The Story of Indian Art #17: Sunil Das

A tribute to artist Sunil Das, considered one of India’s most brilliant expressionist painters.

“I delve a lot on man’s inhumanity to man.” – Sunil Das

Sunil Das (August 4, 1939 – August 10, 2015) is considered one of India’s most brilliant expressionist painters.

Hardly ever painting in loud or warm colours, Das used soft brown, mauve and white in the background to bring out the drama of life. Marked by suggestion and minimalism, his work is quite absurd in form.

Artist Sunil Das

A younger Sunil Das at work.

Das has the distinction of being the only Indian artist to have won a National Award (the Shiromani Kala Puraskar) while still an undergraduate at the Government College of Art and Craft, Kolkata.

In 2014 the Government of India conferred upon him its fourth-highest civilian award, the Padma Shri.

Introducing Das

He joined the Government College of Arts and Crafts, Calcutta in 1955. He won a French Government Scholarship to study at the Ecole National des Beaux Arts in Paris. Later he joined Government service for the Ministry of textiles and since then continued art and official work simultaneously holding important positions like Member of Purchase Committee for National Art Exhibition of 1979, and Miniature Format Exhibition 0f 1980, Jury for Hyderabad State Akademi, Committee member of 5th Triennale India in 1982 as also member of the General Council of the Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi.

Works of Das

Sunil Das’s style of work is very original and shows no specific influence. He had risen to fame like MF Hussain with his paintings of horses. Like Hussain, Sunil Das was inspired by the force and the strength of the moving horse. Later, after his visit to Spain, Das was caught up with the other animal: the bull. The horses and the bull have appeared more than 7000 times in Das’s works. He has also painted haunting pictures of women thereby revealing the dark side of people who are otherwise considered beautiful.

Bull by Sunil Das

One of the many Bull paintings by Sunil Das

Das is effective in most media, though his major works are serigraphy, cone, and oil on canvas. His style involves the quick use of the brush and pen to get a dynamic effect potent with power.

Others on Das

Rabin Mondale, also a painter, recalled how his friend had earned the moniker of ‘Ghora Das’ because of his passion for horses. “Though he was more than 10 years younger to me, we addressed each other by our first names. When I was a clerk with the railways, I would often go over to Sunil’s office adda.” said Mondal.

Horses by Sunil Das

Sunil Das earned the nickname ‘Ghora Das’ because of his love for horses.

Painter Sanat Kar, who was founder secretary of Society of Contemporary Artists, remembers the day when he got a young Das to join the society. “While on a French Government Scholarship to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Sunil went to Spain and watched bullfights. That inspired him to sketch bulls too,” Kar said.

At Keoratala crematorium, an emotional Manu Chakraborty said, “During his discussions in front of poet Alokranjan Dasgupta and painter Tapan Mitra, Sunil-da had told us that he had wanted his body to kept sitting in a chair before his cremation. He was so full of energy that he never wanted to lie down even during his last journey.”

View more of Sunil Das’s art here.

To read other editions of the series, click here.


Avinash Subramaniam

Avinash has been an advertising writer, fiction writer, poetry writer, freelance writer and serial wronger. Other roles he has been in include those of an editor, brand builder, and teacher. His interests include advertising, scrabble, body building, chess, cinema, making money, reading, internet culture, cricket, photography. To hear him air his thoughts, follow him on Twitter @armchairexpert.


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