Niece Hena Kapoor told TOI that he passed away suddenly on Monday morning after suffering a massive heart attack. “His last work was an oil painting of Kaifi Azmi. It was a commissioned work. My uncle painted it even on the night before he passed away,” she said, adding how she had grown up watching her uncle work on the Jesus Christ and Mother Teresa canvases for hours on end. “He turned 71 on January 3 this year.”
His admirers also remember his ‘Burqa‘, ‘Victims’ and ‘Prostitute’ series highlighting social issues. ‘Shades of Time’ celebrated 75 years of Indian cinema encompassing the era of Kanan Devi, Madhubala to Konkona Sen Sharma. Then, there was ‘Great Expectations’ that had Amitabh Bachchan.
Son of Padma Shri recipient Salik Lucknawi, Kapoor inherited his creative streak from his father who was a reputed Urdu poet. Although he was born in Lucknow, Kolkata was his home. An accidental fall when he was barely six months old confined Kapoor to a hospital bed for 12 years. Those years in the hospital, where he had only books and crayons for company. His father arranged for him to learn painting while he was hospitalised.
Friends & relatives at Wasim Kapoor’s central Kolkata home.
As a child, Kapoor developed an interest in painting Jesus when he would read Biblical stories. When he started painting, the barbed wire that usually ran across Jesus’ face lent an unconventional touch to his works. Kapoor, who was Muslim by faith, was liberal in his upbringing. When asked about his interest in painting Jesus, he would always point that his strokes weren’t meant to highlight religious perspectives. Jesus, for him, was an embodiment of pain. “His interest in painting Jesus and Mother Teresa spoke volumes about his secular mindset. His signature style evoked a sense of pain and empathy. I also liked his tonal drawing of Jesus with red crayon on paper. There were no thick colors but just a soft tone that was enough to identify it as his work even if his signature was absent,” said veteran sculptor Bimal Kundu, who knew him for 30 years now.
When asked about why he was so drawn towards painting the Mother, Kapoor would say: “Every time I saw her, she left a piece of her goodness in me, something that transcended all known borders of virtue and merged into the sublime.”
Artist Sanatan Dinda was inspired by the “surrealism” in Kapoor’s work. “Though he opted for figurative works, one couldn’t miss out on the multiple layers he explored through his strokes. Sometimes, I noticed they exuded a deep sense of pain and agony. I suspect that could have been a result of own his own personal trauma of battling physical challenges in his life. This is particularly true for all his works of Jesus,” Dinda said. He is particularly fond of Kapoor’s early works. “I distinctly recall a semi-nude lady he had painted long back. Though the lady seemed to hail from an affluent background, her face reflected the trauma of those in the lower strata of society,” he added.
Both Dinda and Kundu point that Kapoor was a very good human being. “I will miss him at all our exhibitions. When the CAA-NRC protests happened at Park Circus, Wasim-da was the one to ask to go there. There was one canvas where all of us painted to express solidarity. Fearless in his views, Wasim-da was forever ready to help,” Kundu said.
Describing Kapoor as a “humanist”, social activist Saira Shah Halim said he was always available to support any good cause. “He was above religious dogma and could criticize hardliners from both sides of the fence. That is how we connected,” she said.
His absence will also be missed even in Kolkata’s social circuit. “Wasimji was very close to our family for decades and was a regular at all our parties. The sight of him walking in wearing a trademark black suit is etched in my memory. Soft spoken and forever smiling, he was a perfect gentleman,” said industrialist Sanjay Budhia.