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Welcome to the World of Bireswar Sen

Bireswar Sen has exercised just this faculty of examining carefully time and place and put them to use in his small paintings of vast landscapes. Specific times and places function as co-ordinates of the human condition within an eternity of time and an infinity of space. The artist paints scenes of distinct moments of day and season in particular places and guides us to understanding them with titles such as “April Morn,” or “Home of the Forest Guard.” The moments are intensely felt—the promise of a cool dip in the heat of the day, a conversation at a time of parting between a soldier and his wife, the hour of ritual on a mountain peak. Landscapes within which these moments occur are spread out in nuanced skies, light-filled clouds, shade-holding trees, high-breasted peaks that give way to valleys—mysterious systems of cycles of seasons, of mountain upheavals and ancient forests, of planets and stars, of perpetual change. Moments of ordinary existence in time and place intersect with pathless dimensions disclosed by splendor, delicacy, luminescence, mystery, color moving through space.

I have wondered why I feel such peace looking upon Sen’s small worlds. They barely match the space of a smartphone screen, and yet one is immersed in the incandescent white light of noon, morning’s blue moisture, or iridescence before a storm. His landscapes locate for us a place of personal experience within vastness, both precise and open. Is peace found in longing that feels its own fullness? In solitude portrayed as rich and textured? In relaxation at the sufficiency of feeling one’s place as a momentary center in a centerless dimension? Is it the comfort of the commonplace in the sublime? Is it the congruence between the moods Sen finds in nature and our own? I don’t know, but perhaps all of these.

Sen’s pictures are not difficult to look at, but to take them in quickly is to miss the refinement of sense they are capable of calling forth. There is an intimation of memory as one follows the slow infusion of color into clouds, gathering, moving, condensing, disbursing in the atmosphere. According to those who knew Sen, his landscapes are not direct transcriptions of places he had been, nor did he work plein-air. He painted in recollection and reflection, and with great care. His small mindscapes open similarly to recollection, reflection, and care.

Bireswar Sen was of the view that landscapes are not objective self-identifying entities, but rather projections, cultural and personal, framed by consciousness and perception. He did not aim to “imitate nature,” but “to add to nature what it does not possess: the mind and soul of man.”

Tiny figures inhabit each composition and imbed human activity and its attendant sentiment in a panorama of the natural world. We experience the emotions of these figures along with the emotional tint of the landscape itself as formed by the artist. The nonchalant grace of the village woman walking with a pot on her head makes us wonder will she stop to hear the piper? The curve of the spine of a figure seated before an image of the Mother-Goddess reveals a life shaped by devotion. Sen’s talent as a figural artist and his powers of observation are on display in the quickly brushed figures, as is a signature technique for endowing his small pictures with monumental scale. We can only marvel.

Caron Smith, Curator Emeritus, Crow Collection of Asian Art

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