Colours caught in warp and weft

Some say, it’s a standard six-yard weave, while others may call it a nine-yard drape. Irrespective of the length, a sari always unwraps a world of measureless wonders. Making this desi fabric a canvas of his eye-teasing art, talented painter Utpal Ghosh aims to hold aloft his style of finesse with definite élan. Living in the arena of new-age craft, the artist precisely knows how to tell a surreal tale on the surface of a sari.
Over the years, this ethnic garment has caught the fancy of the fairer sex like no other. Be it foreign divas or Indian ladies, the earthy sari has always complimented a woman’s grace and beauty with a perfect combo of oomph and elegance. Many have even dubbed the sari as the sexiest outfit. For its appeal is alluring and most irresistible. It reveals only that part of the skin which is permissible to expose, thereby leaving the rest to an admirer’s imagination and covering it under its multiple layers.
Recently, a solo show of hand-painted saris using acid colours was put up for display at the reputed Abanindranath Tagore Gallery in Kolkata’s ICCR. Titled Studio 6 Yards, the experimental exhibition-cum-sale unfurled a set of 44 silk fabrics, ranging between `6,000 to `16,500. The creator, Ghosh, had immersed his mind in the material to conjure up an amazing row of bright motifs, geometric patterns, abstract and figurative compositions such as Ajanta-Ellora carvings or temple inscriptions to embellish the entire collection.
Amounting to a keen eye for detail, hours and days of painstaking effort, a focused attention and a skilled labour of love, the sari-designs came across more than a mere product to speak a story of their own. But being a man himself, how did Ghosh end up forging a bond with the sari as his aesthetic haven? Well, it wasn’t an overnight love-affair for this low-profile artist, who’s now an accomplished name in the sphere of textile-designing. After graduating from the Government College of Art and Craft in Kolkata in 1986, Ghosh had enrolled for a post-graduate diploma course in Textile Design from the esteemed National Institute of Design (NID) in Ahmedabad, which he completed in the year 1993. During his remarkable stint over there, he realised the possibility of marrying art with designs, as his mind was still soaked with the passion of painting. “At the city art college, I belonged to the department of textile printing and designing, where we were also taught about the nitty-gritties of painting and sculpture as students. Thus, having been imparted lessons in the fundamentals of art, I naturally got glued to the medium and wanted to retain my touch in the craft. I fathomed that while designing has braced me on the technical intricacies, art has been instrumental to widen my vision about beauty and creativity,” shares the artist, who currently heads the designing department at the textile-manufacturing unit of J.J. Spectrum Ltd.
“Fact is, art and design can never be conflicting in their roles, but can always play complementary parts to each other. Often they even overlap. I’ve always intended to do some innovative work on the saris, which is seldom in this industry, with a jugglery of palette, patterns, prints and weaves. I’d like to see more and more buyers wearing my art on their bodies,” he deduces.
Employing acid paints on silk fabrics and vegetable dyes on cotton and chanderi stuff, Ghosh explains that the acidic hues containing chemical substances come in a vast variety with yellow, black, red, blue, green
forming the common options to further mix and explore with water. “Acid chromes are used as water-colours, which when applied on the fabric remain wet initially. So one has to steam and dry the tints to induce their permanency after polishing. Whereas, vegetable hues come in a small range with only brown and beige emerging as the basic tones. It has its own demerits, since it offers a lengthy process, hardly spoils the artist for a choice when it comes to selecting the attractive shade-card and is time-consuming enough,” the expert elaborates.
Averse to unleashing the usual floral motifs, foliage patterns and paisley prints on the saris, for example the popular Dhakai Jaamdaanis, the painter wishes to go uniquely unconventional with his bold brushstrokes to paint the entire body of the fabric. “The saris should look like a painted canvas. I aspire to break free of the traditional mould and liberate the sari as an adorning avant-garde drape and yet, maintain the smell of its earthy essence,” he emphasises.
It is significant to note that in his creative exercise, he has endeavoured to pay tribute to his two inspirational art-masters — namely M.F. Husain and S.H. Reza — by incorporating their painting styles into his own. If he succeeds in what he has set out to achieve, he would quit his job to turn into a whole-time artist. “I’d then full-fledgedly devote myself to the craft and satiate my creative leanings in the process,” he candidly declares. With 20 years of enriching experience in the designing field as an associate consultant or a textile-designer in senior positions at various design-institutes and handloom-clusters, the painter now aims to tap the market with his unorthodox craftsmanship. Plans are already afoot to open a unit in Phulia in Shantipur under Nadia district in West Bengal. Talks are on to float the factory anytime soon within the next couple of months. Sari-specialists of this side of the map are well aware of the famous silk and taant (handloomed-weaves of Bengal) saris found in Phulia. “Here, I’d like to combine the magic of weaving and painting together on a sari. For the desirable effect, the intersecting cross between warp-and-weft knitting is an ideal requisite. While the vertical strand of silk yarn on a loom is called a warp, the horizontal strand is called a weft. The twist in the sari fable comes with the different types of threads woven in its texture. For instance, if silk is loomed as a warp, then a composite concoction of linen, silk and cotton will be loomed for a weft pattern. The result will be an eye-teasing poetry for both the patrons, as well as the purchasers. And in between the stripes of thick threads, the supposed empty space will be filled in by acid dyes,” he discloses his ingenious idea.
Sourcing his raw materials from Bishnupur (situated in Bankura district of WB) with the bonafide sonamukhi silk, Ghosh strictly observes that for a fine, soft finish and a glittering glaze of the sari after a wash and polish, sonamukhi is the ultimate raw silk to look out for. “It is expensive no doubt, but I can’t compromise on the quality aspect either. If exorbitant rates can fetch me a silk of superior worth, then I won’t mind the pocket-pinch. For I’ve inspected the silks procured from the much-hyped territories of Maldah and Murshidabad, which could never lend me the valuable benefits,” he argues to justify his point. To the uninitiated, Sonamukhi as a village is well-known for its versatile production of silk saris (especially Benarasi and Baluchari) and scarves.
Hiring two artisans as his helping hands, Ghosh hopes to elicit a good response with a host of interested buyers already placing their bulk of orders from abroad like Hong Kong and Singapore. Closer home, a series of prospective tie-ups with the agents from Hyderabad, Bangalore and Delhi is in the pipeline to provide a fillip to his artistic credentials in those markets.

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