Biren De was born in 1926 in Faridpur, now in Bangladesh, and studied at the Government College of Art and Craft in Calcutta from 1944-49. Following his graduation, De was appointed an art teacher at the Delhi Polytechnic, and then travelled to the United States as a Fulbright scholar in the late 1950s. Over the 1950s and 60s, De exhibited his works internationally, and found friends and collectors in the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Australia.
From the early 1950s, the stylized figures in De’s paintings became increasingly abstract, transforming into disembodied shapes of color and light. Eventually, these were concentrated into two primary forms, the U-shape representing the feminine, and straight and wedge-like shapes portraying masculine energies. “By 1963 these symbols were shorn of their eroticism to translate into almost scientific hieroglyphs painted on a monumental scale to fill the space of the canvas. Texture is mostly abandoned for smokey-thin applications of colour. The colour is vibrant and rich with large areas of black or 'dark' and occasional areas of blue, purple, and green” (J. Appasamy, Biren De: A Journey, As Seen by Five Contemporaries, New Delhi, 1972, not paginated).
This was also the time that De, along with artists like G.R. Santosh, began to investigate aspects of tantra, a Buddhist and Hindu spiritual tradition originating in the 5th century CE, that focused on the union between celestial forms and the body, often through sexual metaphors. These artists were soon called ‘Neo-Tantric’, and developed a unique visual language that used elements of sacred tantric geometry but with more universal implications.
The two works by De in this sale (lots 48 and 49) come from the collection of his dear friend Janet Rosanio DeVries Broos. Janet and her first husband Jan had a close relationship with De, frequently exchanging letters in which De would share his recent experiences, problems, and states of mind. De freely discussed his life and relationships, as well as his struggles with money and confidence as an artist in these exchanges. He also updated the De Vries on astrological changes that might affect them, and regularly shared news clippings about his shows and postcards bearing his work. Janet was a confidante who gave De her unwavering support, both emotional and financial.
Lots 48 and 49 exemplify De’s vivid geometric abstractions as they took form in the early 1970s. In a review of a 1977 exhibition of the artist’s work at Dhoomimal Gallery, New Delhi, an art critic writes, “The radiant, glowing paintings of recent years which throb before the spectator are titled after the months of the year in which they were painted as though time, the seasons and the moment are actually their real themes” (‘The evolution of an artist on view,’ The Times of India, 20 October 1977). Another critic describes a “burning inner core of color radiating into a luminous, effulgent colour field” (S. Serbjeet Singh, ‘Biren De,’ The Economic Times, 23 October 1977, p. 5). Both sentiments are represented in the present lots, where De illustrates the invisible forces of the Universe as pulsating, swirling orbs of energy, and flares of energetic light.