Batsayan’s watercoloured worlds
- Pokhara-based artist Durga Baral is equally at home painting inside a panel and on an easel
Apr 3, 2015-
As a science student in high school, Durga Baral was exceptionally good at making diagrams of frogs and plants. And when Tribhuvan University closed down the Intermediate in Science (ISc) course at Prithivi Narayan Campus, Pokhara—owing to the lack of infrastructure in the institute—Baral embarked on a journey to Kathmandu to become an artist.
“‘Anybody can become a doctor or an engineer, but having the potential to become an artist is rare’ is what my biology teacher had told me,” Baral recalls. It was this advice that had led him to take up art as a profession. “Much later, I found a text that read: ‘You can’t create an artist, they are born’. I think that is what the teacher meant.”
An acquaintance who worked at the Pokhara division of a handicraft company recommended that Baral go to the company’s headquarters in Tripureshwor, Kathmandu, to learn art. And so he did. There he spent three months studying designing basics with a German teacher.
“It was a helpful course—the teacher taught me about colours and lettering, but it was applied art and it was not what I wanted to do,” the artist says. “There was a Rs 50 stipend, which I used to receive every month, but it started getting difficult to get by with the sum. So I left the place to look for a job.”
It was in this transitional period that Baral, for the first time, made cartoons for a newspaper. While hanging out at Danphe Restaurant in New Road once—the then junction for creative folks—he met Ramesh Nath Pandey, the editor of Naya Sandesh weekly, who took him in as a cartoonist.
Soon, Baral secured a job at the Janak Siksha Samagri Kendra (JSSK), Sanothimi, as an illustrator. This was not what the young man from Pokhara had expected to do when he had turned to Kathmandu to pursue art. But Baral says working there had its perks.
“It was a good practice and, most importantly, I started coming into contact with many contemporary artists. I met Keshav Duwadi at work. And Dil Bahadur Chitrakar—through him I was introduced to Lain Singh Bangdel,” he says.
This was around the time when the Nepal Association of Fine Arts was established. Baral became a member in 1965 and was introduced to artists like CM Maskey, Amar Chitrakar, Thakur Prasad Mainali, Bal Krishna Sama and Rama Nanda Joshi. Baral remembers observing the different artists’ works and work processes and, all the while, learning. And pretty soon, he became the first person to win in the painting category in the first National Exhibition.
“A lot of technical theory came to me with practise,” he says. “By this time, I’d even found out places from where I could get my art supplies.”
Work at the office was mostly about making educational materials. But by now, the artist was doing a lot of paintings. And after about a five-year stint at JSSK, he returned to Pokhara because he wanted art to be his primary mode of life. So Baral set up an artist’s studio at Pokhara Bazaar, catering to tourists—mostly hippies in the beginning. He started working on watercolour landscape paintings that the foreigners would take back home in the form of paper rolls.
“Pokhara was a hippy haven then, and they’d crowd around my cheaply priced paintings,” quips Baral. “I later started catering to a more well-heeled clientele—the Mission Hospital and the British Pension Camp staff, for example. They would order paintings
a few weeks prior to Christmas. Paintings made for great gifts. And eventually, there was so much business that I was unable to meet the deadlines.”
Baral gradually started exploring other territories too. Acrylic paint made it easier for him to make larger-scale paintings and so he started practising the media. During this period, watercolour became his medium for key sketches.
For the past two decades, however, Baral has been known to the public primarily as a cartoonist. He has been making satirical commentaries on Nepali society and politics through his works. His cartoons, too, are done in watercolour, atop pen work, but the artist says making a cartoon and a painting are two entirely different things.
“When I start to make a cartoon, I am stressed most of the times. I have to stick to an idea and find a way to best present it. But when I am making a painting, the guidelines are always shifting. Just like thoughts, paints drift within the canvas, like a fluid,” he says.
His use of the media is exceptional—his applications fresh and his flows fluid yet controlled. He is a master at it.
But if you go see him at his studio in Pokhara, you can still find him seated on his white plastic chair—his support clamped onto an easel—making study-paintings to sharpen his skills—all with an enthusiastic beginner’s fervor.
While he still provides cartoons for the Kantipur daily, Baral has been spending more time these days learning new watercolour techniques and styles off DVD tutorials and Youtube. This has brought a new edge to his works. His recent works experiment with perspectives and angles, and the colour use seems different too.
The same Phewa Lake, reproduced so many times by so many artists, is different in one of Baral’s latest compositions. You do not get to see the lake, a few boats in the distance and the Machapuchre in the backdrop. This one is from a more elevated view point, a fisherman has his back against us and a couple of boats are lined up next to him.
The artist says he has come back to watercolour now.
“Watercolour is something that I have always preferred. I resumed its use after a long gap. It has been about one-and-a-half years since I started again,” he says.
While most artists stick to a certain style or a theme, especially when they’ve been practising for several decades, Baral says it is more about development.
“It is not about making art and exhibiting for the sake of exhibiting. It is about exploring and learning new things,” he says and looks up. A broad smile is fixed across his face. There is a child-like gleam in his eyes. Perhaps the Vedic sage Batsayan, too, had a similar child in him.
Published: 04-04-2015 08:57