Terracotta Tales

A Bengali by birth. A Kannadiga by heart. That sums up this man with a love for the rough and textured works of art.

The Terracotta Influence

Basuki is intensely influenced by terracotta edifices. All his paintings reflect the classic stamp of the modelled rustic earth.

The word, ‘terracotta’, originates from the Latin word, terracocta. Terra means the earth and cocta, the mellowed. Thus, terracotta refers to fired clay works. Several cultures, over thousands of years, have presented myriad terracotta structures and products. These include huge clay fired edifices and places of worship, water pots, flower pots, roofing tiles, bricks and artistic sculptures. One towering example is the several terracotta structures of Bishnupur in the Bankura district of West Bengal.

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Basuki grew up amidst these silent, quiet, cool and vast terracotta temples. Along with his friends, he spent most of his time in these silent and cool edifices.

The boys stole fruits from the neighbouring houses and discussed their ‘failed love affairs’ and ‘life’s shattered ambitions’. All boys – in the age group of 10 to 15. The one thing they had in common was lack of a direction in life.

Many of this group assumed themselves to be discoverers, poets, painters, authors and philosophers. But then again, with no proper guides and mentors.

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While we may smile at the frustrations of the tender age, Basuki still carries nostalgic and indelible memories of his happy, unhurried and carefree days of his life in Bishnupur.

Nostalgia, in fact. Because he now lives in Tumkur- ‘the city of education and coconuts’ in Karnataka. And the current Bishnupur temples are no longer the places of his youth, with their well-maintained gardens, tall fences, security and ‘national monument’ status.

Though Basuki was quite good at studies, he had no particular academic ambition, unlike his parents and elders, who expected him to take the ‘engineer or doctor route’, like every other middle class boy. Instead of working on Pythagoras, Napoleon, and the tidal currents, the boy was lost in his own world of Vasco da Gama and Christopher Columbus. He wanted to emulate them, to discover something new. Naturally, his well-meaning parents were very disappointed that their son was going ‘astray’.

For want of anything better to do, (other than study) the boys bought a wall painting brush for five rupees and started experimenting with it. By now Basuki had a fair notion that he wanted to be a painter.

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Shantiniketan, 1987

Basuki’s steps ushered him to this university town, pioneered by Rabindranath Tagore. He applied himself to learn art for seven years. In hindsight, these years passed away like a mere seven days.

He was lucky to have Jogen Chowdhury as his teacher. Jogen Chowdhury is a renowned and critical painter, who has made Shantiniketan his home and hope. He has devoted virtually, the whole of his time, to nurture and inspire young artists.

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Basuki’s somewhat bohemian kind of life continued at the university too, where artists did not really care to build their futures. They were inspired by the wandering groups of painters and sculptors from other universities who visited Shantiniketan and did not bother where they slept and what they ate. They had no plan or even ideas on how to survive in the world, like artists across the world. Basuki wanted to be one of them. He was further inspired by the great artists like Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gaugin, who were known to lead nomadic lives. He began to admire MF Hussain too.

In Search of Opportunities

In those days, West Bengal was not the best place for artists to earn a decent living. Most of them had to come to Mumbai, Delhi or even Dehra Dun. He even tried Kolkata, for good measure. But like most creative artists, Basuki does not like crowd, chaos and confusion. In fact, he has a bitter and miserable memory of Kolkata, for the same reason, where people jostled with each other, for space. He could not take to the busy, ‘costly and ‘ruthless city.

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As chance would have it, he got a job as a teacher at the TVS School, Tumkur. He was part of an integrated teaching environment at the school and something he really began to cherish. The learning approach was to blend history and art, geology and art and even mathematics and art. Students could thus relate to Aurangzeb, metamorphic rocks, Pythagoras and art-with equal intensity.

Apart from being a full time painter, Basuki is a consultant with the NID (National Institute of Design) campus at Gandhinagar, Gujarat, where he stays for several days at a stretch, to help his students.

His art is strongly influenced by terra cotta and Durga Maa as he sees Her. Not for him, the dark hued Goddess of the Puranas with ten arms and flaming tongue. His Durga is the common woman who works in the fields, toils for her family, washes clothes and takes her bath at two in the afternoon, as she is so busy. You can see Basukis’ Durga forms in fish and vegetable vendors, and cleaning women. He is full of admiration for them as they constitute the culture of any community. They are the ones with two arms, doing the work of ten arms.

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His characters largely resemble puppets, inspired by the Bengal school of contemporary and folk art. All of his semi abstract paintings have a rough texture to them, with a high rustic decorative value. He has no leaning towards a modern abstract approach. Or any intention.

Working from his well-equipped top floor studio, Basuki works through the day, though with no particular routine, except for his early morning tryst with his canvas and brush. He may paint later in the day, or he might not. It is quite subjective.

However, one important fact is that he cannot or does not want to do anything in life -bother than paint. Painting is his destination, his prayers and his goddess. Without touching a brush to the canvas, the artist claims that he will be lost. He remembers van Gogh overcoming a multitude of obstacles and leave behind a body of fine art. Basuki likes to think of himself thus, prevailing many hurdles, to reach where he is, today.

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He also takes his love for carpentry very seriously and loves to cut, nail and structure wood to develop passable furniture. Then he has his guitar to strum a few numbers, mostly Bengali, when in the mood and to entertain his myriad acquaintances in Tumkur.

Though he may have created the stamp of a murals painter, Basuki feels that the word has been misinterpreted. He feels that the term should stand for its original meaning in Latin, murus or muralis. Which means wall paintings.

From Murals to Small Sized Paintings

He has done a lot of murals while at Shantiniketan and as private assignments. The Gulbarga University commissioned him to do a mural to depict the academic path. He ended doing two murals-one each for their Science and Geology departments.

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Since then he has moved on to smaller sized paintings, typically, 3ft by 4 ft., 4ft by 5 ft. and so on. However, occasionally, he does murals of 10 ft. by 15 ft., like the one he did for a star hotel.

Basuki feels dissatisfied if there is not texture in his work and does not prefer ‘flatness’ or lack of surface detail in a work of art. He uses rags, twigs, slender bamboo reeds, and other objects to add more depth and dimension to his art.

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