Born in Siuri, Birbhum, in Bengal in 1937, art was all around Lalu Prasad Shaw. From his home, he could see the Malakars work their magic on the Sholapith craft, one among the traditional handicrafts of Bengal. He would keenly watch them work on sculpted idols of Goddess Durga, the puja adornments as well as the pata art to place in front of the idol. Shaw who soaked in the art on his way home, soon began to explore colours and make paintings on his own. Shaw’s art master in school, Pinakinath Bhattacharya was an early influence and Shaw remembers the trips outdoors to paint. Abanindranath and Gaganendranath's works which ruled the Bengal art scene which used to appear in the monthly Basumati, Prabasi and Modern Review were also copied by Shaw in his adolescence. He was admitted at Indian College of Art & Draftsmanship, Kolkata in 1953 but after a few months he left and joined the Govt. College of Art & Craft, Kolkata in 1954 where he learned under Ajit Gupta, Gopal Ghosh, Rathin Maitra, Anil Bhattacharya and Maniklal Bandopadhyay. Shaw’s later works on tempera has glimpses of the influences of Ajit Gupta, who was Shaw’s favorite at the institute. After graduation, Shaw taught art for 18 years covering painting in watercolour, pastel and clay modelling in various schools of West Bengal. Later, he taught graphic art at his alma mater and eventually moved to Kala Bhavan in Shantiniketan.
Shaw is known to have deftly captured the middleclass life of Bengali men and women, the bhadralok. Mainly working in tempera and gouache, with adept economy of lines, he painted the lives of babus and bibis in portraits that brim with an element of hidden drama. These works reveals Shaw’s fascination with the pre-independence Company School of art, the traditional Kalighat Patachitras, and the Ajanta cave paintings. Shaw has professed his admiration for the artist Jamini Roy and was inspired by Roy’s borrowings from Kalighat paintings. Shaw’s highly stylized paintings reflect his interest in patterns, where each minute detail is called in for its significance, reminding one of the miniature portraits of the past. It is while working at the Kala Bhavan, at the photography studio in Santiniketan, that he had observed closely the Bengali babus who come in dressed in dhotis, and the ladies decked up in their best saris pose with flowers or a mirror. They soon became his muse, and he is best known for his images of babus and bibis, depicted in tempera. The local attires which includes the unique way Bengali’s tie their saris and dhotis, the ubiquitous umbrella in the hands of men on the road, the distinctive hairstyles and adornments, even the plantains in the background, all make Shaw’s depiction of the middle class life, a very intimate portrayal. It is no wonder that Shaw’s early works in this realm, like ‘Asha Lata’ which captures locals during Shantiniketan’s winter fair, are still admired.
A very versatile artist in both the medium he uses and in his experimentation with forms, Shaw’s art explored both abstraction and figuration in similar intensities. At the age of 32, he took an interest in printmaking, mastering the genre of graphic arts very quickly, and made a name for himself as a printmaker in Indian contemporary art. This fascination with printmaking started in 1967, when he joined the 'Society of Contemporary Artists', where Artist Sanat Kar introduced him to graphic prints and Suhas Roy who had returned from Paris, taught Shaw the techniques of etching. He was also influenced by an exhibition of graphic prints from Czechoslovakia which had come to Calcutta. This exhibition inspired him for the strong and bold use of black and white. Starting with geometric forms, Shaw started experimenting with form, tonality, texture and dimensionality in his prints. He worked constantly both in etching and lithography and under the able guidance of Somenath Hore, re-designed the department of printing at Kala Bhavanan. Shaw says his lithography work has calligraphic elements which was a direct result of the ambience in Kala Bhavana and the overall interest in the art of the Far-East at Santiniketan. Etching and lithography, as part of Shaw's journey enriched not only Bengal's, but the entire nation's printmaking scenario. Thus Shaw kept printing and several modes of painting side-by-side, experimenting in both abstraction and figuration firmly believing in the ‘journey’ of discovering ways to depict the image.
Never one to stop experimenting, at age 80, Shaw went back to his muse, the middle-class Bengali, but this time, in the medium of bronze sculptures. Shaw was not new to the medium, and had earlier experimented with scrap metal models in the past and trained students in clay modelling. But he says that his latest foray into sculpture comes from an interest to see how his two-dimensional paintings would look like in a three-dimensional format. With his new sculptural work Shaw chooses to focus on many familiar Kolkata tropes- trams, hand-held rickshaws, fish markets and the middle class people- his personal favorite being ‘Babuana’, the sculpture which depicts a Bengali babu walking with a fish in one hand and resting an umbrella on the other for which he had used a hilsa fish as a mould to add authenticity to the work.
His work has featured in prestigious shows including the second British Biennale in London, 1970, two Norwegian Print Biennales in 1974 and 1978, the seventh Paris Biennale in 1971 and the second Asian Art Biennale in Bangladesh in 1984. His works are also part of the permanent collections like the Birla Academy in Calcutta and the Art Forum in Singapore. His notable achievements include 1959 West Bengal Lalit Kala Academy’s Award for Graphic Art, 1971 National Award in Graphic Art, 1976 Birla Academy Award for Graphic Art, 1978 Award for Graphic Art and Drawing, and 1981 All India Graphic and Drawing Exhibition, Chandigarh among many others.