A smiling picture of Kalidas Karmakar in his eminent topee was kept between the artist's artworks at Gallery Cosmos in the commemoration event yesterday. Unlike his art, which we would be able to enjoy further, the artist, following his demise in 18th October, 2019, will no longer accompany us in person.
"Drawing and painting are in my blood," the artist used to boast. Son of a goldsmith, Kali Das was nurtured in a particularly cultural family environment where there were members who excelled in various creative activities. Being creative was his destiny.
The preeminent artist of the country was born in 1946, in Faridpur.
He grew up to be restless child in the sleepy town of Faridpur. A charismatic figure, Kali Das spearheaded some of the most interesting artistic movements in the country. In the early 1970s, when he broke into the scene, he was one of the first painters to break away abstract painting by way of inserting in the picture plain sourced objects – car parts, steering etc. The latter object adorned the surface of a piece that is part of history. Later his etchings brought him considerable renown. With imageries replete with motifs and intricacies of lines, Kali Das created his signature style through his etching that defied academic norms.
The other day, painter-printmaker Rokey Sultana was lamenting his loss. "He was an innovator who created a distinct language of his own. His etchings inspired further experimentations by other artists," she observed in an informal gathering.
Yesterday, at the commemoration event, Tehmina Enayet, director of Gallery Cosmos said, "Like his vibrant creative art, his behaviour, look, hair, and clothes stood apart and exuded energy."
Kali Das went to Dhaka's sole modem art institution at Shahbagh, where Hashem Khan and Mustafa Monwar were his teacher.
Tufail K Haider, director, GSP Investment Limited remembered him as follows: He had lived a life like a grandee. And I do not know how to put him in context. I am at a loss as to how to remember him – as a father, an artist, a friend or a human being?
One must hark back to the early days, when Kali Das, after completing his art education in Kolkata came back to become the most innovative artist in the developing art scene. His compatriot, sculptor Hamiduzzaman Khan remembers how
Kalidas submitted an art piece that had junks attached to it in 1st-ever national-level exhibition in the country. It was set aside by the panel of artists who were in charge of selecting artworks. Kalidas, in an interview once said that Indian sculptor Chintamoni Kar admired that piece and had responded positively to his form of innovation. The famous sculptor commented that here was an artwork which showed that there could be painting without paints.
Kalidas learnt printmaking in Poland in 1977. And then went to France to learn from Stanley William Hayter the much-vaunted viscosity process which allowed more freedom. Once back home, the artist started using multiple colours in one plate, something that all printmakers craved at that point of history.
Kali Das founded Atelier-71 in 1986, a space for artists to learn and work in printmaking. He chose the name as an homage to his teacher from childhood and the martyrs of the Liberation War in 1971.
The man whose creative process and success drew so much attention and curiosity, life was not always an easy ride. When studying in Kolkata, depression engulfed him after his wife's death. Kalidas decided to become a sage and was ready to give up worldly life. But in his spiritual trip to Gomukh, the source of the River Bhagirathi, a sage asked him to go back to where he belonged. Therefore, he came back to his daughters as well as his art.
All his life he worked for art, young artists and people who loved art. He used rue over the fact that as a nation we do not even have a national art museum.
"My father always tried to represent Bangladesh through his art and had introduced indigenous elements to the world of art," said Dr Konka Karmakar, eldest daughter of the artist.
The essential Kalidas Karmakar would always be found in the sparks he generated through his art. The performances he introduced to the art scene, the mystical dimension that he achieved through his personalised motifs, all have their physical presence – only the artist has left his mortal coil forever.