Nishikanto: The Artist
Nishikanto: The Artist
[Text of a speech delivered on 4 September 2009 at the inauguration of an exhibition of Nishikanto’s paintings organized at Sri Aurobindo Institute of Culture, Lakshmi’s House, Kolkata.]
If ever in the history of Bengali literature a list is prepared of the mystic poets then the name of Nishikanto would certainly top the list. Hailed as the ‘Brahmaputra of Inspiration’ by Sri Aurobindo, ‘Moon-Poet’ by Rabindranath Tagore and ‘Mad Artist’ by Abanindranath Tagore, his powerful poetic creations have immortalized his place in the lap of the Goddess of Learning. But we tend to forget that apart from being a poet of the highest rank, he was also a painter par excellence whose works have been appreciated by Sri Aurobindo, Abanindranath Tagore and Nandalal Bose to name a few. He started his life as an artist when he was a student of Kalabhavan, Santiniketan, but unfortunately, he gave away to his friends most of his creations of that era and as a result, those marvellous pieces of art are totally lost to us. However, the paintings which he made in Pondicherry as an inmate of Sri Aurobindo Ashram have been preserved for posterity. This meticulous preservation has enabled us to present before you the collection of some of his memorable artistic creations.
Nishikanto’s paintings can be classified into two parts—landscape and symbolic. Even when he was a student of Kalabhavan where he learned the art of painting from Nandalal Bose and received guidance for the same from Abanindranath Tagore, there was a distinct mark of symbolism in his paintings. Once on the occasion of Rabindranath Tagore’s birthday celebrations, an exhibition of paintings made by the students of Kalabhavan was arranged. Among the paintings there was one that was made by Nishikanto which had a unique style and essence. The painting was a symbolic representation of an expression in seven forms and was titled “The Seven Suns”. A dark-complexioned Titan was seen with a dagger in his hand moving towards the Sun to assassinate it but the radiant rays of the Sun transformed the Titan into a ray of resplendent light. It denoted the eradication of darkness by the Light which transformed life.
Nishikanto painted mostly of Nature. He used to walk to the Lake at Pondicherry and roam around the countryside—that is, Boulevards’ outer edges—and drink with his ‘seer’ eyes all the beauty Nature had to offer and transfer the same onto the canvas. He painted layer on layer and took a long time to complete them. His gurubhai Nirodbaran has recalled: ‘Nishikanto would…sit in half padmasana with his Ganesh-like paunch darkly shinning, half discarding the artificial beauty of the worn dhoti and applying the brush with brooding eyes while the glossy jet-black curls were rhythmically swaying like tender infant snakes around his neck.’
The spiritual manifestation has always resulted in the creation and development of art and artistic objects and Nishikanto’s paintings had the traits of mystic elements which grew along with the development of his spiritual consciousness. The style of Nishikanto’s paintings had evolved with his consciousness. He painted whenever he received the inspiration for doing so. His paintings took a month for completion and even he did not know how the paintings would take shape at the end of the month for he made them solely based on the inspiration he received.
If Sri Aurobindo guided Nishikanto in his poetic creations, so did the Mother in his paintings to whom he offered a painting on the first of every month. She also had arranged for the exhibition of his paintings along with Sanjiban Biswas, Anilkumar Bhattacharya and Jayantilal Parekh in the Town Hall of Pondicherry in the 1930s. The aim was not the mere encouragement of creative activities; on the contrary, it was to develop their inner beings and transform them into the ideal mediums of Art-Consciousness and also the establishment of such consciousness in them.
Nishikanto’s unique style of painting is characterized by the presence of surrealism and metaphysical elements. Whenever he was unable to express any of his occult visions through the form of poetry he would do so without much effort through his paintings and he himself had admitted that the colours spoke to him.
I shall conclude with what Sri Aurobindo had remarked about Nishikanto’s paintings: ‘Nishikanto has already his own developed technique and a certain originality of vision—two things which must be there before a man can take the risk as a painter.’