Copperplate was previously used for etching. But due to various reasons including increase in copper price, zinc is now used in this medium. The work is done in an integral way. As a result, the part that needs to be kept white in the picture has to be left intact and the rest has to be worked on. First you have to dry the metal with hard ground varnish and draw a picture on it with a needle or needle line as per the plan. When the painting is finished, the metal is immersed in an acid container and the acid enters the painted part, creating holes or wounds in the metal. How fine or deep the lines will be depends on feeding the metal more / less acid. For example, fine lines have to be covered with a stop out and the rest of the lines have to be thickened with more acid. Moreover, in order to use any texture in the painting, the sheet has to be acidified by applying a coating of soft ground varnish and imprinting the texture on it. The sheet is then removed from the acid, the varnish is cleaned and the edges are rubbed to make an impression.
While in Calcutta, Safiuddin Ahmed started practicing etching. He bought an etching machine to facilitate this practice. Although he moved to Dhaka in 1947, the machine remained in Calcutta. It was possible for him to bring it in 1954. After bringing the machine in 1955, he painted two pictures of flooded Dhaka. An aquatint image titled ‘Noukae Shunya Kalash’ discussed above. The other is edited by Etching: ‘Bannaplabito Dhaka’. The work is small. The area around his residence in Swamibagh has been flooded. The lower part of the tree is submerged in water. This is the subject of the picture. It depicts the journey of a person in a boat with a pitcher through a flooded house tree.
The artist’s practice of etching medium in Calcutta or Dhaka did not gain the desired momentum until he went to London for higher studies in the subject.
When Safiuddin Ahmed went to London in 1956-59 to pursue higher education through etching and engraving (metal), two important changes took place in his painting. One: Instead of black and white, his imprint became colorful. Two: Instead of depicting the object exactly, there is a massive vandalism of the figure in his painting, and the painting is filled with the subtle symbolism of imagery. Another thing is also memorable in this context. In his post-1956 work, the etching-aquatint medium has become so intertwined that he has since preserved the distinction between the two genres and painted fewer pictures. As a result, we have justified naming this chapter. In his post-1956 work, we will note that in the same figure, he has combined various features such as soft-ground, lift-ground, deep-H with etching-aquatint.
Shortly after moving to London, the first painting he drew through etching was called: ‘Mach Dharar Somay-1′ (1957). The image has resorted to aquatint and soft ground media without etching. The soft ground process has created a mesh atmosphere in different parts of the image. Girls’ socks, mosquito nets etc. have been used for this purpose.In this first painting in London; we notice the direction of the fundamental change in his artistry: the combination of color in the print. Safiuddin was also interested in the use of etching in London at that time. It was not a problem for him to get used to the technique as he already knew it. Yellow color has come to the surface in the soft ground process. Aquatint has resulted in black. And fine lines have been created through etching. Yellow color has been used in the net to brighten the color of some parts of the image as opposed to black. If those parts also faded, the white part of the image would become visible. But in terms of black and yellow, the image has become richer in the way it is now. In the left part of the image, the atmosphere has been created symbolically. The subject of this picture is a well-known fishing scene in the rural areas of Bangladesh. A huge net is tied to a triangular bamboo frame and kept in the water, and at regular intervals, the body is lifted by using physical force and the net is lifted and thrown into the fish boat. Only one person does this work. In this picture, too, the net is naturally enlarged and the man is drawn much smaller than that. The feeling of how small a person is in the perspective of nature and at the same time how powerful he is has also been highlighted through it. As a result, there is a tremendous speed and conflict in the image. The lines, including the shape of the figure, are bent to capture this motion.
This image has been finalized across three levels. The only difference between these three levels is the color. The first layer is just white-black. Slightly pink color has been used in the second level. But using this color, the artist felt that this color did not bloom well in contrast to black. As a result, he is content to use yellow instead of pink on the third level. This is because the color yellow has become more consistent with the contrast of light, and as a result, both colors have become richer.
Later, his first notable work in London was in Etching-Aquatint medium with Sunflower named ‘Jarajibon’-(1957). This image also bears the imprint of another fundamental change in his artistry. That is: the departure of the exact form of the appearance. In this figure, the true appearance of the sunflower is completely shattered. And at the same time it has been incorporated into the two-dimensional properties of the flat surface by breaking its three-dimensional properties. It is not facile at all. The compositional aspect of this image is also very significant. This is a picture of two sunflowers placed in a container on the table. However, the perspective of placing the pot on the table has also been completely broken and the table has been arranged vertically according to the perspective and the flower has been kept wrapped around its body. That is to say, a kind of formation has been resorted here where the perspective has been completely erased. The two flowers were actually at the same level of sight but in the figure they are captured in such a way that it looks as if they have been separated by cutting paper. This is how the work started by deleting the perspective on the flat surface. It is also a kind of formation game. This image has become an important aspect of Safiuddin Ahmed’s artistic journey. The speed of the image is also noticeable. This motion is transmitted to the figure through the vandalized shapes of tables, pots and flowers. When the motion of the flower is on the right then the motion of another formation is on the left. This is the artist’s first important work in London.
One of his three works, Etching-Aquatint, published in 1958, was “Banna-1”, the second “Bannaplabito Gram”, and the third “Jhar” or “Expose the Storm”. It is worth mentioning here that the floods of 1954 and 1955 in Bangladesh are deeply etched in the mind of the artist Safiuddin; because he had never faced such an experience in his life in Calcutta. Flooded around his home, there is no way out without a boat, as much as there is security can be disrupted at any time. This deep scar of insecurity chased him back in London and that can be realized by the evidence of his persecution can be found by looking at the subject matter of his paintings. Repeated floods flooded his consciousness.
Implementation of the abstract portrayal of flood has happened in the image titled ‘Flood-1’. However, all the imagery of the image has been symbolized by the flood atmosphere by creating a form floating in the water. All known forms have been broken down. The picture floor is filled with various familiar and unfamiliar images of trees, leaves, water and water droplets. When we try to draw a shape of the circle formed by the pressure created in the water when the leaves of the tree fall into the water, we see it in the left corner of the foreground of the image. The figure is also significant in the use of thick lines. In later films, the artist has expanded the form of the line, but the beginning of that idea is noticeable in this painting. The artist has resorted to DPH method to create these lines.
The image titled ‘Bannaplabito Gram’ shows a picture of a flooded village with a bird’s eye view, where everything is flooded and submerged; the tin rice lines seen from above are exposed. This figure also has the image of a submerged tree. Lift ground and aquatint methods have also been used with etching. The white lines have been blackened using aquatint powder. This image has been edited using a single plate, not multiple plates. The whole work is done on a plate and different colors are printed on it. Painted with dabber. This is a good example of how many colors can be used on a plate. The colors used in this picture are red, yellow, blue, yellow on black etc. The technique of taking print is more important in this case.
The image ‘Jhar’ or ‘Expose the Storm’ also takes refuge in the lift ground process. The main subject of this figure is motion. The image uses unfamiliar imagery of trees, tree trunks, etc. The artist wants to capture the image of the catastrophe caused by the strong wind blowing in the natural world. It is also important as an example of the departure of the familiar imagery from his paintings in this period. Just as there is a granular form of aquatint in this figure, so there is a variety of colors in that form. This picture also has a few commentaries. The first layer is black and white, with no pictures. The use of yellow color other than black in the second level results in the loss of some form. Since the figure has been completed by extracting various forms using the tree as a symbol, the success of the figure is hampered when the form is reduced. That’s why the artist goes to the third level and finalizes it. At this level, instead of yellow, green or white has been used. As a result, as all colors have become visible, the variety of colors has also increased. The use of white in the final phase has resulted in increased form. When more forms are created, the picture often gets crowded or there is a kind of clutter in the picture. The image becomes richer when it comes to different depths by creating color variations to avoid it. In the case of this painting, the artist has resorted to the latter method.
After passing his diploma in London in 1959, he painted three notable paintings through etching-aquatint. These are: ‘Neme Jawa Ban’, ‘Banna-2’ and ‘Setu Parapar’. These three paintings contain various experiments of the artist. The image of a tree has gained prominence in the painting ‘Neme Jawa Ban’. The ambience of ‘the floodwaters are receding’ is present in the picture; Water and boats on the left side of the foreground and a house on the back. There is a dynamic between the lines in this figure. But the water is relatively stable, because there is no current or movement in the water when the flood water goes down. The water gradually decreases silently. In this painting, etching-aquatint as well as lift ground medium has been used. The method is as follows: First the metal is drawn with the solution and then the rest is covered with the stop out solution. After the solution dries, the plate is immersed in sink water, and the solution in the drawing part rises and the white plate comes out. The plate is then inserted into the aquatint box and the resin powder is spread on it. The plate is then granulated by heating it with acid. The aquatint has a combination of light to dark black on the surface of the image, while a portion of the plate is covered with a stop out and light tones are used on the next layer. The plate then has to go through a long process of acid feeding with the intention of creating diversity. As a result, it took about two months to complete the film. Finally the colors are arranged. The color of the water is dark blue. The trunk of the tree is black; but because of the use of red color on the upper part including the leaves, the indication of death is clear as the lower part of the tree is submerged in water. The last impression is taken in black. It has gained prominence as the image has been created through advanced experimentation with the medium.
The image is also used in the etching-aquatint-painting titled ‘Banna-2’ this tree has come as a symbol of nature, because nature has damaged everything in public life. The submerged tree is the epitome of this decay. In terms of structure, one form of mango tree, another form of kadam tree. Here is a combination of these two forms. There is a motion in everything in the image. In this movement, the tendency to protest seems to have become boxy. This protest is not loud but silent, because the protest has been expressed in the form of the structural motion of the tree. This is a protest against the submerged state. This image, with its extraordinary design-quality, has a subtle introduction to media experimentation. The image has been successful because the artist has gone through a long process of experimentation, just like the image, titled ‘Neme Jawa Ban’. In both the paintings, the artist’s realism and craftsmanship are identified in the way the sky and its light are drawn out through the gaps in the trees.
Safiuddin Ahmed’s most successful film, edited by Aquatint, is called Setu Parapar (1959). In this black-and-white painting, the artist has been able to use the qualities of the aquatint medium efficiently. The aquatint medium is enriched qualitatively only when the plate with resin powder is fed to the acid while protecting the powdered top, i.e. the process can be completed by keeping the top white. If you can feed the head alive, the granular feeling of aquatint is well maintained. In this picture, various levels of granular properties have been preserved. It has been gradually made lighter and darker by feeding on acid. Pictured is a bridge, with water underneath and houses on the right. People are going to the rice shop after crossing the bridge; intense motion in the water part of the foreground. The color of the water is somewhere bright and somewhere dull. Due to the intense light falling on a part of the water, that part has been kept completely white. The difference in the color of the water to depict the play of light on the water and the motion of the water inside the water, and the skillful use of the aquatint medium in this case, is a clear indication of the artist’s craft. In the foreground on the left, a line rising from the form of the boat goes to the right in the background and takes a left turn again. In contrast to this line comes another line from the background. In this way it maintains the balance of the image. If the background line was not given, the image would tilt to one side. In the picture, the reader’s attention is first drawn to the illuminated water and the people. Here the boat is placed to break the dynamics that exist in the line of rotation of water. In this figure the lift ground process is also resorted to with etching-aquatint. Thick lines have been created through the lift ground. Fine lines have also been used in contrast to these thick lines. White came down from the background and stopped the rise of black. Two boats have been created in the middle of the picture and some in the background. In contrast to these structures, various other structures have been created with the intention of creating balance. The compositional feature of the image is also significant.
After returning from London, he began working on the etching-aquatint medium, experimenting with how to further his own. In 1962, the Museum of Modern Art in Japan selected three Pakistani artists, including Safiuddin Ahmed, for their International Biennial Exhibition. For that exhibition, Safiuddin Ahmed composed two paintings titled ‘Mach Dharar Somoy’-2 and 3’ through etching-aquatint.
In composing these two paintings, the artist emphasizes a new subject. While in London, he mastered the art of working with lines. This time in Dhaka he focused on making the line thicker or thicker. He had never tried to granulate the inside of the line before. It could not keep the eyes inside the line. In the picture titled ‘Mach Dhara Niyom-2’, he wanted to keep his eye inside the line and move slowly. As a result, he tried to granulate the inside of the line in the aquatint process. As the lines became thicker, it took the form of impostor (thick coating of color). At the same time, it became embossed, that is, it was characterized by the rising of the line from the surface of the figure. In this picture there are water and nets as well as various shapes including the glue of the boat. Impossible quality has created several layers in the image, so that we can see the inside of the net. The image has taken on a new dimension with the combination of dark yellow, dark blue, white and black and the combination of fine and coarse lines. The image titled ‘Mach Dharar somoy-3’ also has experiments with rough lines. Water, nets, fish and various shapes of boats are also used in this painting. In this picture, the water is yellow and white instead of blue. This is the intention of the artist. This has been done with the intention of creating symbolic consonants. Three red forms have been created in this figure. Through these forms, an attempt has been made to symbolically depict the fish inside the net, the fish inside the fish’s eye or the fish inside the triangular form. In addition, in the soft ground process, the atmosphere of the net has been created with the impression of mosquitoes or socks.
In 1964, he drew two paintings using etching-aquatint: ‘Nil Jol’ and ‘Bikkhubdho Mach’. The background to these images is the floods of 1954-55. Even though he lives in Dhaka city, he is flooded and trapped in the flood waters. This new experience left a lasting impression on the memory of Safiuddin Ahmed, the son of Calcutta. Sitting at the window of the house or riding in a rented boat, he saw small and big fish moving in the water, grasshoppers jumping on the water, etc. Saw water waves. And through all this, a kind of water drawing has revolved in the mind of the artist; various types of thin and thick lines have been rotated.
Blue Water is a wonderful combination of fine and coarse lines. Just as the thin lines have become symbols of the net, so they have created a kind of balance in the image by tying the thick lines. The two parts on the left side of the image or in the foreground that look like the shape of the eye are actually marked as water areas. Various textures have been used in those parts. Not only are fine lines created by etching, but the medium is also credited with creating thick coarse lines. Another important feature of this painting is that it has been possible to create depths in the painting with various layers due to the skill of using colors. Along with blue, white and black, black has risen to the top, white has gone below it, and blue has gone deepest. As a result, the forms with thick lines seem to rise above the surface as in the application of the emboss method. This picture also has three commentaries. These comments have been made with the difference in the use of color. Using white and black on the first level, the artist felt that he did not get the desired result. He later changed his mind, using yellow on the entire background, whitewashing the dots, and green on special areas. This is how the second commentary of the picture is created. But even this is not to the artist’s liking. He again changed his mind and changed the whole scheme of color use and composed the final commentary. In this final phase, the image acquires a different dimension by using blue in some parts of the yellow spots and red in place of white and green in some parts. Eventually the use of black in white areas made the image richer (heavy). The combination of red with black increases the brightness of both the colors. Black has been used on uneven parts of the metal and blue, yellow and white on smooth parts. Putting the other two next to the final commentary on the painting, one realizes how much the artist has improved and improved as a result of repeated changes in the artist’s color scheme.
The image of the ‘Bikkhubdho Mach’ is important in many ways. The fire of protest in the eyes of the fish caught in the net is a symbolic expression of the indignation of the chained people of Bangladesh against the then Pakistani military ruler. It is worth mentioning that fish is an integral part of our national heritage. So this use of fish to illustrate the heartache of national life has made the picture even more significant. The use of different forms of this painting has the signature of the artist’s craft. The form at the very bottom of the fish is arranged in such a way that it looks like it is lifting the fish upwards. In the following form the net is emphasized through the color white. Since the fish is caught with a net, the artist has tried to format the net in various ways. Moreover, the other forms in the picture are arranged in such a way that the weight of the fish can be perceived. Besides, the net-bound form of the fish has also been clarified. Attempts have been made to create a grainy look on the coarse lines through aquatint. The thick lines seem to rise from the surface like the embossing method. Like ‘Nil Jol’, the use of color has created depth in the image with various layers. There is no blue here but here the depth has come in the form of yellow below black, then red and absolutely white below. Some small and large drops have been used in some parts of the painting. As a result, the monotony of the image has been removed a lot. Since the image is designed with the predominance of black color or the importance of black color, the image has the light through the white parts as the exact opposite color. The white part of the surface of the image was not solid white either, creating the granular properties of the aquatint medium.
The painting ‘Vashoman Jal’ painted in 1966 also has a combination of thin and thick lines. Various forms of netting have been painted. For the sake of creation, the forms of this image have taken various forms. The forms have been distorted with the intention of creating water waves. There is a circular atmosphere in the picture. Rotation is a kind of spin. The speed in this image is much faster than in the image titled ‘Bikkhubdho Mach’. This motion is created because the image is arranged in many forms, and the application of a moment is also the source of this motion. For example, when a fishing net is thrown into the water and pulled, there is definitely a speed and tension. That speed is the core of this image. That’s why the forms have gained a dynamic form. In fact, the idea has been conceived from trying to make a zero surface beautiful, meaningful and creative. And this motion has been transmitted because the image is designed accordingly. In the soft ground process, mosquito nets, nets or socks of girls have been imprinted in different places of the image. The use of color in this painting also shows the artist’s deep thought. Although black predominates in the painting, the artist becomes interested in using a rich color alongside or opposite it. This is not to say that a rich color is inevitable if black is used. It is basically a feature of Safiuddin Ahmed. He created the necessary combination of rich colors in order to make black more meaningful and meaningful. The combination of all these things has made the picture a success.
In 1966, he drew two prints through DPH entitled ‘Jal ebong Mach’-1 and 2. He worked on these two prints in a new way with a crayon or charcoal pencil; created various tones. The purpose was: to create a new color imprint by painting the image in a new form after the pencil work. But in the case of these two images, the ultimate goal could not be met. As a result, the current state of the two images can be called mixed media technique or print with hand touch. In both the pictures, various colors have blossomed in black and white. There is a similarity of composition in both the figures. Fish, nets, water droplets, leaf forms have all come together in an unfamiliar form of the known world. Both images have the symbolic form of the sun on the surface. The presence of the symbolic sun has been noticeable in Safiuddin Ahmed’s paintings in various mediums since the sixties. The artist seems to be expecting light by printing everything else.
In 1967, he wrote a painting titled ‘Jal ebong Mach -3’ using a combination of etching, DPH, dry point and aquatint. In the previous two pictures, he left some parts without working on the whole part of the metal. But in this picture his work covers the whole of the metalwork. Moreover, with the help of the cut-off age method, he has left out many parts of the symbolic form. The texture of the image is filled with familiar and unfamiliar symbols such as nets, fish, water droplets, boat glue, etc. The artist’s creative skills in this painting are also remarkable. There are many subtle and complex forms in the composition. Through etching, he has created the atmosphere of the net with the help of thin thick lines. Using aquatint powder on thick lines created by DPH, the artist has increased the black density of those parts. The artist has also resorted to much more planning in the use of color. First used yellow, then green and finally black. The white parts of the texture are basically the color of the paper i.e. the part left on the plate. In this way different layers or different layers of depth have been created in the image.
In 1968, he drew a combination of DPH and aquatint medium, ‘Jalossrite brikkhopotro’. The composition of this image is not as complicated as the previous image. There is also this simplicity in the use of color. Only red and black have been used. The white color is actually the left part of the plate i.e. the color of the paper. Water droplets have become more prevalent in this figure. The black color of the thick lines drawn through the DPH is much darker with the powder of the aquatint. A tension has been created in this figure. The artist wants to show the turbulence, pressure or motion created in the water when a leaf falls from a tall tree on the flowing water. The symbolic presence of the sun on the surface of the image is also significant.
This is followed by a long pause in the practice of etching-aquatint medium. He did not do any more work in the whole seventies. After that he composed only two more pictures: One in 1982, the other in 1985. The print titled ‘Bissrito Rupkolpo’ or ‘Forgotten Image’ (1982) is a bit strange. No colors were used. The subject of this picture edited by DPH is the shape of two fish. This is an example of the artist’s experimental work. The artist wants to see and show what kind of appeal is created by taking a print without using any color.
In the latest picture of this genre, Safiuddin Ahmed has resorted to an in-depth study using not only these two mediums, but all the mediums of print. The name of the picture is ‘Jaler Ninad’ (1985). The painting succeeds in the successful use of all the mediums of printmaking and in the integrated expression of the artist’s deeply experienced thoughts throughout his life’s work.
Behind the plan of this painting is also the memory of the artist’s flood. He has seen what happens when raindrops fall on the water during a flood. From then on, the plan to create such an image in his mind was formed. The plan then took a more precise form when he heard the orchestra during a trip to Paris in 1959 and later in the 1970s, especially during a visit to Leningrad. The orchestra uses many musical instruments at the same-time, tries to create many melodies, many instruments are associated with it. The melody sometimes goes down into the abyss once it becomes subtle, and then suddenly rises up to the seventh. Listening to the orchestra, noticing this feature of the orchestra, he started thinking about how to compose an image using all the means of print. This ‘sound of water’ is the result of long-term thinking. It took almost three years to complete the picture. Etching, aquatint, sugar aquatint, mezotint, lift ground, engraving, dph, dry point etc. have been used in this painting.
The figure has a fishing atmosphere. There are nets as an adjunct to it. There are drops of water all over the surface. Again, there is a flow of water all over the surface. The water droplets are high. It would seem to be embossed. In fact, this has been done in the DPH method. Just as a thin line has been created through etching, the application of the net has been enhanced through stop outs. Do it by hand. A hierarchy has been created on the right side of the image due to the design. There is a circle; this pattern has been taken shelter to break it. The figure has a flow its motion from right to left. The artist wanted to show a stream of water as well as shadows. On the left side, a mosquito-like form has emerged. Zinc plating cannot be engraved. That is why the artist has to go ahead with the bully; As a result, such an application has been created. There are many small droplets in the picture. As a result of pressing the stop out with the needle, the stop out has risen and these small spots have been created. The great achievement of this painting is that it has been possible to hold the white color in the image at the same weight and everywhere. Nowhere did it explode or break. The acid has been inserted into the stop out solution with a needle stain to prevent black penetration into the surface.
The work was started by first etching on the zinc plate. Then some work is also done in dry point. And the two are combined. Later, while working through other means, the initial work is covered a lot. White spots are created through DPH. At this time the rest of the plate except the white parts is covered with a stop out. The white parts have to be fed with acid many times very carefully to maintain its homogeneity. The lines of the forms that are like fish or boats have been created through etching. The light green parts in the picture have been created through aquatint. The dabbing method has resorted to the use of slightly brighter colors in the painting. Rocker (mezotint) has been used in places where this method could not be used. Rocker has also been used when working with aquatint and sugar aquatint.
The image has reached the pinnacle of success as it has been edited through in-depth experimentation over such a long process over a wide period of time.
The artist was also interested in experimenting with color in this painting, just as there are many medieval experiments in the painting ‘The Sound of Water’. He wanted to take another impression of the image by painting the white dot-rich areas black. But that was not possible. He fulfills his will in another way. With a chalk on a print of it, he created an image by blackening many areas. This can be called a mixed media image.
Art historian and Art critic Professor Syed Azizul Huq, Chairman, BanglaDepartment, University of Dhaka
Translated by: Noshin Shamma and Priyanka Chowdhury
Edited by: Priyanka Chowdhury