Neel Pawan Baruah
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Neel Pawan Baruah is one of the most prominent artists of Assam who has been standing like a tall tree deeply rooted to his own artistic awareness yet spreading its braches to various directions and giving shelter to art aspirants to grow under its immaculately enormous shadow.

“I dont want to acknowledge my paintings as abstract but what I want to say is that my paintings are abstract carrying a form through which an image or images are created and that exhibits an idea.” –The noted senior artist of Assam Neel Pawan Baruah speaks about his own artistic style.

In his extensive creative quest, Neel Pawan Baruah has traversed through many fields of art like painting, pottery, mask making, poetry, reviving of the art of Brindavani Bastra and many more. He is not an artist who holds back to one particular idea or concept. Likewise, one finds it difficult to classify him to one particular style whether it is his paintings or work in masks or pottery, as he once expressed, “I work spontaneously without any preconceived idea or notion…”

Born at Teok, near Jorhat on 1st June, 1936 Neel Pawan Baruah chose Shantiniketan as his alma mater as he didn’t like the formal way of learning. Though he didn’t have much formal education at that point of time, being the son of “Dhwani Kobi” Binanada Chandra Baruah and brought up in a creative and literary atmosphere he had exposure to the world outside. Trained on the field of Fine Arts and Glazed Pottery in Shantiniketan and Shree Niketan during the mid 1960’s, Neel Pawan Baruah claims that he became an artist by chance not by choice. His artistic sensibilities got polished under the tutelage of great painters Ram Kinkar Baij and Nandalal Bose in Shantiniketan.

He has an impressively diverse range of interests and experiences which contributed to make him a many faceted artist with an unique idiom of expression. Besides painting, he is also involved in promoting the art of traditional mask making and was instrumental in organising the first ever workshop on mask making in 1982 in Assam. The masks fascinated him from his childhood. His childhood experiences including the stories of the village folk, the bhaona and theatre performances in his village, the greenery of the fields and forest have been inexorable inspiration for him. The exotic stories of the Arabian Nights also had a profound influence on the artist’s formative years of life providing him the wings of wandering imagination.

After coming back from Shantiniketan, he taught in Government School of Arts & Craft for a while. After that short stint, in the year 1971, he set up The Assam Fine Arts and Craft Society, Guwahati in association with stalwarts of Assam like Birendra Kumar Bhattacharjya, Nabakanta Baruah, Chandra Prasad Saikia etc. as he wanted to do something more fulfilling, more worthwhile for the society along with his artistic pursuits. With his noble visionary approach and dedication ‘The Assam Fine Arts & Craft Society’ started thriving. Though he faced many difficulties, at both personal and financial end, the efforts and camaraderie of fellow artists helped him to make this society an artistic and cultural centre of excellence which also created a common platform for several renowned artists from within and outside the state. His pioneering spirit was provided with a further momentum by the participation and encouragement of artists from Bengal too.

He married the prominent singer of the State, Deepali Borthakur in 1970, after she was afflicted by a crippling incurable ailment. His love for his wife is a saga that pervades the common understanding of a relationship. Someone has expressed that his love and commitment for his wife, who is also an artist, has made him a person standing beyond his art. His artistic caliber and he as a person stands so tall that the metaphor of “tree” which is also his obsession in many works elucidates his persona most aptly.

He is a “total sensibility” as Prof Pradip Acharya mentioned once. Talking about his artistic style on his solo exhibition at Baroda curated by Ganesh Gohain, a Baroda based artist and sculptor, art critic Moushumi Kandali commented ,“When Vishnu gazes at you with a macabre smirk and two hollow eyes, you behold in this subversive humanisation of the classical iconography, an overlapping montage. Picasso juxtaposed with a traditional Vaishnavite mask, surreal intersected with the minimal.”

The unusual process of his art practices is very interesting. Apart from his paintings the exceptional aspect of Neel Pawan Baruah’s art is his performative and experimental minuscule sketches on empty matchboxes and cigarette packs with complicated designs and shapes! He has been a mentor to many junior artists for decades and he has devoted his entire life to art, and has almost led a life of alienation literally and metaphorically far from the ‘madding crowd’, much away from the gleaming art world.

His works were exhibited in places like Kolkata, Bhubaneswar, Baroda etc. At present, he teaches art in his art studio cum school Basundhara Kala Niketan at Saurabh Nagar, Beltola, Guwahati, situated at his residence campus. In his art school, he teaches his students in an informal mode by keeping away any fixed patterns or routine. "I encourage them to improve their paintings and let them do it in their own way." , He says on his teaching method. His detest for formal mode of education perhaps has given way to his own method of instilling art in young minds.

He says on his own creative process that “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. ... In fact, the particular mood of a moment determines the character of his figures or the tones of his colours.” In his his autobiographical work ‘Anya Ek Goti’, the artist farther 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.”