Vol. 5 Num 575 Sat. January 07, 2006  

Mingling architecture with nature

Hendrik Wittkopf, who was here in Dhaka for five days, has held a fascinating acrylic exhibition at Chitrak. The display of translucent paints began on January 2. The 39-year-old German artist, based in London, presents scenes from Kolkata. The painter has spent three years in that city. He visited it nearly every winter -- beginning from 1993. With his architect mother and his artist father, it is quite natural that a sensitive and intellectual artist like Wittkopf should present such pristine landscapes.

Why did he make the trip to Dhaka? Wittkopf had met Habib, a Bangladeshi artist based in Kolkata, at a workshop at the Goethe Institut in 1997. Habib, in turn, is a friend of the Chitrak Director, Muniruzzaman; and so the visit to neighbouring Dhaka -- to have a taste of Opar Bangla. "My first impression of this old city, Dhaka is favourable. I hope to return," he says.

The exhibition is a work on architecture, which he began in London and Munich, and when in Kolkata, he painted important buildings, which are landmarks, along with trees and humans that surround them." They are not pictures of Kolkata but pictures of architecture of the city," as Wittkopf puts it.

The collection of layers of acrylic works on paper and canvas, bring in figurative composition, with the focus on buildings that caught his attention. He amalgamates them with four abstract works which are studies, which he does alongside his main preoccupation -- to see "how structure, colour and material works," as Wittkopf says. He explains, "Sometimes I do abstract studies to see these elements at work. They are, more or less separate from other works."

On of the entries has the words ‘Heart Surgery’ atop the building. What interested the artist in the painting are the many advertisements in the city, that one sees, which feature health services. He takes one of them and dwells on it and its surroundings. Another image looks pristine to the eye but Wittkopf points out the slum in the vicinity, with people struggling near the train tracks. There are splashes of soft hues like purple, blue and lemon-yellow to capture the image of what appears like some innocent dream, taken from nostalgia. Apparent simplicity and studied naiveté is the artist's overwhelming hallmark.

Suggestive lines bring in the flowers and foliage in the forefront of the pristine composition. There is nothing harsh to break the "fancy free" experience of the viewer. "I tried to juxtapose the abstract with figurative; in my work they become one," Wittkopf says. The painting is about migration to the city and it is a symbol of transition.

The next neat and exact presentation of architecture uses water-colour and poster-colour, utilising the tints available in Kolkata, and brings in a landscape once more with sweeps of subtle, muted and suggestive paints. There are sweeps and curls of grayish blue intermingling with emerald and jade colours. The architecture is in clear gray and white.

Wittkopf's dots, dashes and flecks in his abstract pieces are more mind-whirling and buoyant. With the combination of the two different genres, figurative and otherwise, the display is reminiscent of paintings seen in one's childhood. They speak of apparent harmony and peace, even though these elements, at times, camouflage the underlying turbulent coexistence of the artist's recurrent subjects -- architecture and nature.

An art work by Hendrik Wittkopf