Faces dominate his oeuvre and arresting expressions make them singularly attractive. Odia painter Tapan Dash merges abstract art with his fascination for faces. Abstract paintings full of geometric shapes conceal faces complete with myriad expressions. These paintings are predominantly a mix of oranges, blues, reds and greens. His medium of choice is oil and acrylic.
Using symbolism that’s part of Indian art and mythology, Dash blends it with his artistic sensibilities to create pleasant, shocking and at times, jarring works of art. Disconcerting to the extreme, Dash is also a master of the line. Given a proper brush and paint, he says, perhaps he can draw a line to the end of the world and back without a break. Using this robust line, and a childish glee for bright primary colours, Dash paints with a simplicity that mocks the perspective with exaggeration. Rhythm, repetition and symmetry play an important role in this artist’s works.
Based in New Delhi now, Dash says most of his faces represent the priests from Puri, his birth place. “My frequent visits to my home town and spiritual trips to the Jagannath temple help me absorb the daily life of these priests, popularly known as Puri Pandas. So when I start painting, faces come naturally to me and the co-related symbols follow automatically,” he says.
The artist stresses that he starts from a point and begins painting without any pre thought. “Every time I do a work, it finishes with the Pandas of Puri, a scene from his routine life, his place in modern and contemporary world,” says Dash. His painted ‘faces’ span an identity broaching the mortal and the divine; their heavy-lidded eyes gaze outward, but never directly at the viewer.
A Fine Arts graduate of B K College of Art & Crafts, Bhubaneswar, many of his portraits have multiple visages, bringing to mind African masks and sculpture, Cubism and German Expressionism.
A series of 101 drawings by Dash, all done in pastel called ‘101 Faces’ presents people’s faces in various moods, grabs and characters. “In daily life, it’s the face that meets the world and interacts, and becomes the threshold of communication, interaction with various affairs of human life. The face carries one’s internal sensibilities, personality, and mental or spiritual constitution,” says the artist.
Dash here tries to portray 101 emotions, types and varieties of faces around us. Often the artist presents multiple dimensions and aspects of the same face. The series is an interplay of multiple characters residing in a same personality.
Some of his paintings also show faces in a crowd with abstract silhouettes of figures engaged in several (presumably commercial) activities and a general atmosphere of chaos.
In some of Dash’s other paintings, chillies take on different forms, different colours, moving on from a humour motif to something more meaningful and more thought provoking. The humour, Dash indulges in can be seen in the perspective where he uses the parallax effect to show the split personalities. The human anatomy is twisted out of shape to create mock symbolism, the bright colours, and the motif of a red twisted chilli add to a sense of wry humour. Just to show one aspect of it, Dash draws a mendicant deep in meditation, but with a twist: he has a red chilli on one of his open palm. In another, he paints a smiling face again, but with red chillies stuffed in the eyes. The face is in the backdrop of a sea, which is blue in its heart, but burning red on the surface with red chillies floating atop.
He has created 40 such paintings and more than 200 colour drawings in the last three years. Besides chillies, motifs like eyes, smoking pipes, coconuts, sometimes cars appear frequently in his works.
Apart from the Puri Pandas, he draws inspiration from Jesus Christ and of late, Buddha. He is currently working on a series highlighting the preaching of
Buddha. Interestingly, Dash is not using any of the conventional Buddha images in the series. “Recently, I have also started doing portraits in pencil on paper. The basic idea is the same, but the medium different,” he says.