Blue Wind of the Soul
Neel Pawan Baruah AN ARTICLE BY RUPANJALI BARUAH
The slanted branch of a tree at the entrance to his house bears the address of this artist. His house needs no other introduction. The branch so wonderfully alive, full of colorful labyrinths seems to tell many tales about the artist who resides behind that tree.
Trees have been with Neel Pawan Baruah ever since his childhood days. He still recalls with fond nostalgia how the vibrant purple hues of ejar were his first tryst with colors.
Later during his years at Santiniketan the resplendent beauty of old ancient trees became part of his musings and emotional growth; trees spoke to him often, trees told him many tales of fertile thoughts. Birds and animals equally played a pivotal role in shaping his thoughts and emotions; in fact these varied shapes and forms came to be transcribed very vividly upon his canvases.
Born in 1936 at Teok, near Jorhat, Assam, the drudge of a difficult life has been a sizeable part of Neel Pawan Baruah’s journey and yet art has always come to his rescue. Art has endured him, it has given him glimpses into himself and the social psyche of others of his ilk, and it has taught him ever to be alive, just like a tree. Sometimes he is quite unaware which way his art would take him, it is then like being among the myriad branches of a tree and yet he does not forget that it is in the roots of his tradition that he must find his true sustenance.
The artist confesses that he very often wishes to break away from tradition, to be more modern in his approaches but then the onus of tradition appears stronger; it then reminds him to go back to it and then he becomes once again a true Indian artist. ‘My entry into the world of art was incidental’ says Neel Pawan Baruah. His visit to Santiniketan, his close association with the great stalwarts of art and sculpture , Ram Kinkar Baij and Nandalal Bose brought out in him, slowly and carefully, those facets of an artist which would have otherwise remained unknown and undiscovered.
The artistic ambience and support that he received from his eminent teachers at Santiniketan gave him confidence and the zest to go ahead in his quest to do something lasting and enduring through his brushstrokes and sculpturing.
On his return from Santiniketan in 1968, after having graduated in Fine Arts from Kala Bhawan, Neel Pawan Baruah could not find the same congenial artistic spirit in his homeland, Assam. There was then only one art school at Guwahati started by the late Jibeswar Baruah where Neel Pawan Baruah began teaching art. An uncertain future and constant financial hardship disturbed his restless, creative mind. Baruah wanted to do something wholesome, more fulfilling. With this noble vision and a dedicated spirit, Neel Pawan Baruah set up in 1971 ‘ The Assam Fine Arts & Craft Society’ at Guwahati. Here too he faced many difficulties, both personal and financial but the concerted efforts and cooperation of fellow artists enabled him to make this society an artistic and cultural centre of excellence which brought together several renowned artists from within and outside the state. The participation and encouragement of artists from Bengal also gave an added impetus to the pioneering spirit of the artist.
It is this same spirited zeal that enabled Baruah to organize in 1982, the first ever workshop on traditional mask making art of Assam where several artists from the satras participated. The artist was also engaged in reviving the art of Brindabani vastra, the famous textile painting associated with Vaishnavite saint Srimanta Shankardev.
Neel Pawan Baruah has held several solo and group exhibitions in and outside the state. At present, he teaches art in his art studio cum school Vasundhara Kala Niketan at Sauravnagar, Beltola, Guwahati.
Talking about his forte, Baruah says ‘I do not follow a particular fixed style of painting. It is often an unconscious, spontaneous movement where thoughts, ideas, motions, memories, rhythm work together. He confesses that he often enters into a kind of dialogue with his canvas. Some images then flit across his mind and as he begins his brushstrokes what emerges is something different from what he had contemplated to paint when he had first sat down to do so. He feels there is always an overlapping of images and of their impressions. Thus what finally appears on his canvas is strikingly different and unique to the particular mood of that moment. He confesses that his creations change with his mood. In fact, the particular mood of a moment determines the character of his figures or the tones of his colors.
Sometimes he makes an experimental stroke, a crisscross of lines from which emerges the definite marks of a masterstroke. Sometime colors dominate and then form becomes secondary. There is interplay of the real with the unreal and yet it is not surreal. His creations seem to speak of an inner chaos which is always struggling to search for something lasting and enduring.
In his ‘Anya Ek Goti’ his autobiographical work, the artist wrote about the process of his unique creations - ‘it gives me both pain and joy, something quite indefinable something that has to be understood and assimilated just as one assimilates the beauty and fragrance of a flower but none can explain it.’ In this sense his art is close to music. There is rhythm and harmony yet the final effect is elusive like an unfinished piece of symphony because the artist believes that if a created thing says it all, it ends the joy of discovery. Life is to him a continuous stream, it is inconclusive, it has therefore the dichotomy of joy and sorrow and art is his medium to express it. A few verse lines by the artist sums it up well:
The eternal tide is in my blood stream
Like water it flows
Like earth it moulds
Like fire it burns
Like sky it overcasts
The eternal tide is in my bloodstream
It flows spreads expressively
This life eternal.
Neel Pawan Baruah’s art bears a social statement, it is not the resultant outcome of just a personal quest, and there have been several factors that have contributed to the growth of the artist in him. There is in him a longing to do something for the cause of art and its meaningful service to the society. Neel Pawan Baruah has inspired and encouraged several young aspiring artists. He cites fondly the achievements of Dilip Tamuly and Utpal Baruah who have carved out a niche for themselves in today’s art world.
The necessity to create caused Neel Pawan Baruah to find out different alternative methods of painting. He is comfortable even with the diminutive space and size of a match box or a Charminar cigarette case; he has drawn several intricate figures on these mini canvases that exhibit the sheer virtuosity of his artistic approaches. He says ‘the limitation of these small spaces of drawing material were a challenge to me.’ The artist has proved once again that the true creed of art lies in the pure creative spirit of the artist, it will find expression however little space may be available to him. Neel Pawan Baruah has experimented with paper moulds to create ethnic motifs, ritualistic images of gods, chariots and wheels. Lately, he has utilized strips of newspaper cut in rectangular shapes where acrylic and oxide colors bring alive his messages. Neel Pawan Baruah explains ‘these messages are always around us, I have only added my colors to make them more apparent.’ And therein lie the hallmark of a humble and dedicated artist.