How Bratin Khan's Paintings Cut Through Religious Divide and Touch The Human SoulCreators And Collectors
Transporting you to a beautiful world of amity, harmony, grace and light with his stunning canvasses, Bratin Khan is an eminent Indian artist whose works have made it to the private collections of notable personalities such as Mr. Gautam Adani, Mr. B.K. Birla and Mrs. Sarla Birla, the Munjal Group, and many others.
Even though Bratin Khan stays in the bustling city of Kolkata today, he admits that at heart, he is still rural. The artist has had the rare privilege of experiencing nature in its purest form during his formative years, an experience that continues to stay with him, and plays a monumental role in his works.
A Childhood Blessed by Nature
Bratin Khan was born in Balurghat, in the remote interiors of West Bengal. He fondly reminisces, “Till I was in Class 5, there was no electricity in my village; I used to draw by the kerosene lamp at night. Because of this, we enjoyed a closeness with nature. People in villages wake up very early in the morning. I have experienced dawn, twilight, abundant flora, fauna and greenery...all these were prime inspirations for me. And my childhood still reflects in my paintings.”
Bratin Khan is currently working on a twelve feet long tempera canvas, depicting a marriage procession in his village, in which a family is going to invite the river, trees, air and mother nature, to the festivities. Here again, he draws from his childhood memories of the village, where till date, nature’s elements are given immense importance during special occasions.
Bratin's initial tryst with art began at the tender age of two, when he began drawing, scribbling and doodling on the walls and floor of his home. His mother, an English teacher, and father, a writer and theatre personality, were only too eager to nurture this passion. The artist shares, “My parents mentally took up the challenge and encouraged me to take up classical music, singing and painting; I was never pressured to pursue safe options like medical or engineering, or apply for a government job.”
Nurturing A Talent – The Santiniketan Days
Bratin Khan enrolled at the prestigious Visva Bharati University at Santiniketan for his bachelor’s degree, where he stayed between 1988-1993. He flourished under the teachings of Sri Mrityunjoy Goswami, who himself was a student of Nandalal Bose. Through Goswami, Bratin Khan adopted the stylistic and distinct drawing style of the Bengal school, which is still very evident in his works. Suhas Roy was another influential mentor and teacher, as was the venerated K.G. Subramanyan.
Nightly power cuts at Santiniketan, were just another excuse for Bratin to remain connected to nature. The frequent portrayal of lotus ponds in his paintings is reminiscent of the lotus ponds in Santiniketan. He says, “Lotus as a subject, a creature of nature, has always inspired me to study it and depict in my paintings. It has a tremendous spiritual significance, it is a blossoming, an unfolding of the truth and divinity.”
Santiniketan was also where Bratin Khan first met his wife, Sutapa. He recalls an interesting anecdote, where he was planning to throw away the sculptures he had created in the first and second year of college, as he had decided to specialise in painting and had no room in his hostel accommodation for them. It was Sutapa, then his friend, who convinced him to exhibit his sculptures at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kolkata. Bratin recalls, "Within three days, all of the 20-25 sculptures got sold! That was a defining moment for me, a breakthrough – it convinced me that I could take up art as my profession. So, along with Santiniketan, my parents, my childhood, my village and my teachers, Sutapa also plays a very important role in my artistic career.”
Of Technique and Influence
Bratin Khan’s paintings exhibit a unique style and technique, a mastery of the complex medium of tempera. He explains, "In Santiniketan, we were taught gouache techniques, and later, I spent a lot of time studying Rajasthani miniature paintings." The artist puts on seven to eight layers of colours on his canvasses, with each layer being tempered with indirect sunlight, weather and other factors, before the next one is put on. Using 0, 00 and no.1 brushes, he creates several lakhs of hatchings, which lend his paintings a grainy texture.
A recurrent theme that forms a wide expression in Bratin Khan’s paintings is Indian mythology, religion and folklore. His main inspiration lies in the famous Uttarpara Speech by Sri Aurobindo, where the guru spoke about his spiritual interaction with Lord Krishna, and Sanatana Dharma (a code of ethics; way of living life). Bratin often dreams of Lord Krishna in different avatars, and depicts them on his canvasses.
While viewing Bratin Khan's work, one cannot help but be drawn to the simplicity and realism that he so beautifully renders. He shares, “I believe that the basic instinct of the human soul is simplicity, purity and love. As the world is moving forward, simplicity is somehow being shattered in society, in families, and in our minds. In all my paintings, you can see a light, or a glow coming out of the face. That’s how I’m trying to depict that inner positive instinct.”
Perhaps this is why, Bratin Khan has so beautifully broken the shackles and divides of religion through his paintings, that depict Krishna, Buddha and Jesus alike. He shares, “I can't make a bomb to destroy evil powers in this world, but I can sing a song through my colours, forms, drawings. Through my paintings, I can sing a song of amity to create a peaceful atmosphere. And that is why, my paintings do not portray a certain religion, caste or creed. This is my way of practicing the teachings of Sanatana Dharma.”
Such is the lure and power of Bratin's paintings that an aged woman who had lost her entire family in an accident, once revealed that whenever she saw Bratin Khan’s paintings, all her pain and agonies vanished. Another one of his clients, an American ambassador to India, travelled to the artist’s residence, situated in a far-removed suburban locality, just to tell him that while he was returning to the United States, he was carrying a piece of India back with him, in the form of a Bratin Khan painting.