Capital Letters IV: O Brother, Where Art Thou?

As kids, the three of us – Dibyajyoti, Joy, and myself – got interested in art both independently and together. Thanks to the lack of computers and cable television in our school days, drawing and painting were pastimes we indulged freely in. Dibyo was the most accomplished artist among us then, with surprising control over poster colour (no mean feat at that age) and winning a lot of medals both for our school and his neighbourhood club. He was also the only one among us to promote himself to oil painting, aided by a box of Winsor & Newton oil colours gifted by an NRI relative of his. Joy and I, on the other hand, were more into pop culture. Our interests ranged from comics to thrillers, from cartoons to mysteries, from superheroes to dinosaurs (it should not come as a surprise that we even co-wrote a detective story in Class V). Many a heat-shimmering summer afternoon were spent at either of our places, crawling over the floor on all fours, experimenting with cheap markers and drawing inks on cheaper art paper (corners weighed down with Rabindra Rachanaboli). The amateurish results were sometimes photocopied (a novelty in those days) with our pocket money to get a sleek, ‘printed’ feel. Incidentally, a side-effect to all these endeavours was that all three of us excelled in Geography and Biology lessons.

Then came a day when we discovered ‘The Great Artists’.

To those who don’t know about them, ‘The Great Artists’ is a British series of books on famous European and American painters (with an expected bias towards those from the island nation), 96 in number and affordable for the quality, that sparked the interest in art (and offered the attraction of sneaking a peek at luscious painted boobs) to many of our middle-class peers. When we started buying them, the price was 10/-. It never went past 30/-. The amount of lucid information and the well-chosen gallery of art packed in the 20-odd pages of each issue was astonishing. In no time we became collectors, picking up titles from book fairs and pavement sellers. Each outing to Esplanade or College Street was a pretext to hunt for the elusive titles – although the highest number of issues was bought from Gol Park and Dover Lane. I don’t know how many issues Dibyo and Joy have managed to collect till now; I have 89 out of the 96 titles, and hope to complete my collection someday (we also had our favourites at that age: Dibyo loved the Impressionists, Joy admired the Classicists, while I was into Baroque and Rococo).

‘The Great Artists’: a great series, and an inspiration that has turned me into a professional illustrator, Joy into an award-winning shutterbug, and Dibyo into a talented hobbyist of landscape painting and photography. Here’s to one of the building blocks of twenty-five years of friendship!