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signed and dated 'Bikash 78' (lower left)
oil on canvas
26 3/8 x 32 in. (81 x 81.5 cm.)
Painted in 1978
Bikash Bhattacharjee: A Retrospective, exhibition catalogue, Emami Chisel Art and Vadehra Art Gallery, Kolkata, 2009, p. 56 (illustrated)
Kolkata, Emami Chisel Art, Bikash Bhattacharjee: A Retrospective, August-September 2009
New Delhi, Vadehra Art Gallery, Bikash Bhattacharjee: A Retrospective, October-November 2009
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Bikash Bhattacharjee is widely considered one of the foremost Indian realist painters. Underlining his realist approach is a strong sense of the psychological, surreal and the abstract. Composed with a still-life sensibility, Bikash Bhattacharjee's Untitled (Rooftops), recalls the painterly style and technique of American realist painter, Andrew Wyeth, as seen in Her Room, painted in 1963. "[...] after my graduation, as I was about to immerse myself in the world of art, the man who widended my vision of North Calcutta and opened up infinite possibilites before me was Andrew Wyeth." (M. Majumdar, Bikash Bhattacharjee, Close to Events, New Delhi, 2007, p. 183)

Wyeth's works demonstrate the self-consciousness, calmness and solitude of an individual mind with a stroke of stability, tranquility and desolation. The unique style and quality of his works influenced an entire generation of artists across Asia, from the 1960s-80s. In many ways, imagery in all art forms, is an idiosyncratic process of reinvention. As Wyeth found himself in lineage of artists and philisophers including his father N. C. Wyeth, Edward Hopper, Georgia O'Keefe, Henry David Thoreau, Winslow Homer, Charles Sheeler, Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange; Bhattacharjee found himself well placed in this international art-historical lineage that also includes, John Sargeant, James Whistler, Francis Bacon, and Max Beckmann. Bhattacharjee is also deeply influenced by 19th century Bengali culture and his Marxist beliefs. He famously said, "[...] when I stand in front of an easel, what drives me on is my Leftist thinking, my ambience, my urge to live, and my struggle for survival." (M. Majunder, Bikash Bhattacharjee: Close to Events, New Delhi, 2007, p. 183)

Bhattacharjee revisited the view from his roof top several times in his career. "[...] in the '70s, when we had our studio at 52 Chowinghee, there were ancient, cool rooms and balconies bathed in mysterious half-light. The upper floor lay empty except for the old owner who lived alone. All this excellently matched my thoughts and reflections and found a niche in my works." (M. Majunder, Bikash Bhattacharjee: Close to Events, New Delhi, 2007, p. 183) In these paintings, sometimes the cityscape is sparce, other times inhabited with women and children. Moody and haunting, the cityscape is softly lit with the yellow gleam of sunlight. Bhattacharjee's meticulous handling of paint and colour imbues this work with a naturalistic perfection that is both arresting and deeply engaging.

As is often the case in realist art, little in Bhattacharjee's paintings are actually "real". He often distorts the space between objects, adds imagery that never existed outside his imagination or removes imgery to open up a landscape or focal point. When standing in front of Untitled (Rooftops), one can feel where the artist must have stood in order to capture this scene, even though that place, suspended on the ledge of the balcony, is improbable. Bhattacharjee also seems to magically inhabit this cityscape. The windows in this exterior view painting are Bhattacharjee's eyes and they are quietly looking back at us. This is a technique influenced by Wyeth that Bhattacharjee skillfully reverses. In Wyeth's Her Room, "the close perspective goes beyond implying the artist's presence to produce the sense that he has actually become the room, that the windows are the eyes through which he sees the world." (A. Knutson, Andrew Wyeth: Memory & Magic, Atlanta, 2006, pp. 77-78)

Bhattacharjee shared a strong affinity for American realist painters and this influence is beautifully rendered in his uniquely Indian works, inspired by the political and social climate of North Calcutta. We can safely assume that Bhattacharjee would agree with Wyeth when he said, "I have such a strong romantic fantasy about things -- and that's what I paint, but come to it through realism. If you don't back up your dreams with truth, you have very round-shouldered art." (R. Meryman, 'Andrew Wyeth: An Interview' p. 45) Untitled (Rooftops) is a magnificant painting and milestone achievement for the artist, it took centrestage at his retrospective exhibition in 2009.