For Rabin Mondal art that is beautiful is not art. For him, art being a mirror to society was a very important aspect,”

Kishore Singh

Head of Exhibitions and Publications, DAG

On 2nd July 2019, an era came to an end. He flew away leaving behind a celebrated legacy. Rabin Mondal was not just another passionate artists. Art presented to him a chance to vent out his experiences. Like many modern artists, he did not identify art with beauty. Rather, his works spit truth, dark and desolate truth, on the faces of its onlookers. Substantive and empathetic use of different hues of black in his paintings shows the depressive side of his psyche.

He was known for his satirical and stark depiction of social anarchy witnessed by him in his early days. The art he made was not for the glorification for the lord or ‘mouthpieces of God and Queen’ at that time. His illustrations capture the plight of masses down the social ladder which strikes and stirs the senses of its spectators. This fulfils the purpose of the modernist’s art and expression. With vehement endeavours, he furnished his works the power to tear down the social order with its glare.

Early Life and its Effect on his Oeuvres

Rabin was born in Howrah, West Bengal in 1929 in an influential, highly educated upper-middle-class family. The lane on which his ancestral house stands is named after his grandfather Fakirdas Mondal. His father was a mechanical draughtsman. His upbringing was frugal because of the failing finances of the overextended family.  The strife and struggle witnessed by him internally and externally made a mark on his thoughts.

Mondal’s Protest on Wailing Bengal

The great famine-The regal government did little to nothing to save the masses from their fateful extermination by the famine of 1943. Their wartime strategy was already sucking the blood out of breathing skeletons who haunted the streets in search of food. This atrocity could be equated to the one which was experienced by Jews at the hands of Hitler. The Bengal genocide is said to have claimed 2-3 million lives due to starvation and other epidemics.

The great killing-Mondal’s conscience was marred with the scars of the suffering of his people. Hindu-Muslim riots of 1946 devastated more than 25,000 souls and shredded the social structure to its foundation. Later, what descended was far worse than what happened earlier-Partition of India and Bengal. The bloodbath which ensued from it made Mondal realize the decayed side of the humanity which he manifests in his paintings.

What led him to hold a paintbrush- Once, after meeting an injury, at the age of 12, which rendered him bedridden for four years, he took his refuge in drawing. But, he found satisfaction in brewing different themes on canvas and continued this for the rest of his life. later in his life, he did odd salaried jobs, to support his family but, his first love was always colours and drawings. Indian Art Ideas feature four of his paintings. Please visit to buy art online.

He stated, “I have always been drawn to the plight of man and his existence for as long as I can remember. Calcutta is the ideal place to observe human life in its many stratums, and I painted humanity as I saw it. The degenerate, dispossessed, debauched, as well as the beautiful — life in its many variations,” in the publication-Kingdom of Exile: A Rabin Mondal Retrospective.

Education and Career

His aspiration to become an artists led him to take admission in an art course at Government School of Art, Kolkata in 1949. Due to the tumbling economic condition of his home, he had to leave this course without completion. After that, he worked in manufacturing unit established by his family. Side by side, he completed his graduation in commerce from Vidyasagar College, Calcutta in 1952.

He took a job at Indian Railways to support his family and joined evening classes at the Indian Art School, Calcutta in 1955. He exhibited his first solo painting in 1962 at the Academy of Fine Arts which was critically acclaimed for its sharpness and inventiveness.

 In 1964, Mondal with other seven contemporary art painters of his ilk joined and formed Calcutta Painters to promote modernists art in Calcutta and throughout India. Nikhil Biswas, Prokash Karmakar, Bijan Chowdhury, Gopal Sanyal, Bimal Banerjee, Mahim Rudra, Gunbritt Svensson with Mondal, now collectively known as the ‘Group of Eight’, got a national accolade for their work.

Themes and Inspirations

Mondal’s works show his clear inclination towards tribal and folk traditional Indian art. Unnerving and stirring paintings of Rabindranath Tagore and folk themes of Jamini Roy sprouted seeds of expressionism into him. His young mind and its turbulence found a new relief in the western school of art, especially the styles of French modernists.

Prior to this, he was ignorant of international schools of art. But, he eventually got exposed to it at Vidyasagar College of Art. According to him, he was introduced to ‘an astounding, astonishing and unsuspected world. Coming face to face with new and modern styles in art opened the vistas of his mind.

Works and Criticisms

He is best known for his series of paintings by the name of King, Queen and Man. He was also known for his blunt rebuttals of critical remarks for his paintings. One such anecdote goes like this- he was being told that his paintings are not pleasing to look at, to which he gave a laconic reply that his paintings are not meant for decorating the houses but for communicating the monumental inequality prevailing in those times.

His paintings depict the harsh realities of today’s urban existence. The faces he paints with mixed patterns made of red, green and black with crooked teeth and big eyes filled with despair shows how bold and anguished he was at the helplessness of human values. Mondal’s ‘Face’ and three other works are featured by the Indian Art Ideas if you want to buy art online.