting, vivid shapes has been used efficiently by many artists, especially for advertisements and posters.”