Pratul Dash: Large images of the cityscape dominate the oeuvres of Pratul Dash. There is, however, something foreboding about his vision. For, vast roofless architectural spaces, windowless skyscrapers, electric poles, dying vegetation and metallic pipelines comprise his cityscape, devoid of signs of life.
Through his paintings, the Delhi-based artist laments the all-round environmental and social degradation. If at all nature finds place in his work then it is in the form of a creeping tendril or a solitary cat, cattle or a flock of birds. Shades of gray dominate his palette.Born in the small town of Burla in Odisha, Dash grew up in open landscapes. The bustling national capital, where he pursued his master’s degree, came as a rude awakening. His concerns are that of the depleting and deteriorating state of natural landscapes, of being a refugee tumbled into the bustling, chaotic city and finding his rightful space. He sees the degradation that is occurring in the capital being reflected in his native state as well, but on a very different scale.One of his photographic works in this line is ‘Skeleton’. In what appears like a burial ground for old machinery, one finds stone-crushing machines, but no labourers in sight. They have long since migrated to other cities in search of jobs. The work was inspired by a trip to Burla where he found that an entire mountain had been levelled to extract its resources and the soil rendered infertile.Dash’s art presents a world where everything is teetering on the brink. It is a world that is as unstable as the bamboo scaffolding that recurs in his paintings. “I am concerned about the changing landscape and the vertical growth which I see as an individualistic growth,” he says.This is seen in his recent body of works, the latest being ‘Living’. In what appears like a maze of roofless cubicles which, he says, are houses in a metropolis, Dash draws “class classification” in them. If one cubicle has a drawing ofyoungsters sharing a meal at KFC, the adjoining one has rag-picker children rummaging through garbage heaps. The common imagery found in the painting is symbols of dollar, rupee and lira. The 10-by-8- foot painting took him eight months to complete.Another work ‘Left Out’ depicts a similar kind of landscape, which is barren. Huge buildings tower on one side. In the distance, some fire is seen with smoke rising to the skies. It is felt as if some riot, looting, and arson have just ended. There are objects scattered on earth, and no sense of belonging is felt; as if the terrain has been abandoned.The artist is now working on a series on changing landscapes, pollution and subsequent environmental hazards. Under this, he is creating paintings, photographs and video art. He started the series during the Commonwealth Games in Delhi and his first work was ‘A city near the Commonwealth Village’, a digital print of 700 photographs and a painting which articulates environmental concerns. “When the construction of the Commonwealth village was on, I used to visit it almost five times a week and just click pictures of at least three kilometre of the surrounding radius. At the end, all the pictures individually did not make any sense so I decided to stitch all of them together along with my painting to form a digital art,” he said.A video art ‘The Story of a Landscape’ is an extension of his paintings on the subject. It is a digitally-stitched video of two of his paintings—Conch Blower and Man with a Camera. The video depicts the devastation caused to the environment by rapid urbanisation.Dash says subjects of his paintings are derived from his observations and real life experiences. “Each frame portrays a plethora of complexities. A differentperspective of development and life,” he says. He plans to exhibit all his works under this series at the end of this year.The artist received his bachelor’s degree from the B K College of Arts and Crafts, Bhubaneswar, in 1995 and his master’s in painting from the College of Art, New Delhi, in 1998. Among his honours are the Industrial Literature Society award, Italy, a scholarship from the Inlaks Foundation, the M F Husain award from the College of Art, New Delhi, and three annual awards from the B K College of Arts and Crafts.