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Not bound by the ‘economics of art'

- Photo: Shanker Chakravarty

An art lover's delight: Renowned painter and architect Satish Gujral with his wife Kiran in New Delhi .

I refuse to adhere to a certain style or medium of creativity, says Satish Gujral in conversation with Bindu Shajan Perappadan

An evening with painter, sculptor, muralist, architect and writer Satish Gujral, now nearly 85-year-old and often referred to as a living legend who has dominated the art scene in the country in the post-Independent era, can be an art lover's delight. Having seen the growth of the Indian art scene from Partition onwards, Mr. Gujral is among the few artists who have refused to be bound by the “economics of art”. 

“Working as an artist I have refused to adhere to a certain style or medium of creativity. I have worked in all possible mediums be it wood, bronze, fibre glass, ceramic and so on. It gives me great satisfaction as I have never felt encaged as an artist. Sticking to one medium alone can be limiting at times and then artists are often expected to create and work in their signature style and medium. Whenever I have felt that I have reached a plateau with my work with a certain medium, I leave it and take the challenges in heart in another,'' says the artists. “Both emotional and inventional art have merits but art created with an inventive approach cannot be repeated, while the one that is infused by emotions can be repeated over and over and modern art is predominantly inventive. And while inventional art is great for a while artists soon reach a plateau with it and that is the problem today with art that is created to sell,”' said Mr. Gujral.

“People often expect artists to work in their signature style because they want to see what they already know about the artists. This doesn't challenge their imagination but for them it poses a problem when the artist discards his signature style he then loses out on admirers. As such very few artists dare to drop their style and those who so dare it pay heavily for it.''

 “I often look back now and wonder what gave me the courage to change paths and I think I will give credit to my wife Kiran (who is an artist herself) for it because she stood by me through my journey as an artist and the many evolutions that my art has seen. Also once I gathered the courage to change medium and style it became my habit and every few years I then had to look for a new group of admirers who could appreciated my new style and work,'' laughs Mr. Gujral. Sitting in his striking beautiful home in Lajpat Nagar with his wife Kiran, the artist also spoke about his first exhibition. “My family was very closely associated with the freedom struggle and I witnessed Partition first hand. It was the shock, sorrow and pain of partition that influenced my first set of works. After having witnessed the tragedy of Partition when I sat down to paint, pain poured out on the canvass. However, art as a mode of living wasn't doing well during that time. I barely managed to sell anything during my first art exhibition.'' 

“But slowly now as the art market has picked up art and artists are benefiting. But we have also reached a stage where the high cost of art is limiting it to a few people and I find that vulgar. The trend has made art a commodity. The greater the cost of an art work the greater the artists and sadly that is the way the art world functions now. A lot of the contemporary art that you see today is advertising art,'' says Mr. Gujral. But all is not lost assures the artist. “There are many new artists who are making a mark and in time Indian artists will take charge and stop aping the west and the trend is actually very much on. Of course, this doesn't mean that all the new artists are good. Some are very good and some are just a joke,'' says Mr. Gujral. A proud Delhiite, Mr. Gujral much like any other person here is worried about how the city will pull off the Commonwealth Games. “Despite the fact that work has not been completed, I still believe that the city will still pull it off but nothing can be said about the quality of work. Often anything that the government is associated with usually ends up in a mess. I would like the Games to be a success, but we have to be totally blind to be hopeful in this case.  So much money has gone into these Games and what do we have as a result is what is sad about the entire exercise.''

Going back to the art, Mr. Gujral says: “Artists have no choice when the disease called creativity inflicts them, there is no way out. And that is one of the ways I would describe my journey as an artist.'' 

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