The Lost Fragrance of Memory reveals Suman Dey's unique spatial imagination, a mellowed world of lines, shapes and colours. A self-taught artist and one of the prominent painters in Bengal working in the language of abstraction today, Suman Dey (b.1981) repudiates the use of familiar objects and their material existence, but, unlike the abstract artists striving for the absolute and pure forms, he adheres to the essential reality of things and their substance, enmeshed with the insubstantiality of dreams and memory. The exhibition includes his recent works, particularly the large-scale paintings of compelling visual forms and rich tonality for which he is better known.
Born in Kolkata to a humble family, Suman Dey discontinued formal education early to support his father. He did several odd jobs, working at his father's roadside Paan Shop, a local block printing factory and homoeopathic dispensary as an assistant, before entirely devoting himself to painting. Dey studied modern art and artists in books and galleries and taught himself the art language and idioms by combining this with his conversations with the established senior artists. Initially, his paintings based on mythological themes showed his reliance upon the lyrical style of the Bengal School artists. But his later works from around mid-2010s show how Dey gradually dispensed with the figurative style, pouring his personal experiences and studies into a highly individualized abstract language.
Around 2019, Suman Dey started his notable Journey and Butterfly series, stimulated by surrealistic ideas. However, unlike the surrealists, who establish congruity between the phantasmagoria of the unconscious and the object of everyday life, he shows deep attachment to the phenomenal things and the memories and anecdotes associated with them, giving visual existence to many imaginary spaces and tempi. In the works on display, he is not constrained by the limitation of any particular experience. Memory and desire are dissociated from everyday life's immediate, trivialized space; they are uncoupled and then cobbled back together in his long and meticulous art practice. Freed from the need of describing a particular thing, person or idea, the possibilities are endless. In undermining immediacy and the power of the present tense, Suman Dey uses the whole of human experience as his model, swinging between proximity and distance, between the empirical and universal.
Abstract space, it may be argued, cannot be conceived of in the abstract. It certainly has content, but this content is evanescent and can only be grasped through a detached, meditative practice dealing with abstraction. By creating a contradictory space at once homogenous and divided, unified and fragmented, Suman Dey utilizes abstraction as the most effective language to capture memory, not as an entity, but as a trace.
- Arkaprava Bose