An important chapter of modern Nepali Painting



“I will never stop creating art because this is the responsibility God has given me. And duty is God.” - D. B. Chitrakar
(SPACES -Jul/Aug 2008).

An important chapter of modern Nepali Painting came to a sad end with the demise of the legendary DB on 22th Dec.’10 evening. It was
a sudden mild respiratory complication which took away the great master from us. Dil Bahadur Chitrakar - popularly known simply as DB to many of his fans and the entire art fraternity, and lovingly addressed as dear ‘Dil Dai’ (dear brother) to many of his juniors including truly yours - remains one of the last great painters who ushered in and consolidated Nepali Painting to a modern era. Born in 1927 to a traditional artist family from Patan as the second son of Jagat Bahadur Chitrakar, the life and art journey of DB Chitrakar resembles an exciting fairy tale with many interesting twists and turns.

A strange but remarkable beginning was made when his mentor since his early days, the legendary Tej Bahadur Chitrakar ( founder of Western Realism in Nepal and also the then head of Nepal Art School - the predecessor of the present day Fine Art Campus), highly impressed of DB’s early talents, decided to make this young protégée appear straight in the fifth year fi nal exams of the six year Fine Arts course! To Tej Bahadur it was for two valid reasons. For one, he was sure that DB had already possessed more skills and ability than what was needed for the said exams. And secondly, he wanted DB to possess an academic credential so that he was well armed to fi ght social battles in the days to come or when needed. But not all were happy with the decision then. And coincidently, during the same period when the mentor christened his favourite young pupil with the initials ‘DB’ so as to make him distinct from other students with the same name, little may he have guessed that this short name would remain immortal as one of the greatest artists of Nepal.

DB did not disappoint his mentor. During the exams, DB almost created a kind of panic amongst the regular students while doing a life study of a Buddhist monk as an exam paper. His work, a water colour painting, shined so bright and displayed such an impressive strength, that the regular students were confounded into jealously, and stooped so low as to resort to damage his exam work after the offi ce hours – simply to vent their anger.

Thus began the art journey of DB. The rest is history. As the days passed, DB continued to shine regardless of all the adversities and hardships he had to face in pursuit to become a dedicated painter. Initially he outpaced all his contemporaries as an excellent magician in water colours and then, he began to create series of equally strong works in oil too. And his subject matter always revolved around what he loved the most - the life, people, culture and the natural scenic grandeurs of his country and the city he lived in. And throughout, he was true to the core of what he learnt from his mentor – the exquisite display of consummated understanding of academic fundamentals in forms and colours – and a magnificent panorama of works all based in Western style Realism. Although he was within the realms of realistic forms and colours, his works began to redefine the meaning of figurative forms and an individual affinity of colours – an obvious love for warm colours specially ochre and brownish tints. A real breakthrough and a visible shift of his perception of art is seen after his three month long stint in Paris and London during the late sixties under a UNESCO grant. Highly inspired and bombarded with the diverse images of great masterpieces of the Western masters, DB began to explore wider within his own earlier forms and style – a strange panorama where one can see the infl uences of many of the important phases of Western Art like – traces of Impressionism, Post impressionism, Expressionism and so on. And he always liked to describe all the works within these thoughts as ‘Semi-abstracts’.

But the truth is that DB in his heart always remained fascinated and a true master of academic forms to the core. This is probably the reason that even after he remained well celebrated for his ‘Semi-Abstracts’, he is found to be coming back with strong works based on Realism. Here he reminds one of a free bird who is capable of soaring well high on the sky but in the long run finds more comfort in his own nest. DB‘s saga reads exactly the same. And many of the naïve observers mistakenly began to interpret this transformation and his return to nature and people in his powerful fi gurative as waning of his creative strength in later times. But the irrefutable truth is that DB remains in the art history of Nepal as one of the most versatile and true artist who has a unique understanding of art in thoughts as  well as in his expressions. Moreover, DB presents a unique example of skills of an artist - equally comfortable and consummated in any medium he chooses to dabble –oil, water, pastel, crayon or a simple piece of charcoal.

Conclusively speaking, the most striking and the important facet of DB’s persona which makes his head high in the crowd is his sense of pride and dignity as needed in a creative person. Today, when many so called new generation modern painters have shown how they can switch their political allegiances and transforms themselves into common sycophants, DB has left us some meaningful examples on how to remain a true example.

An episode which occurred in the late sixties during the final phase of Narayanhiti Palace construction, describes how DB displayed a courage and strength of an artist when he was denied a promised task. He then and there flatly refused to paint any more for the Palace and the Royalty – and instead asked to return to a humble job back in the Education Ministry. But another artist who was also with him during the period – later ended as an honourable member of the then Royal Nepal Academy. DB could have also chosen to capitalize his royal connections to serve his interests, but his sense of dignity and pride prevented him from stooping so low. It is really hard to imagine anyone with such a sense of self-confidence and dignity. Salute to the great artist and a great human being.

Alvida dear brother! - Madan Chitrakar