Remembering DB Chitrkar


Dil Bahadur Chitrakar belongs to an era of artists in Nepal who were the first few ones to work away from the traditional occupation of Chitrakars: painting for religious purposes.

A proficient portraitist and landscape painter, DB's watercolors, oil paintings and pastel drawings are gripping. His skills in all mediums, especially pastels, show he is as much as alive as he was decades back, learning to paint in the Western European style from another pioneer artist, Tej Bahadur Chitrakar. He, like his teacher, is alive through his works.

DB passed away on December 22, 2010 at the age of 84.


          Self Portrait by artist DB Chitrakar                 Kumari by artist late Dil Bahadur Chitrakar                  Holyman by late artist Dil Bahadur Chitrakar


Born in 1926 in Patan, DB was fortunate to have a father who encouraged him to drift away from traditional paubha paintings. Jagat Bahadur sent DB as a young teenager to study under the tutelage of Tej Bahadur at his residence in Ason.

From there he would go on to join Juddha Kala Pathshala where Tej Bahadur was the in-charge. DB worked alongside such contemporaries as Govinda Narayan Jyapoo, Kalidas Shrestha, Chandra Bahadur Manandhar, and Jib Ratna Shakya.

"I remember DB Dai used to cycle everyday to our home early in the morning, go back home in Patan to have lunch and come back again to continue classes," shares artist Madan Chitrakar of DB's devotion to learning painting. Madan is the son of the late Tej Bahadur.

Although the old home has been replaced by a new concrete structure, it is the same location where DB came as a student, along with other artists such as Manoharman Pun and Amar Chitrakar. Madan was a small boy, and he would build a close relationship with DB that would last for years to come.

"It's difficult for me to come to this house," he admits, climbing the stairs to the living room of DB Dai's house, not too far from Patan Hospital. "This is where he used to sit most of the time," he points out.

Three beautiful pastel drawings hang on one of the walls of the small living room, along with landscapes paintings from different decades. The pastel drawings are from 1979, 2002 and 2005.

"The first pastel show in Nepal was held by him in 1991," says DB's son Raju Chitrakar, still in mourning. Indeed, DB is credited to have introduced pastels into Nepali art.

"Although he had bought pastels during his trip abroad some 20 years back, but at that time we didn't have pastel paper available locally," adds Raju, also an artist but more into computer graphics.

Raju brings out a folder and lays it on the floor as grandson Atish Chitrakar joins in. Atish is a recent graduate of Kathmandu University Center for Art & Design. Certificates, photographs, appointment letters, exhibition posters, local and international newspaper clippings from as early as 1950, the year he finished his studies from Juddha Kala, now Lalit Kala Campus, are neatly ordered in the file.

"Some of the students were jealous of DB Dai because he was highly talented, and ripped one of his paintings when he was away," Madan narrates a sad incident that took place at Juddha Kala. Even so, DB wasn't discouraged.

Another certificate from 1966 shows him as the winner of the National Art Competition organized by Nepal Association of Fine Arts. The award (established in 1965) of Rs 1,000 is signed by the late King Birendra, then Crown Prince.

Before King Birendra's wedding, two artists were chosen to decorate the Narayanhiti Palace, and one of whom was DB. A watercolor painting by him as a sample work remains in Raju's possession.

"These were highly lucrative commissions for the time. Unfortunately, the other artist tried to take advantage of DB Dai," says Madan, not naming the person. "DB Dai, out of his self-dignity, walked away from the palace. It's one reason why I feel that he was one true artist, to the core," he expresses.

Even academically, DB was highly trained, as stated by Madan in his book "Tej Bahadur Chitrakar: Icon of a Transition" (2004): Eminent elder artist DB Chitrakar remained Tej Bahadur's one of the favored students because of his matured understanding of color and creative approach in style.

"We used to go on several outdoor drawing excursions," puts in Madan, who worked alongside DB as illustrators for Janak Shiksha Samagri Kendra (JSSK), the government body that prints textbooks. DB, also an art teacher, would make large oil paintings using his sketches as references, while Madan would make on the spot watercolors. DB retired from JSSK in 1976.

"If he saw a blank sheet of paper lying around, he would start drawing on it immediately," smiles Raju, pulling out piles of loose pencil sketches of landscapes, animals and people.

A landscape and portrait painter, DB depicted Nepali people and their lifestyles on his canvases, always starting with an under painting in burnt sienna.

In 1964, DB had his first solo exhibition at the then existing and famed Max Gallery on Durbar Marg titled "See Nepal".

DB's artistic journey took a turn after his visit to Europe in 1965 as part of the UNESCO Observation Tour where he witnessed works of great artists such as Rembrandt, Van Gogh, and Paul Gauguin.

"His visits to several art exhibitions in European capitals unknowingly influenced him," highlights Madan of the transition. The shift was marked by impasto paintings of temples and statues; however, in undefined cloudlike spaces. Only photographs of many of these paintings remain today with his son Raju.

DB's last and fifth solo show was held in 2007.

"DB Dai went back and forth with his styles and painted as he wished. However, some artists felt that he had lost his originality over the years," opines Madan and asserts, "But he didn't care about that as long as he could draw and paint! We have truly lost an old vanguard."

And that's what DB did. Raju shows the last portrait of an old woman DB Chitrakar painted in his studio, only sometime before he passed away.

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