Bhubaneswar: What horses were for MF Hussain, trains are for Bijay Biswaal. Known for his paintings that made train journeys in India look magical, Biswaal has become the brand ambassador for India of London-based Winsor and Newton, an iconic company that manufactures a wide variety of fine arts products.
Odisha-born Biswaal, who had worked as a chief ticket inspector of the Indian Railways in Nagpur, signed the contract with the 187-year-old firm this Independence Day. He is overwhelmed with his first major commercial association based exclusively on his art. He took to Twitter and wrote that he felt “honoured and thrilled to gain the trust of the most reputed and legendary art materials brand on earth WINSOR AND NEWTON”.
As a man devoted to painting, the 54-year-old Nagpur-based painter told News18 over phone that he was now feeling increasingly confident that he could “now spend the rest of my life painting to my heart’s content”.
The celebrated artist said trains remained his favourite motif.
Though he declined to divulge his pay for the one-year brand ambassadorship contract with Winsor and Newton, sources close to his family in Odisha said it was somewhere around Rs 10 lakh. “It is not the money, really. I am very excited to get a wider opportunity, both in India and abroad, to meet new people, especially budding artists and young people interested in painting. I feel privileged to get the opportunity to spread the nobler aspects of human experience through my art,” said Biswaal, whose canvasses often have trains on rain-soaked railway platforms in rural India.
A celebrated artist, the paintings of Biswaal, who hails from Pallahara in Odisha’s Angul district, have warm colours and a distinctly Indian look and feel. They have drawn attention of admirers from far and wide.
Weeks after his portrayal of a rain-soaked station in Korba, Chhattisgarh, went viral on social media, Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned him in his ‘Mann ki Baat’ programme in July 2015. While pointing out Biswaal’s former employment with the Indian Railways and his later works on trains, the PM said, “He is a karmayogi.”
Soon after, Biswaal portrayed Modi as an ordinary passenger walking on a wet platform, holding a closed umbrella and a reddish cloth bag, after getting down from the train. That painting created a buzz and Biswaal was invited by then railway minister Suresh Prabhu to display his works at the three-day Rail Vikas Shibir at Surajkund in November 2016.
His Modi-on-platform painting was sold for Rs 5 lakh at an auction at National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), New Delhi, in November 2018. Biswaal took voluntary retirement from the Indian Railways in March 2017, forgoing eight years of remaining service, to pursue his passion.
“Trains remain my favourite motif. They symbolise life through their movement and symbolise the thrill of togetherness as they connect people from far-away places,” he said, adding, “It is also my way of expressing gratitude to the Indian Railways that made me what I am today.”
Biswaal has lately been painting ornate stone sculptures seen on the walls of ancient temples in Odisha. “These age-old structures contain immense beauty. I feel elated when people get interested in these temples by seeing my paintings and express their wish to visit Odisha,” he said.
At present, he is preparing to attend a few upcoming art symposiums next month, one in Hyderabad and the next in Istanbul, Turkey. “It feels great to see art uniting minds around the world,” said Biswaal, who was felicitated by the Odisha government on Statehood Day in 2017.