It was much after the 70's when ITC Hotels acquired the bulk of its magnificent archive of commissioned work – in fact decades later that Sanjay Bhattacharya was asked to do special oils for ITC Maurya Towers. Francesca Basu, our interior designer, gave Sanjay a brief to do a few pieces for the Towers lobby with the theme: 'Mauryan figures'.
The result: The unfolding of six dramatic megascale -panels including a gargantuan triptych (13 ft x 6 ft) of the grand procession of Ashoka. We witness scattered images of an Ashokan Pillar with a forlorn background; a door with jutting out nails, with a background of the Ashokan pillar and an edict. Another image is that of a man with a sword outside a huge wooden door and the final drama is a most arresting panorama - Ashoka riding an elephant with an expansive army. The brush strokes are so vivid and real and the image so strongly impactful, it seems for a moment that one is watching a moving image!
On asking him about his response to being given this project, he said, "It was a rare chance to do such a work. Imagine, to do a work by the size of 13ft x 6 ft!. It was only a hotel or an institute that could afford the space and the fund to offer such work and I took it up as a challenge. Initially it was a bit tedious process for me but once I finished and all the works got installed in the lobby of the Towers I began to get such good response that I realised all the hard work was worth it." Sanjay had never painted horses and elephants in his work earlier. His oeuvre of work is mostly the sight and sound of the Calcutta urban cityscape.
Sanjay, essentially an artist from Calcutta, had moved to Delhi in the 80's in search of a better future. After a few disastrous stints in advertising agencies he realised he was just paving the way to becoming a commercial artist and so he decided to quit his job and start life as a full time artist. In 1989 he had a show at the Carma art gallery after which there was no looking back.
It is interesting to quote Khushwant Singh on Sanjay's work here: (In 1992) "Two years ago, Catherine Clement, wife of the then French Ambassador, took me to an exhibition of her paintings in Carma Galley near the Qutub Minar. Besides her works there were several watercolours of ancient temples by the British High Commissioner, Sir David Goodall, and an Indian, Sanjay Bhattacharya, whose name I had never heard before. Each one of his paintings, priced much higher than those of Clement and Goodall, bore the red dot indicating that they had been sold. They all went on the very first day, the caretaker informed me. I was not surprised because the paintings were unlike any I had seen by a young Indian artist.
There was nothing modern or incomprehensible about them; you did not have to guess whether it was a three-legged animal, a four-eyed female dragon; or whether it was hung the right way round. The themes were commonplace; a wooden staircase running up to the first floor, a woman cooking on an open choolha, a bicycle resting against a mud wall. Yet their vivid colours had an ethereal glow. They were realistic and authentic. I could foresee that at any exhibition Sanjay Bhattacharya would be a sell out, no matter how high he priced his pictures I prayed he never turn an impressionist or inscrutable." How profound Khushwant Singh's comments were!
Sanjay, a talented realistic painter, started his career in eighties and has now become an important figure in the field of visual arts. During his early years, Calcuttans witnessed his realistic human forms, the streets, old architectural compositions and landscapes of rural Bengal in oil and water colours. The realistic approach, the excellent brushstrokes, fine compositions and drama of light and shade, skilled handling of colours and tones of these pieces of work added a new dimension to Sanjay's creative work in the following years.
Sanjay's watercolours and oils explore the beauty of nature and human existence through the lyrical juxtaposition of the two in a deeply compelling rhythm. As Sanjay says, his paintings are an attempt at the translating his tunes into the visual medium.