Kalighat paintings

From PhalkeFactory


He was a pat painter by lineage, by having learnt his father's occupation. He had moved to Calcutta a few summers ago. One day a rich patron with a taste for the cheap- he lived with an aged prostitute when he came to Boribazaar for three, sometimes five weeks and more- gifted him a picture of the gods, spectacular, fresh from some new 'press'. The old man liked to transfer some things from his river facing mansion, to the poorer quarters he frequented. He was an alright fellow, really, the old man, he would smile hugely when he shared his second hand goods.

Man and woman on cot, kalighat.jpeg

The modern print of Kali lay in the back of the painter's hut, in pride of place. He quite admired it, without wanting to, and felt derisory without wanting to either.

When his dazzled jealousy subsided enough to enable him to look closely, he noticed the pursed lips in the lines, a kind of mendicancy of making. Those small, careful strokes compensated for by the profusion of colours. The colours did not stand out, it seemed like the machines they came from had a way of sinking them INTO the paper, they became the picture. His own Kali, he thought, was a single line. Continuous as a human hair was the stroke of the hair brush that made it. That was the way with their paintings.

The devi was looking away in anger. Her fury showed like he had never shown her.. It was that look away at someone.. she never looks thus when she looks at you, not in the many idols that make white shadows of the lanes that crowd around the Kali temple.. not in the temple either, does she ever look like this, not in their scrolls. She is somewhere else, in another land, somewhere far away from me. Not here, she is somewhere.

Which wonderful machine had this strange capacity for dreams, he wondered, to dream up such an uneasy apparition?

The famed Kalighat painters or Calcutta had to seriously contend with the oleograph, the wood-cut print, and the newsheet to make their work viable.

The outlines of the Kalighat paintings were simple, allowing them to be copied in the lithograph presses and then filled in with colour. (But only with the coming of the chromolithograph was it possible to render the vivid colour in these paintings.)

But the motifs did not only move one way.. while many cheap industrial copies of motifs and paintings developed by the pat artists were made, at the same time, the pat painters began incorporating motifs from these industrially produced pictures, which frequently worked Indian motifs with Western perpectivalism. ---