The moment you step into the Gallerie Ganesha hall, holding the solo art exhibition “Krishna The Enigma”, one seems to be enveloped in divinity and scenic natural beauty. On display are numerous acrylic on canvas artworks by noted artist Ashok Hazra, all on Lord Krishna reflecting his varied nuances, moods and emotions. Hazra had earlier done a series on Krishna’s playfulness as a flute player. In this series, he uses subtle shades of acrylic to recreate the dark jambul coloured icon, surrounded with cows gazing at him with soulful eyes. Stating Krishna’s importance at present, Hazra remarks:
In today’s world, we try to look for peace in times of conflict and it is in Krishna, his leela and mysticism that we find solace.
On his fascination for Krishna
From my very childhood, I have been fascinated with the form of Krishna. His personality has multiple layers, he is a simple cowherd, a scholarly statesman, a playful friend, a devoted lover and above all connected with his people and the environment at all times. Unlike other gods, he has a unique style – his colour and complexion, his dress, body language – all attracted me immensely for several years. Also, I am a follower of Ramkrishna Paramhans since my college days. I was struggling to cope with the challenges of being an art student with very meagre means and I began to visit the ashram in Paharganj to relieve stress. It was during that time that I discovered Krishna as at the ashram one was often exposed to the various aspects of Krishna’s life as a leader and a commoner both. I first made the series on Krishna as a flute player and gave him a surrounding of love, nature, gopis, basically the shringar bhava.
On how “Krishna – The Enigma” came into being
Ever since I moved to Ajmer, I have been regularly visiting the Nathdwara temple and the form of Krishna there attracted me immensely. Nathdwara is an important cult for the Vaishnavite followers of Krishna where His idol was moved from Vrindavan to protect it from the Mughal ruler Aurangzeb. The environment surrounding this area – the greenery, ponds, hillocks, all have inspired me to paint this form of Krishna and one glance for any believer in Krishna at this particular idol will tell you how deeply spiritual his form is in Nathdwara.
On the nature of his artworks
The show is enigmatic because of Krishna – his very form is such that it inspires both awe and admiration. It’s spiritual because it gives you inner peace as well at the same time. Being a teacher, I always teach my students that everything is possible in the world with love and understanding and that is what Krishna is also about.
On capturing myriad nuances of Krishna
Krishna is so loving, so naughty (see his smile in Krishna 16 and 19). Such a great ideologist, he practises what he preaches. All these nuances are reflected in his smile and eyes.
On giving artworks a traditional as well as contemporary look
The image of Krishna is traditional, as I cannot change the way the Nathdwara idol looks. I have used contemporary motifs as the background – ponds, water lilies, fish, cows, huts, etc. Someone will look at these paintings and feel Krishna belongs with us everywhere, which is anyway true of him as a deity. Krishna is about both romanticism and fantasy according to me, not just religion, hence by using these contemporary motifs, I have made his icon part of today’s environment.
On Krishna’s relevance in the present world
Krishna is extremely relevant in today’s world. The concept of dharma, nishkaam karma, putting the love for one’s country and state above self love – isn’t all that relevant in today’s time?
On experimentation in this series
I have made Krishna’s eyes completely unique from what is the traditional way of painting Krishna. I have put him in different positions, some paintings have multiple images. This is done solely for the purpose of my composition and in a spontaneous way as and when it comes to me. I had first gone to Nathdwara eight years ago and since then this image has stuck in my mind. But I can’t change his form so the hands will remain as they are in the idol (with the right hand raised), I can only change his placement.
The Bengal School drew extremely traditional motifs, I also have a huge collection of Rajasthani miniature paintings but I have never followed any art style. My style is my own. My work is about the division of the canvas in particular, new compositions, the colour palette, etc. If you see Krishna in various positions, it is because I see him as an omnipresent form, remember how Krishna used to take multiple forms to be with all the gopis at the same time, so perhaps that imagery is also part of my consciousness in making multiple Krishnas (Krishna 2 for instance).
On use of block prints to show elephants
I like to use block prints to provide texture to my work, not making it look flat. As my colours are basic, textures give a depth to the work.
On depicting cows, greenery especially bananas plant, pond with lotus in all the works
Krishna is an environment conscious deity and was raised by gwalas (cowherders). Also I grew up in a Midnapore surrounded by nature and these elements from nature will always be part of me and my paintings.
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