When Sudhir sent me a critique of my paintings, I wondered how much stock to put in it. While he was a respected journalist and art critic, could his view on my paintings and poetry be tainted by love? I sought some answers in similar alliances.
Frida Kahlo described her “artistic” encounter with Diego Rivera:
I took four little pictures to Diego who was painting up on the scaffolds at the Ministry of Public Education. Without hesitating a moment I said to him, ‘Diego, come down,’ and so, since he is so humble, so agreeable, he came down. ‘Look, I didn’t come to flirt with you or anything, even though you are a womanizer, I came to show you my painting. If it interests you, tell me so, if it doesn’t interest you, tell me that too, so I can get to work on something else to help out my parents.’ He told me, ‘Look, I’m very much interested in your painting, especially this self-portrait which is the most original. The other seem to me to be influenced by what you’ve seen. Go on home, paint a picture, and next Sunday, I’ll come to see it and tell you.’ So I did, and he said, ‘You have talent’.
In the context of what I am seeking, this is not that revealing for they were not yet involved. Later, after the encounter culminated in marriage, the stormy couple fed off each other’s talent and volatility, and Diego said of Frida’s paintings:
Through her paintings, she breaks all the taboos of the woman’s body and of female sexuality. In an interview in 1953, Diego described Frida’s work:
Frida Kahlo is the greatest Mexican painter. Her work is destined to be multiplied by reproductions and will speak, thanks to books, to the whole world. It is one of the most formidable artistic documents and most intense testimonies on human truth of our time.
Diego’s words of admiration, though spoken from the prism of an intensely personal relationship between two artists, resonate even today. Sudhir too is an artist and has known many. I am transcribing his view of my paintings, believing that he set his emotions, huge or small, biased or predisposed, aside when he said the following:
It is as difficult to typecast Suparna as it is to imprison Picasso in neat little packages of the Blue, Pink and Neo-classical periods.Suparna too cannot be buttonholed in cleverly worked out cliches. Her prodigious protean energy would militate against any such labeled theorizing. In this she is one with Heraclitus when he says: Everything is in a flux. You cannot step into the same river twice.” Or, again, with Gottfried Benn: There is no outer reality. Only the inner which is constantly moulding, re-moulding and building new worlds out of its own creativity.”
To wit, just when you think you can safely posit her work in a deteriorating urban landscape of malaise and moral decay, she steps away by producing a body of work where colour literally goes ballistic in a series of exasperatingly beautiful bronze bas-reliefs of chiming ankle bells, bracelets and nose rings. And these hallucinatory lovely figures are breathlessly close to the friezes and frescoes of India’s temples. Like them, Suparna’s forte is the female nude, so sensuously invoked, drawn, painted, that the “Song of Solomon” pales in comparison.
Yet again, Suparna, with a magical sleight of hand, shifts your focus to another genre – her social and political satirical drawings, thrumming with wit and humour, with the horse as metaphor.
However, behind Suparna’s shifting smokescreen of life’s constant flux, lies the grandeur of a harmonious whole. Of “darshan”, loosely translated as a unified, intuited vision, where all contradictions are laid to rest and she reveals herself as a communicator of beauty, supreme and insatiable.
I’ll allow myself to revel in these superlative observations, believing these to be objective, removed from sentiments. Just as I will accept Sudhir’s spontaneous response to poet and critic, Mukund Dave, regarding my poems and drawings:
Suparna draws ingeniously on many devices — literary and surrealist, now-you-see-me; now–you-don’t, ‘to lead you up the incline…’ and throw you into a beautifully hallucinatory world — a world that teeters between dream and reality; between Venus’ flying locks in Botticelli’s painting and Penelope’s unending knitting of the scroll, awaiting Odysseus’s return. How effortlessly does she straddle the three worlds of myth, folklore and surrealism is magical. Really.
Here’s to you. Happy Anniversary.