Hemanta Misra:The Surrealist Artist:

by- Pradosh Das Gupta

“…that evening is still fresh in my memory when I first met  Hemanta Misra, the young artists from Assam, during one of our Calcutta Group shows about two decades ago. Hemanta with his unkempt hair, baggy trousers and thin-built body appeared to me more a revolutionary than an artist…His drawings validated my assessment of him as a revolutionary. They showed the stamp of his uneasy and restless mind trying to force a way of expression which can be termed a violent. …On the extraordinary strength of his drawings alone Hemanta Misra was elected a member of the Calcutta Group soon after…His colour compositions of the early period  were mostly scenic views—bare landscapes or workers shown in the backdrop of landscape where the figures were subordinated to the environmental situations and treated as objects like trees and stones complementing each other and finally merging towards a harmonious whole. …His rock is stony hard, clouds feathery light and water as liquid as that of a summer lake… The second phase of Misra’s artistic career started in the year 1952 in the so-called cubist manner. Misra worked in this style of expression for  a little short of a decade and from 1959 this background of seemingly cubist style handled in a mystic manner gave him a new impetus in a synthesized form to depict mutilated or encrusted objects in nature in their utter clarity with meticulous detail which actually became meaningful symbols when integrated into the natural phenomena. They created a sense of poetry, a deeper and mystic meaning  through the association having a direct psychological impact on the beholder. This inner meaning is often inexplicable. But invariably creates an uncanny, eerie feeling. This kind of delineation has a surrealistic meaning… the absurd is ordered in a poetic or in a romantic way---poetry is suggested in the atmosphere where objects are used as symbols. Thus a piece of stone can have a pair of wings to fly with,  a decaying tree can have a pair of hands to embrace and a headless figure can play a flute….

Misra’s painting rests somewhere between Salvador Dali’s and Max Ernst’s,  with  a definite leaning towards Ernst. This will be evident from Misra’s  “Pursuing a Fading God”, “A Mirage From Absent Skies”, “Thoughts Upon The SAilent Air” and “The Spirit had Fled” where we find him talking the help of some encrusted form either in the shape of a mountain, a rock or architectural structure. This influence of Ernst however gave Misra sufficient impetus  as well as courage to turn ultimately to a new poetic vocabulary of his own as in his “Echo of a Song” and “Verse on Fire”. His flights of fantasy are boundless. Yet the juxtaposed objects painted in luminous colours and placed in the atmosphere always carry with them  a pictorial meaning   of their own which is image-bound and poetry-oriented. Misra’s application of colours for creating such an expression of surrealism is unique. His colours merge  into the atmosphere without crying out for a separate existence of their own.  This abstracted harmony of colour plus the inner content of a mystic message build up his painting to a fruitful meaning…the accentuated highlights on the objects against the dark shadows here and there endow the objects with a mysterious life. Here again we find Misra being influenced by Salvador Dali…

The revolutionary spirit of the Dada movement led by Dali in breaking up the existing political, social and artistic forms found its repose ultimately in surrealism in a constructive way justifying the unreasoned, irrational absurdities  in images of form and colour infused with a sense of poetry. Similarly, the early revolutionary urge which was the starting point of Misra’s artistic career and noticeable in his drawings was subdued and energized through a more sympathetic constructive policy and found its ultimate repose in his paintings of surrealistic nature. Here Misra’s identification has been sincere and complete.”

Extracted from Hemanta Misra:The Surrealist Painter by Pradosh Das Gupta  in  M.S.Randhawa and Krishna Chaitanya (ed) ROOP-LEKHA, Vol  XL, Nos 1 & 2, AIFACS, New Delhi.1971