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     Volume 4 Issue 66 | October 7, 2005 |

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Playing With Mud

Imran H. Khan

Since early childhood, most of us seem to have a profound attraction towards mud. When we went out to play, we always end up bringing a reasonable amount of it back with us -- be it in our clothes, shoes or simply on ourselves. We cannot help it; such is the wonder of being a child. While most of us quickly grow out of this fascination and move on, it still remains in a selected few. It is from them that a few go on to make great works of art from that once simple earth. One such artist in Nagen Paul.

Nagen Paul was born in 1977 in Dhamrai, a place thriving due to its pottery industry. From the early part of his life, he got interested in earth (clay) as his family, like many others in that area, made a living from it. Bangladesh is currently doing well in industrial ceramics, for example, Shaheen Ceramics is a large exporter of ceramics but when it comes to handmade ceramics, there is a void. "After doing my Intermediate from Dhamrai Collage, I dreamt of studying fine arts at Charukala to fill this void," says Nagen.

After completing his B.B.A. from Dhaka International University along with a Diploma in Fine Arts from Bulbul Academy of Fine Arts (BAFA), he set foot into the world of creativity through his first solo exhibition in pottery and terracotta. The show was entitled "Creative Clay Exhibition".

"Before you know how to paint, you have to know the grammar of art," says Nagen. "I was taught this from Bulbul Academy. We were taught all forms of work including painting, sketching, pottery and much more." It is fortunate that he stuck to pottery as his pieces at the exhibition show amazing talent and dedication behind them. The intriguing exhibition took place at Heritage Restaurant at Gulshan 2 from September 23 to September 30.

Turning the pages of history, pottery dates back to antiquity in India as far as 2500 B.C. as excavations in Mohenjodaro show. Terracotta is fired red clay used in sculpture and pottery. In the Indian sub-continent, terracotta would perhaps be the epitome of Indian religious expression conveyed through earth or rather, clay. Proper structural forms had previously been developed such as moulded bricks and tiles designed in artistic forms.

While some people link pottery and earthenware to serve distinctly domestic purposes and often as decorative items, Nagen has taken pottery to the next step. He has transformed simple pots into decorative works of art, with a dual utilitarian function. Most of his works reflect his primary interest; that of creative ceramics geared for decorating interiors and exteriors. The pieces are designed for everyday use and decorations; whether it is to hold water, flower, mobile phones, paintings in clay, mantle pieces, lamp base or simple wall hanging. He seemed to have a tale for each of his creations. "The main thing about art is drawing and since I was pretty good at it, the final outcomes were interesting," continues Nagen. Through his pottery, Nagen brings out the exuberant characteristics in clay using normal-temperature and high-temperature clay. He also adds a mixture of the glaze technique to polish out a fantastic finish in some of his works, giving them a hint of the clay works of the Ming dynasty; while in others, he leaves the traditional clay form, inclusive of his artistic idiosyncrasy.

Normal clay can be heated at 700 to 800 degrees Celsius whereas white clay, also called high temperature clay can be heated up to 1200 degrees Celsius. White clay is basically the wastage that is obtained from industrial clay, which is a little costlier then normal clay.

White clay has to be 'biscuit shined' for colour proofing, before glazing. Glazing is a process of coating the finished product with a thin layer of glassy material.

It is then fired up. "I did another small diploma course and learned the glaze (shining) method," says Nagen. This is the final polishing that is done on the clay that gives the glassy look. The second time firing is done at a temperature of 1200 degrees. This makes the clay stronger and it becomes a ceramic.

"White clay is usually mixed with normal clay because white clay has less plasticity. A combination is better to make the final work both long lasting and easier to do works on," says Nagen.

"I was first brought to Heritage Restaurant by Rizwan Bin Farooq, the Managing Director of the restaurant. He told me of his plans to make a grand gate for the restaurant," says Nagen. "I made some models and showed it to Tania Karim, the interior decorator for the restaurant." After the desired design was chosen, Nagen got to work on the gate. His work of art can now be seen at the entrance of Heritage Restaurant, a design taken from the famous Gaur Mosque. This 813 s.ft. of terracotta work contains 30 blocks and 268 s.ft of broken tiles. "I am very happy because this is a unique structure and I put a lot of hard work behind it," beams a proud Nagen.

Rizwan got interested in Nagen's works and told him to keep on working at his arts. "He was my inspiration because he kept on pushing me and telling me that he would organise an exhibition for me if I kept on working," remembers Nagen. "Now, that is a reality."

Sadly the exhibition did not receive the enthuaism that Nagen had hoped for. "The influx of people at the restaurant were mostly gourmet clients who had little interest in my pieces," continues Nagen. "I was a little sad as I was not able to share my creations with a lot of people." He hopes to have his next exhibition at an art gallery where he will try a mixed media of broken tiles, wood card and pottery.

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