Feb 02, 2024 Prajwala Ghate

The Heart of Art: Shyamal Mukherjee

The Heart of Art: Shyamal Mukherjee


Simplest of things touch one and stay in the heart for the longest time. As a great artist, Vincent Van Goh said - “How difficult it is to be simple.” Shyamal Mukherjee’s art stands for simplicity in the world of modern art. His technique of reverse painting on acrylic sheet has been discussed and explained numerous times. What is not missed is that this method of painting is time consuming and requires a great amount of concentration. And Shyamal, being the master artist that he is, practices rigorously.


The Unmasking

Shyamal Mukherjee is a simple man. He has a happy family – two daughters and a better half. He says “My wife takes care of everything. I only draw – that’s what I do.” His daughters are budding artists themselves. Still in school, the elder one’s (who is class 7 now) art is worthy of being shared with the world, according to Shyamal. However, he encourages her to study first and pursue her passion for art along with it. He knows the importance of education. He adds “I was never really good at studies. But in today’s world it is important to be good at your passion as well as your study.”


Looking at his work, one may think his art is too simple- just a man and woman ‘Baba and Beebi’. One smiles at their posture, facial expressions and their clothes – until one is explained how the painting has been made. The reverse style painting first needs all the details to be etched on the glass- and then the face clothes, shadowing, depth of colour is added. There is no doubt that Shyamal is a master at this technique. Shyamal’s simple work has touched people’s heart- no wonder Shymal da’s art has made it into celebrity homes such as Manoj Kumar, late Sunil Dutt, Varun Gandhi and many more. He wishes to see his art reaching every home.



His Method

Shyamal begins to share: “In 1985 I completed my Masters in Fine Arts and specialized in Glass painting. Ever since my Masters, I have been painting in the reverse style- for 35 years now. It has now become my way of painting. When I get an idea of what to paint, I already have it sketched out in my head. Not only that, I would have three or four peices that I already have created in my mind. It’s like a practise for me now. I don’t have to think about the process or emotions anymore.”

Daily life and his travels inspire him which he translates into artwork. He explains “So for example you are talking to me on the phone. The phone becomes my subject of drawing- on my mind’s canvas I already have a woman on the phone talking, how she has tilted he head to one side. There is a table, and a glass which has some water in it. Or, two men talking on the train, or walking on the road- such a simple moment will become my painting. I don’t want people to over think my paintings. If you like my painting, I like my painting then I consider my work successful.”

It is extremely important that his work gives him and others peace and happiness. “The other element of my paintings is the joy that one gets from looking at them. I wish to send this out into the world. I never want to see or show unhappiness in my work.”



His Muse

Shyamal works primarily on Bengal’s folk art -the Baba and Beebi as a subject in his paintings. He has also painted deities and temples though he prefers to paint in the Baba and Beebi format. “I know that many people might not know me by my face – but I also know that they know my work. They can recognize that this artist has a particular style – and then they enquire about me and appreciate my work. This gives me immense pleasure.”

Many people ask Shymal, why he keeps painting in the same Baba and Beebi style? He takes the question in his stride and says, “Why should I change my style of painting? Whatever I have received in terms of fame and fortune is based on these paintings. Till it gives me happiness I will continue painting this way.”


His Present

“I came back yesterday from a workshop held in Dubai. I have been fortunate to have done 36 solo exhibitions and numerous group exhibitions in India and abroad till date. My work has given me the opportunity to travel to countries like Sri Lanka, Singapore, Bangkok and many more. Currently am preparing for an exhibition lined up in April 2017.” His most memorable international collaboration is with an artist from Lebanon, Nada Itani. “I really appreciate her art and we have an understanding that cannot be explained in words.”

Shyamal used to teach in Kolkata, at one point in his career. These days international workshops and collaborations keep him busy and he has no time for teaching. “Early on in my career I got an opportunity to go and teach to art students abroad. However, I was very apprehensive as I did not know English and was on the fence about the decision. My brother had said something to me that I can never forget and which motivated me – ‘your art is your language’. Since then I don’t worry about going abroad for teaching or travelling.”



What has this simple artist learned from the world of art and living the life of an artist?

“What I have learned is that ‘you can go places, you can travel to the best of locations with your work. Also, I believe that one will get help for whatever reason one wants help. It has pushed me carve a better life for myself and my family.”

He discovered his attachment to his work as a parent to his child. “I have learned something about myself which is that I consider all my paintings to be like my daughters. How one feels happy when one’s daughter has gone to a good home where she is taken care of and is loved – that’s how I feel when someone who absolutely loves my paintings buys it and looks happy. Varun Gandhi gifted his wife a painting of mine as a wedding present. This to me is special – and how it should be!