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Make it Big : Stories of Trials and Goals

Written by N. Kalyani, the book features fifteen achievers who excelled in their fields despite the odds, says Richa Bansal

Make it Big: Inspirational and Motivational Stories is a book filled with stories that inspire and motivate. These stories show how people faced tough challenges on their way to success and didn’t give up. The book wants you to believe in yourself and your dreams. It’s like a guide that says even when things are tough, keep going. And when it comes to impact, the book also features artists who have used their creative talents to craft their own stories of success. For example, Rupa Samaria is a fine practitioner of the dying art of ornithological paintings, installation creator, conservationist and teacher who has been working on creating awareness about birds of the Aravallis. The stories show that even when life is hard, you can still make a positive change and grow. The book reminds us that pursuing our dreams is a journey worth taking, no matter how hard it gets.

In life everyone needs motivation for achieving their goals. “Make it Big” is a compilation of 15 inspirational stories of achievers written by N. Kalyani, an experienced journalist. The achievers featured in the book have revealed, in their own words, how they have excelled in their fields despite the odds they faced in life. The achievers and influencers covered in the book include Dr Sweta C Saxena, Kuntal Kumar, Dr Manu Gupta, Suresh Kumar, Shehla Hashmi Grewal, Dr Rajani Rao, Ananthoo, Simi Rajan, Lakshmi Menon Bhatia, Dr Deepti Bhalla,

Dr Usha Prasad, Isaac Kehimkar, Dr AJT Johnsingh, Sushant Kalra and Dr Anjali Pathak. They are persons who have excelled in their chosen field because of their hard work and dedication, their passion and perseverance and their life choices.

Their journeys and achievements will inspire and motivate everyone to pursue and persevere and archive their goals one never dreamt of in their life. Everyone has the potential to achieve their life aspirations and goals but because of odds and without inspiration people may not achieve their goals in life. People can get inspiration when they read books like “Make it Big” – Inspirational and Motivational Stories of Achievers and Influencers.

There are fifteen chapters in the book, each chapter is dedicated to one of the fifteen achievers who achieved their passion and life goal. For example, Dr AJT Johnsingh, a wildlife expert has a passion for nature and wildlife, worked as faculty in Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun several years and retired as the Dean, Faculty of Wildlife.

Even after retirement he is doing great service for wildlife conservation and he is a dedicated conservationist. Mr Suresh Kumar is a miniature artist who has also designed several stamps, post marks and postal stationery N Kalyani has meticulously conceptualized and edited a very inspirational and motivational book for persons of all age groups. This is a must-read book for all. The book conceptualised and edited by N Kalyani is a must read. A bouquet of inspirational and motivational stories of fifteen achievers, each chapter is a study on how to chase your goals with grit, determination, diligence, and how to balance both personal and professional life. Each story is narrated in first person and the book captures the determination and perseverance of personalities from various walks of life. There are stories of personalities from the varied arts both performing and visual.

The path of hard work and accomplishment of musicologist and Carnatic music exponent Dr Usha Prasad; the journey of illustrator and designer Suresh Kumar; the challenges that Carnatic vocalist, Hindustani light music singer, and dancer of both the Kathakali and Mohiniattam dance forms, Dr Deepti Omchery Bhalla faced as she sought perfection across genres; the successful pivots of mural artist Simi Rajan; the Partition-impacted life of Shehla Hashmi Grewal, co-founder of the Jana

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Taking Art To Places

Utkarsh Veer, the chief strategist and angel investor in Mazda Art, is the new star on the art horizon. Mazda Art, founded by husband-wife duo Vispi and Dilnawaz Tarapore is a Hyderabad based company.With his astute mind and artistic instinct, Utkarsh has played a crucial role in Mazda Art’s success. He is an innovator, advisor and mentor with expertise in the art and animation space. He is the founder and managing director of Rocksalt Interactive Games, one of the leading studios for game art. Team Art Soul Life delves into a comprehensive discussion with Utkarsh Veer for a peek into his art journey.

I am an artist myself, so art has been with me since the very beginning.

Q1. How and when did you become interested in art?

There is hardly any scope of a ‘how’ or ‘when’. It came naturally to me. I am an artist myself, so art has been with me since the very beginning. In fact, I quit my graduation in science in the second year and joined Lucknow College of Arts. I did my BFA from Lucknow University in commercial arts.

Q2. Mr Veer, you yourself are a BFA from University of Lucknow; what are your views on the current BFA programmes in India? How relevant and up to speed are they in this new age of AI? Could a fine arts greenhorn be able to survive just as-is, if not, what should their adaptation strategy be?

The programmes offer multiple ways to gain understanding of the art industry. But art is such that only real experiences can create an artistic mindset. Institutes need to push and motivate their students to explore the real art world and not just suffocate them with courses after a point. To answer the second 24 part, no matter what, the value of fine arts will not go down. AI can, maybe, make a particular kind of task fast, but not anything individualistic. And art is all about imagination and creativity which is all very personalised.

Digital platforms are offering ways for artists to showcase their work to the world

Q3. The relationship between art and commerce has been a popular and a contentious topic. While some argue that art should be created purely for its own sake, others believe that art must be commercially viable to be successful. It’s generally agreed that the disconnect between “real” art and “commercially viable” art is quite complex with no absolutes – right or wrong. It isn’t by any stretch, a fun campfire question to keep the conversation hot and burning. Isn’t there a growing recognition of the disconnect between art and audiences? Where does pretentious art fit in? How are art pieces valued – pretentious or otherwise?

No offence, but if the artist is struggling despite being a good artist because of how things are, then commercialart is a way to get the necessary means. I don’t think that there is disconnect between art and audiences. But art often explores intricate themes, stoking deep emotions and intellectual engagement. However, these elements may sometimes alienate broader audiences seeking more accessible or relatable content. Furthermore, the contemporary art world’s elitist reputation and the proliferation of avant-garde, abstract, or conceptual pieces sometimes deters the average person from engaging with art.

Art pieces made by pretentious artists would be pretentious, If the artist is true to his muse, then why will his art be otherwise. Art piece valuation is a complex process, influenced by factors like artist reputation, provenance, condition, rarity, and market demand. Appraisers, collectors, and auction results help determine an artwork’s worth.

Q4. Some artists believe that commercial success is not the ultimate goal of their work and that art should be created for its own sake – only and exclusively for its own sake alone. Others argue that artists must be ableto make a living from their work and that commercial success is necessary for them to survive and thrive. Balancing pure art and commercially viable art can be challenging. How do you see this evolving of the recent?

What is ‘pure art’? For me, it is something that is original, requires effort and comes from the innermost interact of the artist. And if this is done with a commercially viable intent, making the two ideas blend well, then it’s a win-win. Evolution will continue to happen, it’s upon us, as artists and art lovers, to understand art from where it comes rather than putting a tag of pure or commercial to it. Moreover, Balancing pure art’s creative expression with commercially viable art’s market appeal is a delicate tightrope for artists. Striking the right mix between artistic integrity and financial success often defines their journey in the creative industry.

Q5. The distinction between fine art and commercial art is often used to illustrate the great art divide. Fine art is created solely for aesthetic and intellectual purposes, while commercial art is created for commercial purposes, primarily advertising. However, this distinction has become blurred in recent years, with many artists using commercial techniques to create works of fine art. Do you have any advice as to how to go with the flow?

See, this will bring me back to the point of originality and effort. If the artist understands that and then uses commercial techniques or methods then I don’t really see much harm but if the artist has poor understanding of art itself then of course it will never work. If you are an artist or an art lover, then the priority should be art. The other angles automatically follow. If art comes later in the process, then it would never work in the long run.

Q6. As the Chief Strategist for Mazda Art, where does AI fit in your overall strategy?

Nowhere. AI in art strategy often lacks the nuanced human creativity and context required for meaningful artistic decisions. While it can assist, it’s not always fruitful in capturing the depth and subtlety of artistic expression.

Art is something that stimulates an individual’s thoughts, emotions, beliefs

Q7. Many artists worry that AI-generated art would replace human creativity and lead to a loss of artistic expression, others argue that AI can be a valuable tool, helping artists to explore new ideas and push the creative envelope. What’s your take on it?

AI is artificial, we have created it. We can’t get scared of our own invention. As I said, if you have a unique voice and originality, no AI will ever get in the way.

After all, AI-generated art can replicate patterns and styles, but it lacks the depth of human emotion, intuition, and conceptual originality. It complements, but can’t replace the unique and irreplaceable human creative spirit.

Q8. Does Mazda Art have a mission statement for promoting Indian art globally?

We will be promoting artists as much as we can at a global level. Promoting Indian art globally involves showcasing its rich diversity through exhibitions, collaborations with international artists, online platforms, and cultural exchanges. Embracing traditional and contemporary forms, India can share its artistic heritage with the world.

Our home is India, so Indian artists will obviously be at the center stage. Our aim will be to provide them with a platform and a global stage and earn the much-deserved name and fame.

Q9. Artists have found new ways to create and share their work in order to overcome the challenges posed by the recent pandemic. Many have turned to digital platforms to showcase their art and connect with audiences around the world. Is this something that you view as a stop-gap or do you envisage this as the new norm? Isn’t this sad?

I don’t think that there is anything wrong with digital art or adapting to the times. Art cannot be kept in a limited space and expected to stay in that. It will change, it will transform. And digital platforms are offering ways for artists to showcase their work to the world, so why not? Museums and galleries also offer virtual exhibitions. If the artist stays real towards their work, has original ideas and can take different points of view, then this is a platform that can actually turn out to be quite helpful for them.

Q10. Art is a turn-on, please comment.

In my opinion Art is something that stimulates an individual’s thoughts, emotions, beliefs, or ideas though the senses. Art ignites passion, stirring emotions which are usually deep-seated . The interplay of colours, shapes and stories is a symphony that awakens the soul. In its beauty, we find desire, a captivating, timeless allure.

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Anne Neilson Fine Art: A Sanctuary for Art Enthusiasts

Anne Neilson Fine Art is a renowned art gallery that has captured the hearts of art enthusiasts around the world. Located in the heart of Charlotte, North Carolina, this gallery has become a sanctuary for both emerging and established artists, offering a unique platform to showcase their talent. With a diverse collection of contemporary and traditional art, Anne Neilson Fine Art has established itself as a beacon of artistic expression, attracting patrons and collectors alike.

A Visionary Beginning

Founded by Anne Neilson, an accomplished artist herself, the gallery’s inception in 2012 was driven by her passion for the arts and her desire to create a space where artists could flourish. Anne envisioned a place that would not only connect artists with collectors but also foster a sense of community and support within the art world. She aimed to make art more accessible to a wider audience and to instil a love for art in the hearts of many.

A Diverse Collection

Anne Neilson Fine Art boasts an impressive and diverse collection that spans various genres, styles, and mediums. From abstract masterpieces that challenge the boundaries of perception to realistic portrayals that evoke deep emotions, the gallery celebrates the rich tapestry of artistic expression. Their curation reflects a keen eye for exceptional talent, as they carefully select artists who imbue their works with passion, originality, and storytelling.

Supporting Emerging Artists

One of the gallery’s hallmarks is its commitment to supporting emerging artists. Anne Neilson Fine Art serves as a nurturing platform for those seeking to establish themselves in the art world. By providing exposure and mentorship, the gallery empowers these young artists to find their voices and refine their craft. This support often leads to career-changing opportunities, as they gain recognition from both seasoned collectors and art critics.

A Haven for Established Artists

Beyond its support for emerging talents, Anne Neilson Fine Art also represents a host of esteemed and established artists. These artists are celebrated for their contributions to the art world and continue to inspire generations with their creations. The gallery serves as a conduit for these artists to connect with a global audience, ensuring that their artistic legacies endure.

Engaging the Community

Anne Neilson Fine Art is more than just a space to admire and purchase art; it is a lively hub of artistic engagement. The gallery hosts regular exhibitions, artist talks, and workshops, fostering a vibrant community of art enthusiasts. Through these events, visitors have the opportunity to engage directly with artists, gain insights into their creative processes, and deepen their understanding of art.

A Charitable Spirit

Beyond their commercial endeavours, the gallery is dedicated to giving back to society. Anne Neilson Fine Art actively supports various charitable causes and hosts fundraisers for organizations close to their heart. They believe in the transformative power of art, not just in enriching lives but also in making a positive impact on communities in need.

Anne Neilson Fine Art stands as a testament to the power of art in bringing people together and inspiring positive change. With its unwavering commitment to artists, collectors, and the community, the gallery has become a cherished destination for all those who seek solace and joy in the world of art. Through their visionary curation and philanthropic endeavours, Anne Neilson Fine Art continues to leave an indelible mark on the art world, paving the way for a brighter, more inclusive artistic future.

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Nostalgia In Pop Art

Amrit Pal Singh pays tribute to art legends who have inspired his artistic sensibilities and explores the future of digital art, says Neha Kirpal

The Toy Face Tour’ by visual artist, 3D illustrator and art director Amrit Pal Singh showcases a physical toy room made to human collection of 7 new Toy Faces, and a presentation of the artist’s previous Toy Faces. Singh’s lovable toy faces are a celebration of a whimsical childhood that transcends age and persists through adulthood. This exhibition includes seven new Toy Faces featuring absolute art legends like M.F. Husain, Dali, Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama and more. And also brings a virtual world to reality by enabling visitors to enter a digital toy room for the first time ever. Presented by Method & Hefty. Art, the exhibition, which recently concluded at Stir, DLF Chattarpur Farms, Delhi, will head next to Method Kala Ghoda, Mumbai from June 8 to June 25 and Church Street Social, Bengaluru from July 7 to July 23.

In this exclusive interview, Amrit Pal Singh talks to us among other things about infusing 1990s nostalgia into the exhibition, paying tribute to art legends who have inspired his artistic sensibilities over the years, and the future of digital art.

Tell us about the idea behind your first solo exhibition, a physical 3D toy room made to human collection.

It’s probably every artist’s dream to have a solo exhibition, so it was mine too. I’ve accomplished a lot so far, and shown my work in many groups shows in galleries across continents. But that one thing I hadn’t done was a solo exhibition. Sahil Arora from Method Kala Ghoda and I started speaking about this more than a year ago, and how to make it possible. He asked me what my ideal solo show would be, and I told him to make a physical 3D Toy Room. We decided to go for it.

In addition to the physical room, I made seven new Toy Faces, those of iconic artists throughout history, all of which are also a part of the Toy Room. Since these seven would push me over the 100th NFT mark, we thought we would further commemorate the occasion by displaying some of my favourites from the Toy Face collection.

We decided if we were going to do something on that scale, then why limit it to just showing it in Mumbai (where Method is located)? Instead, we found a way to bring it to three cities: Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. Hefty. art joined us in this endeavour, and things went from there.

The exhibition allows visitors to enter a digital toy room for the first time ever. Tell us more about putting this together, and how it is different.

Well, for starters it is the first time I have ever made furniture! That in itself is a big change. I am a 3D artist and I specialise in graphics and brandings, so the whole aspect of production to build something physical was different. It takes time, renditions and experimentation. Getting it right still relies heavily on the digital mock up, but there are offline aspects that you can’t take into consideration until it happens. I learned about fabric and materials. There was a whole new type of problem solving involved. But this was something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and finally making a digital Toy Room come to life offline has been magical.

There’s also a new aspect of joy as I see people interact with the furniture and objects within the physical room in a way they can’t in a digital room. All of the furniture and objects are for sale, and I do hope that people take this joy home with them to experience on a daily basis.

Tell us about the 7 new toy faces as well as the previous toy faces in the collection, covering inspiring persons from the fields of music, technology and 1990s web culture.

In order to tell you about the seven new ones, I should tell you about the first, which was Frida Kahlo. That’s where it all started, with one iconic artist who changed the world. From there, I delved into various people or characters, some of them real—like Daft Punk—and others my own imagination—like Candy Toy Face. I basically made Toy Faces of people or movements that resonated with me.

But for the 7 new Toy Faces, I wanted to return to where I started—with the artists. I wanted to pay homage to these individuals who were not just integral to the art world, but to society as a whole. These were revolutionaries each in their own way, and they pushed things in a new direction.

The toy faces include art legends like M.F. Husain, Dali, Andy Warhol, Amrita Sher-Gil, Salvador Dali and more. How have they, and others, inspired your artistic sensibilities and journey over the years?

So much. I think most of all, their courage. I think people underestimate the courage it takes to pursue something so out of the box as art. I mean, we all know that a lot of artists don’t even see success in their own lifetimes. But they kept pushing and making and creating. They experimented. It’s not even necessarily just about the art that they made, but their essence and what they infused into society. We owe a lot to artists because they undeniably make the world a more interesting place.

How have you infused nostalgia from your personal life, particularly in the 1990s, in this exhibition?

My whole thought process behind the Toy Room was to make my own dream Art Collector’s Room. For me, that doesn’t mean a stuffy, high-brow place. It means something young, vibrant and full of colour. Something magical, whimsical and that ushers in a special kind of feeling. I’m a 1990s kid, so for me, that whole feeling of youthfulness and nostalgia are rooted in that – bright colours, a globe of possibility. The same thing goes for the Toy Faces. I made them for the simple reason that I like toys, and I most actively played with toys in the 1990s, so that shape and style was my point of reference.

For the exhibition, you officially collaborated with the MF Husain Estate. Tell our readers more about this.

This was a wonderful opportunity and I am so excited to have seen it come to fruition. When I started working with Method to make the Toy Face Tour a reality, we knew that an official collaboration was something that would make the whole experience that much more special. Thanks to Hefty.art, we were able to work with the Estate to make that happen. Having an official collaboration with the estate of the country’s most established artist of all time brings added value of course, and it is something that I will never forget. Knowing that they have participated in my portrait of Husain – wow! And for me, it was really quite personal because I actually remember when M. F. Husain came to my school and talked to us about art. That experience had such a profound impact on my life, even if I didn’t fully realize it at the time.

You recently dropped your 100th NFT. Tell us more about this.

It’s been a ride! I mean, I started dropping NFTs at the beginning, and never did I ever think I would be here. I have been very fortunate to have found the right community in the NFT world, and to build a series that resonates with so many people across the globe. My collectors are my friends and mentors, and that’s something very special to me.

I will say, I didn’t make the Toy Faces because I wanted to make an NFT, per se. I wasn’t looking for a “hook”. I made them for what they are—cute toys that conjure up nostalgia and happiness in pretty much anyone. In that passion of making something that was quintessential to who I am and the world I want to live in, I was able to also find success.

What has been the response you have received to the exhibition so far?

Amazing! On the opening night, hundreds of people came to Stir. We did some great collaborations with Boxout.fm who put together a wonderful line up of music, and that night was just a fantastic way to kick off this entire tour. The response has been so great, we actually extended the Delhi leg of thetour by a week.

For me, it’s been really special to see people interact with the Toy Faces and the Toy Room. Everyone finds their favourite Toy Face. For some, it’s Medusa and others it’s David Bowie. There is literally something for everyone. This is also the first time I’ve made limited edition prints of the Toy Faces available, so people are able to take home the ones they love. I’ve minted seven new NFTs, three of which sold on the first day. The M. F. Husain sale even hit some of the biggest international NFT news. I feel proud and humble to bring that kind of spotlight to India.

What do you feel about art of the future, with new mediums such as digital art and NFTs?

This is really a big question, but the answer is quite simple: it’s limitless. Technology is bringing so much into the picture, and I don’t think the majority of us can really even begin to fathom what the future holds in store. Things are changing at a rapid pace, and the best advice I have for artists is to embrace it. There are new mediums popping up every day and AI is improving every minute. We have so much opportunity—we just have to figure out how to harness it to make the art—and art world—that we want.

What are you working on next?

Right now, I’m focusing on the tour. We will be at Method in Mumbai in June, and then in Bengaluru in July. If this goes well, there is scope to take the tour to even more cities within India, or perhaps abroad. Aside from that, I have a commercial art practice where I’ve been able to collaborate with many brands on very interesting projects. I am always looking for new things to work on that inspire me.

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The Reticent Master

He may not have been an auction darling, but for the self-effacing Ram Kumar – one of India’s foremost abstract painters – it’s more about the presentation of his art than the projection of his artistic personality, says Anindya Kanti Biswas

The living legend continues to experiment, create and mesmerize viewers with his masterly strokes. It’s a revelation, however, when the shy and self-effacing Ram Kumar, 91, confesses that more than his passion, it was money that was a major factor in his decision to take to painting. In a candid confession, the master who is rightfully regarded as one of India’s foremost abstract painters, reveals how he quit his bank job to paint because “you could sell two works for Rs 300 and manage the whole month.” As a child, the artist who began painting rather late in life, says he was least interested in art. “I belonged to a large middle-class family and my father was a government employee in Shimla. There was no emphasis on creative pursuits, but somehow my younger brother Nirmal and I got into writing. For us, it was also a way of earning some money,” he admits. In fact, he studied Economics at the Masters Level at Delhi’s St. Stephen’s College because it would help him get a bank job. “Given a choice, I would have taken literature in my graduation, but because Economics would have fetched me a job in a bank, I opted for it on my father’s insistence,” he says. “I got a job in Shimla Bank, too, but my interest was elsewhere. I left it within a year and came to Delhi to join a Hindi newspaper as a trainee for Rs 50. I would have got a job after six months of internship. But I didn’t take up the job; instead, I enrolled myself for MA and managed my expenses by doing some translations from Hindi to English and sending articles and stories for magazines and newspapers.” As chance would have it, while studying economics he came across a poster for an art exhibition.

He recalls, “It was in 1945. I was very excited and enrolled for classes at Sarada Ukil School of Art in Delhi, where Sailoz Mukherjee used to teach. Initially, I just went for the evening classes when Western art was taught. Later, I started going in the mornings for lessons on Indian art.” In 1948, he gave up his bank job to pursue art and participated in a group exhibition in Delhi. This is the year when S. H. Raza first saw his work, especially ‘Kashmir Landscapes’ at the All India Fine Arts and Crafts Society (AIFACS). Ram Kumar was also impressed with Raza’s work and invited him home. Raza spent a night in Ram Kumar’s house and did a large portrait of Ram Kumar in gouache. Later, both went to Mumbai and Ram Kumar stayed for a month there. The artist found an art atmosphere in Mumbai and got inspired by reading Marg and Illustrated Weekly because of regular coverage of art scene in these magazines. Once back in Delhi, he met with the grand old man of the Indian art scene, B. C. Sanyal, who formed ‘Delhi Shilpi Chakra’ before forming the ‘Progressive Art Group’ and became one of its founding members. Apart from Sanyal, Sailoz Mookherjea and Ram Kumar, the other members of the ‘Delhi Shilpi Chakra’ group were Satish Gujral, Dhanraj Bhagat, P. N. Mago, Amarnath Seahgal, Harkishen Lal, Rajesh Mehra and many more. In 1949, Ram Kumar held his first solo show at YMCA in Simla and sold his first paintings to Dr Zakir Husain, the then Vice-Chancellor of Jamia Milia Islamia University, who bought four paintings. This exhibition travelled to Delhi’s Town Hall and it was here that Ram Kumar met Claude Journot, cultural counsellor at the French Embassy, who invited him to visit France. Ram Kumar left for Paris by sea from Pondicherry. On his way, he visited the National Museum in Cairo and it was on the ship itself that he started learning French. After reaching the French capital, he studied painting under Andre Lhote, a well-known sculptor, painter and a renowned theoretician of art, and Fernand Leger. Lhote’s teaching method entailed sequential drawing of straight lines and curves and alternate use of warm and cool colours which inspired Ram Kumar a lot. “I visited several exhibitions and museums, saw all the art that I’d only read about. In one of the gatherings, I remember a (Henri) Matisse being sold for Rs 200. One can’t even dream of that now,” he reminisces. “When Raza came there, I went to receive him at the station. We used to meet often, go for exhibitions and visit galleries.

I even became a member of the French Communist Party, but that was short-lived.” He mingled with such notable radicals as Louis Aragon and Roger Garaudy and Paul Ellard. He spent that decade – the first decade of India’s independence – perfecting an elegiac figuration imbued with the spirit of tragic modernism. Infused with an ideological fervour, he drew equally upon exemplars like Gustave Courbet, Georges Rouault, Kathe Konitz and Edward Hopper, dedicating himself to the creation of an iconography of depression and victimhood. He wished to design an idiom that would portray, at a pitch of stylised intensity, the misery of the common people under the bourgeois capitalist order. Fifties onwards, Ram Kumar’s imagery underwent a process of synthesis, refinement and rarefaction. Unlike some of his contemporaries who trained in art abroad and decided to live a greater part of their lives outside India, Ram Kumar combined an internationalist desire with the need to belong emphatically to his homeland. Ask him about settling abroad like Souza and Raza, and he says, “No, I always wanted to come back home.” And how challenging was it to survive in Paris during the early fifties? Was it a completely different world, considering a lot was happening in art, unlike in India, where modern art was still finding its feet? “It was enlightening to be there. To begin with, I went by a boat with a one-way ticket sponsored by my father. I had no funds for a ticket back,” the artist reveals. In Paris, too, he met a French lady who was extremely welcoming of Indian tenants. “I was freelancing for an Indian newspaper from France and started writing when I was still in transit,” he says. As a young artist, Ram Kumar was captivated by, or rather obsessed with, the human face because of the ease and intensity with which it registers the drama of life. The sad, desperate, lonely, hopeless or lost faces, which fill the canvases of his early period, render with pathos his view of the human condition. His paintings of the late 1950s are then a reaction to the events he witnessed upon his return from Paris. He was acutely aware of his urban surroundings and the pervading sense of disillusionment and alienation he sensed in those around him in India. Writing about his Street Urchins in 1993, the artist said, “The reason I made these sorts of paintings, was that I was a bit inspired by the left politics at that time, there was an inclination towards the tragic side of life … it started here, becoming more mature in Paris. And even if I had not been inspired by politics, perhaps I would have made the same kind of paintings, because that is a part of my nature some sort of sadness, misery or whatever it is.” His early figurative works were a commentary of the socio-political conditions that the artist was surrounded by.” The figurative work on canvas shows the artist at a creative crossroads between abstraction and figuration. Within a few years he would remove all recognizable figuration and narrative from his paintings. The poignantly presented dramatis personae of the figural works of 1950-54, who grew starker and more angular during 1954-58, totally disappeared during the people-less, but picturesque Sanjoli (Simla Hills) and early Banaras periods when Ram Kumar painted landscapes (1958-61). He first visited Varanasi in 1960 where he sketched the Ganga ghats but without any people. Reminiscing about the initial experience of Varanasi, the artist says, “Banaras is important for me both as an artist and as a human being. The first paintings came at a point when I wanted to develop elements in figurative painting and go beyond it and my first visit to the city invoked an emotional reaction as it had peculiar associations. But such romantic ideas were dispelled when I came face to face with reality. There was so much pain and sorrow of humanity. As an artist it became a challenge to portray this agony and suffering, its intensity required the use of symbolic motifs, so my Benares is of a representative sort.” He was one of the first amongst his contemporaries to give up the figurative in favour of the abstract. But for him “things did not change overnight.

There were no major breaks where I said I won’t do it in this or that manner any more. It was more of a gradual evolution,” he clarifies. His technique too changed. His perspective of looking at things, people, places and the past; put together, his attitude to the continuum of time which was recorded in the psyche and the scene in terms of ‘action’ also changed. Between 1960 and 1964, Ram Kumar used architecture, houses, lanes, shadows and reflections for his imagery. In short, whatever man constructed, he used it as the basis for an abstract formulation. Manmade landmarks formed the architectonic of one aspect of the Banaras period (1961-65). By the late 1960s, Ramkumar decided to draw his images from both kinds of backdrop – of the late figural period, and of the early people-less landscapes. He took the abstract forms of the former period, and the textural impressions of the latter. He compressed the separate messages and imagery and made them become one significant, meaningful unit. This compressed expression, which carries in it the abstract predicament of man and the human and tactile feel of the living landscape, characterizes the style of his later paintings, and; in fact, forms its very substance. Ram Kumar’s work has certain interlocked aspects, expressionist-abstract aspects, which came to be freed, and completely sorted out only in the serene and superb paintings of the phase beginning 1970. After that all became history. Eminent art critic Richard Bartholomew has written in his article entitled ‘The Abstract as a Pictorial Proposition’ about Ram Kumar’s work: “In considering Ram Kumar’s work there are some passages from Wordsworth’s Prelude which apply. I shall cite two short specimens: “I was left alone Seeking the visible world, not knowing why. The props of my affections were removed, And yet the building stood, as if sustained By its own spirit.” This passage applies to the transitional period, when figuration and representational qualities gave way for a more quintessential expression –Sanjoli, early Banaras, middle Banaras periods.” Ram Kumar’s landscapes have been depicted either from the bird’s-eye view or from a worm view point perspective. His paintings should be stated as ‘mindscape’ because those works are not done on the spot rather all the works are from the artists’ memory. Ask him why doesn’t his work find no space for Indian essence/influence, and he states: “My works are neither the landscapes of any place, nor Europe, America or India.” Among the first generation of post-colonial Indian artists, including such luminaries as Souza, Husain, Paritosh Sen, Jehangir Sabavala, Krishen Khanna, Raza and Akbar Padamsee, Ram Kumar remains something of an anomaly on this list. Though a towering figure of post-Independence Indian art, who is highly sought-after by some of the most prominent collectors, you wouldn’t necessarily know it from his auction record. Just like the artist himself, who prefers listening to people than indulging in oratory and publicity gimmicks, his figures too appear all alone even in a group. Clearly for him, it’s more about the presentation of his art than the projection of his artistic personality.

How do you define the art scenario during the Delhi Shilpi Chakra’s days under the eminent fraternity like B. C. Sanyal, P. N. Mago, Dhanraj Bhagat and Dinkar Koushik?

Yes, that was the place where not only the visual artists, but also performing artists and literature fellows met. Apart from the artists you mentioned, there were many more like Jaya Appasamy, Harkishenlal, Rajesh Mehra and others.

In your university years, you had joined evening classes with Sailoz Mookherjea at Sarada Ukil Art School? How were they different from your classes in Paris?

When I was a student of Sailoz Mookherjea, I was just a beginner and learning the ABC of art. I was doing MA in Economics from Delhi University. That was my first introduction to art. Of course, I remember many profound talks with Sailoz Mookherjea. He was a very strict teacher. We were taught the basic elements of drawing. In Paris, though it was entirely different but the impact was undoubtedly remarkable.

Did Sailoz Mookherjea try to impart some kind of an Indian tradition also?

That issue was not there. In fact, he was giving us live classes, which is rather a western concept. We were supposed to draw still lives and models and get a basic understanding of drawing. When I think of Sailoz now, I feel that he was a real artist, in the true sense of the word, who was unfortunately not given due recognition which he deserved.

Even before you went to Paris, you were drawing figurative. Did you notice any changes after you came back?

Naturally. They were more mature and aesthetically more competent. After my Paris stay, I got more confident of my compositions and other pictorial elements.

In all your figurative paintings of the period, the protagonists look out of the canvas. They are never seen looking at each other and they never have their back on the viewer. The feeling is as if all relationships are missing on that side of canvas, and whatever relationship may be possible are only when the viewer returns their gaze, making up for the missing link….

That may have been incidental. I don’t think there was any mystery in showing their faces and not their backs.

Did you feel they were as alienated as they came to be interpreted later?

I haven’t analysed myself for what I was doing and why. Perhaps my own problems and all that got reflected in those faces. I don’t know. The important point is one’s own attitude which is determined by so many factors – known and unknown.

In your earlier short stories of that period, two themes run rather predominantly – financial insecurity and the desire to go away somewhere, as if all the unhappiness is because one is stuck in a place. Did going away mean something different, something better to you, too?

My short stories are basically confined to my own personal experiences in a lower middle-class home. Ours was a big family, and there was no dearth of problems and interesting situations. I could never be so bold as to run away from all that. It just happened that when I wanted to go to Paris, my father agreed to pay for my one-way passage by boat and I took the plunge. That was a big adventure of my life.

How did your father take to your leaving a secure bank job and taking up painting as a whole time vocation?

He gave in because I persisted. Since financial constrains were not so acute, perhaps he thought, I might as well go to Paris and seek my experiences. Also may be, it was something new to him.

Did it matter that in your formative years, you made friends with persons like Raza and Richard Bartholomew? Did they help bring out in your personality something which you were not aware of?

Before leaving for Paris, I had become friends with Raza. In fact, I had gone to Bombay and spent a month with him. He was very encouraging to younger people who did not have any background in art. At that time, this itself was a great comfort to get from people who were better known and had a deeper involvement in art. In Paris, however, we did not meet as frequently. Raza was more involved with the French art scene. I had found my company with the French leftist writers, painters, and comrades like all the revolutionary young people. But we used to meet together at some Indian friends’ places, like Baldoon Dhingra and Anil de Silva, who were living in Paris at that time. I had also taken a course in French language so I could get around more easily in that society. My friendship with Richard Bartholomew started in Ranikhet in 1952, when we were sharing a cottage. It lasted for almost 30 years, i.e., till his immature death.

Did you bring back any works from Paris?

No, I didn’t do much painting in Paris. Mostly, I was doing drawing in the school. In Paris, I tried to improve my drawing rather than to work oils, which I could always do back in India. I had already exhibited my oils here before going to Paris.

Did you feel pressured that because of your training in Paris, you had to emulate some of the latest trends there?

No, there were no trends like what emerged later on. At that time there were some up and coming painters. Of course, the masters were still around. Picasso, Matisse, Chagall, Leger – they were all very active. Their shows were frequently organised in museums, in galleries.

Before you started the Banaras series, was there an interim period when you were leaving behind the figurative?

That was in 1958. It was during my six-month stint in Paris when I had rented an apartment to work there. It is a pity that I don’t have any records of that period now. I was slowly coming to a phase where figures were becoming more and more obscure. Those works were not like a Sad Town or Vagabond. Of course, one could still see a figure, but it was not quite the same thing. The landscape and figures were merging into each other in the forms. Also, once Husain and I got this idea of sketching on the spot and we went to Banaras. It was a unique experience. We would part in the morning and go in different directions and meet only in the evening and show our sketches and drawings of the day to each other.

What surprises you in life? In literature, in art…

The age of getting thrilled is over perhaps. One is confronted with one’s own self. There is a struggle for peaceful existence. In painting, sometimes one is looking for the accidental. For instance, if one is not happy with the results of a particular colour, one can always put another colour on top of it. There are immense possibilities to get at the desired tones and textures on a canvas, while in writing, once a basic text has been written, the options are very limited, no miracles happen at a larger stage.

How often does the accidental happen in your work?

Not very often. By temperament, I am not a very adventurous person. I won’t take a colour all of a sudden, say red against red; trying to see its effect. Whenever I have done that, I have failed miserably. That is why you don’t see many drastic breaks in my work. There are not many moments when I have confronted a completely different thing.

Why don’t we have a revolution in abstraction in India?

For me, very importantly, abstraction is like the Zen practice of the Chinese artist and this is a process to discover the original element akin to the soul’s nonintention rather than mind’s intention for realising the being. We are not here to becoming something, but we have already come prepared with what we actually are.

Touching 92, you are still regularly working. What is the inspiration behind this spirit and how do you feel?

Due to old age, my fingers tremble. But when I hold the brush, that shaking stops magically. I don’t know the reason behind it. I think there’s some spiritual power that enables me to continue my practice. I want to continue working as long as I can

What is your opinion about contemporary Indian artist or the future generation?

To express my view in this regard, I would say that the present generation of artists should focus more on free hand drawings, which I think is the foundation for being a perfect art practitioner. An artist has to be sound in both learning and practicing. Then only one can deliver the finesse of an artwork.

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Quest for the Sublime

Niren Sengupta’s canvas can add colour to the dullest room. A man of sublimity in art, he invokes motifs from animal world, birds, contemporary life and spiritual existence. Team ART SOUL LIFE in a free-wheeling interview with the artist

Tall, lean frame with joyful eyes, sums up the artist Niren Sengupta’s warm persona. An aura which binds you instantly. An accomplished artist, a devoted teacher, a firm believer and an eternal optimist, Niren Sengupta is everything a teacher aims to be. Hailing from a rich business class family of Bengal, which was into jute trading, Sengupta never went through the pangs of poverty many top echelon artists flaunt as the path to success in the world of art.

“We were six brothers and except for one, all of us were into art. In fact, we had a great time reviewing each other’s work,” recalls Sengupta. Art may not be in the rich business class family but surely it was in the genes. Niren’s brother Rabin Sengupta is another well-recognised artist. “Yes, my mother was very artistic in her own way. She would make very beautiful alpana during festivals.

Today I feel sad that in those days we didn’t have any camera like today to click the photos of the beautiful alpana. Actually, my mother was my inspiration to be an artist,” he reminisces.

Basically, a science student, Niren Sengupta later landed in Calcutta Art College. “In those days, every father aimed to make their children doctor or engineer. I had to complete my graduation in science but my drawing was so beautiful the teachers kept my practical file in the college,” laughs Sengupta. “Later I got admission in Art College. Surprisingly, they did not teach water colour in the course. Most of the things I learnt on my own. In fact, this aspect helped me improve the syllabus of Delhi Art College,” the teacher recalls.

Before coming to Delhi Art College, Sengupta taught in BTS College. “I would hire a boat and lie in the boat enjoying the sky. I would just drift in the river,” but this is not what he was to enjoy for long. “One day the principal of the college came to me with a paper. He said there is a vacancy for the Principal of Delhi Art College. On his insistence I came and I got the job,” he says, as if thanking someone up there. “You know, I have faith in God and my ancestors and I believe in myself.”

A deeply spiritual person, the artist never let it reflect blatantly in his works. “I follow the Rama Krishna Mission and often visit the Belur Math in Kolkata. Swami Vivekanand has left an indelible mark on my life. In fact, the head of Ram Krishna Mission in Delhi would often invite me. These things helped me paint well but there is no conventional depiction.” His works are expressions of inner reflections laced with beauty and serenity. He immerses himself in the spiritual and aesthetic sphere at the same time seeking creativity in communion. “There is no definition of art. Several people experience the inspiration from within but very few have the skill to express themselves,” the teacher reflects. “Art, music, writing all are inter-related. The same recital by the same musician is different on different days. In the same fashion, I can never rate my work as good or excellent. It is a kind of expression which is never 100 per cent complete,” he adds. “Sometimes, I criticize my own work,” Sengupta grins.

Niren Sengupta’s canvas can add colour to the dullest room. “I love to use bright colours. Earlier, I worked a lot in black and white. But after I visited the tribal areas, I fell for the bright colours. I feel if bright colours pep up my mood, it can work for everyone.” A man of sublimity in art, he invokes motifs from animal world, birds, contemporary life and spiritual existence. He is able to convey the emotional outcry through strong colours and soft hues. There are small strokes, precise lines and volume, all in the same canvas. Niren’s compositions play with and balance contrasting colours from the realm of warm and the cold colours to present a harmony of possible hope.

Even if Niren cannot be slotted as a painter of abstracts, a feature that separates his paintings from many of the abstract painters is the latter connect with nature. He does not paint landscapes. The underlying unity is emotion in them all. They all are spiritual. His movement in the direction of spiritualism is very clearly indicated in of his paintings.

During his tenure as the Principal of Delhi Art College, Niren Sengupta must have come across several talented artists but he mentions three names which are especially close to his heart. “I see great talent in Neeraj Goswami, Shampa Das and Satyen Ghosal,” he mentions them with a twinkle in his eyes. Not to forget some of his contemporaries Shobha Bruta, Jai Zharotia and Kalicharan Gupta, both of whom were his students.

Niren Sen Gupta has been teaching for more than three decades at graduate and post graduate levels in reputed art institutions. He is a member of Calcutta painters and executive member of Academy of Visual Media, New Delhi. Decorated with many highly esteemed awards like AIFACS Award and NBT Award, Award for Humanity Udayan Care, Niren’s works can be found at well-known galleries like Lalit Kala Akademi and with many private galleries in India and abroad.

Once a teacher, always a teacher. Niren does not shy away from offering a word of sound advice to the young artists, “do not paint to sell. Paint to enjoy art and believe in yourself. Have faith in God and your ancestors, they will help. I give two options to the young people because they may not have seen God but surely, they have seen their ancestors.” This coming from the master of colours and composition who moves beyond the trance to romance in a single stroke is worth philosophical and artistic rumination.

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Mural Of The Story

Thiruvananthapuram-based Simi Rajan, who creates enchanting works of art in attractive colours and amazing details, shares her art journey with N. Kalyani, and what goes into making her stunning works

You were teaching at a school. What were the subjects you taught? How was the experience?

started my teaching career at the Rai School in Delhi in the year 2000. I taught science for classes 6, 7 and 8, and biology for 9 and 10. I always tried to go beyond the textbook and to help my students understand the fundamentals of biology better through experiments and diagrams. One of my favourites teaching preferences was drawing diagrams across the blackboards and watching the kids interact. Through my teaching years, I explored different methods and activities to help students understand the subject better. This helped them think outside the box. My classes were always appreciated for creative and innovative thinking. I thoroughly enjoyed my teaching years and connecting with young minds. I’ve always believed that we have so much to learn from youngsters!

You moved from teaching to pursuing art. When did you make the move? And what prompted you to do so?

Teaching helped me earn some money without taking away attention from my growing daughters and made those years very memorable for me. Both my daughters are creative, being into sketching and painting. And they made me realize my deep interest in art. Once they left for higher studies, I was ready to give wings to my passion. In 2014, I gave up teaching, and my art journey began in Trivandrum. I started exploring different art styles to know which resonated with me.

You are into mural painting. Please tell us more about the art form.

Mural paintings are the oldest human art form, as cave paintings at numerous ancient human settlements suggest, and can be found all over the globe. The mural paintings I got attracted to are old traditional paintings depicting Hindu mythologies painted across temple walls and palaces in Kerala. They point to an abounding tradition of mural paintings mostly dating back to the period between the 9th and 12th centuries when the form of art enjoyed royal patronage. Sanskrit texts also discuss in detail the style and effectiveness of the five dominant colours in mural paintings: scarlet red, Prussian blue, sap green, yellow ochre and black.

What attracted you to mural art? And how did you train to be a mural painter?

I shifted to the beautiful state of Kerala after my marriage. Here I was introduced to this special traditional art that inspired me deeply. I was a regular visitor to Guruvayoor temple. and the murals of Guruvayoor and Padmanabha Swamy temples are fascinating. I started learning the depths of mural art at Guruvayur Mural Art Institute in 2915 under the guidance of K.U. Krishnakumar. Subsequently, I also got trained by Prince Thonnakal, near Trivandrum, who helped me add an x-factor to my work. Learning from different artists and at different places enabled me to get a holistic understanding of the art and find my own space in the world of mural art.

How do you execute the murals? What are the paints amenable to making murals? How do you create details in the murals?

I first draw the intended picture on canvas with an HB pencil, and then use acrylic paints. And long hair brushes are used for painting. In the Kerala style of mural painting, it is basically five colours that are used. If we want any other colour, we can mix 2 to 3 colours out of the 5 basic colours. Black ink is used for lining the painting after it is done. I feel that the detailing in a painting happens on its own as I get involved in the theme of the painting. The day I have to do a difficult part of a painting and contemplate how I will do it, I pray during my pooja time and seek blessings to paint in the best way, and surprisingly it happens. I am really thankful to God. While painting, I enjoy listening to spiritual music. In murals, at first, we always make the ornaments, then comes the apparel, after which comes the surroundings and, in the end, the face and the figure. Lastly, black lining is given for impact.

What other art forms do you engage in?

For me, art is a way to add color and fun to life. I like to explore different art forms, ranging from Madbubani folk art to fabric painting to modern art. I also like to express my creativity through gardening, dancing and even cooking!

Going back in time, when did your interest in art take root?

I was born in Patna, Bihar, and brought up in Ranchi, Jharkhand. I always participated in cultural programmes. I remember bunking classes to paint props for school events. That’s the only time bunking a class resulted in praises! In college, I was able to explore different painting styles. It was here that I was introduced to the world of art and design. My father still has the first painting I ever made displayed in his living room!

Coming back to your murals, which places are adorned by your works?

I have created a series of mural paintings for different spaces. These places include the Chitragupta School of Management at Patna, and the Bhopal museum. It takes time to create a mural painting. By the time it is over, there is a taker. I just completed a 15’x3’ Dashavatar (the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu) acrylic painting on canvas based on request. And I am currently creating a 15’x3’ mural painting based on Sundarkand (from the Ramayana). I hope this beautiful art form gets more recognition.

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Soul Connect

Kolkata-based Swati Pasari has always heeded her inner callings rather than following the norm. She gave up her family business as she found her calling in art to spread happiness

Swati Pasari comes across as a lively and carefree young girl. However, one look at her art shows her highly evolved, conscious, spiritual inclination and deep-rooted persona. A Marwari girl from Kolkata in her teens, coming back from Australia with a degree in business management to join her father’s business, decided against it. She found her calling in art to spread happiness. Art Soul Life magazine chats with this young and evolved artist to know more about her persona and her art.

What made you opt for art as a career?

I was never interested in number crunching and board meetings. I was more of a free bird who wanted to explore the various facets of the world, touch lives in whatever I do and spread happiness. I was inspired by my grandfather who believed in serving humanity and was running an NGO in Banaras. So in order to find my true calling, I started pranic healing and painting and before I knew it, I fell in love with both.

Can you tell us more about your art?

I have always believed in creating abstract art and my biggest influencers are subjects, rather than people. Even though most of my artworks and sculptures might seem religious, if you notice carefully, they delve more into the spiritual aspect of the world. The beauty of abstract art is that nothing is concrete, yet it is beautiful. Also, my artworks are mostly painted in bright and colourful hues which instantly radiate happiness and peace.

You started your brand at a fairly young age. How have you evolved over the years and how has the art scenario in India evolved in these years?

I started my art brand, Soulink by Swati Pasari, in the year 2007 at the age of 20, and held my first exhibition a year later. Through my art and pranic healing, I have evolved as a person, who is content and happy and that is what is reflected in my art as well. People come back to me to buy more of my art as they feel the positivity and happiness in their surroundings with my art being there. Also, over the years, I have seen more and more people appreciating art and buying not just as an investment, but looking for art that adds to the beauty of their place and changes the aura of the place.

What is your vision for Soulink?

I have travelled across the world exhibiting my all so happy artworks and sculptures. I wish to continue doing the same. Also, lately I have been part of many charity exhibitions. I would like to do more of it and contribute towards the happiness of the underprivileged. My vision is to spread happiness through my art. Swati’s collection is available in paintings of sizes 2 feet to 8 feet and sculptures in sizes 2 feet to 6 feet and can be viewed at www.swatipasari.com

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The Lilting Tunes of the Flute

Vivek Sonar, one of the finest younger Generation flautists in the country and senior disciple of musical genius Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia shares his journey in music, and more with N. Kalyani

Listening to a flute performance by Vivek Sonar, a long time disciple of the legendary flautist Padma Vibhushan Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, is a mesmerising experience. One feel transported to realms beyond the earthly. The tunes of the music outlive the performance, permeating the heart and soul verily. The music the flute produces is as charming and awe-inspiring as the art and science in the creation of the flute is beautiful and fascinating.

Based in Mumbai, Sonar is also well-known for his Flusion band and the flute symphony. Being from a small town in the interiors of Maharashtra, Sonar was well aware of the challenges young and talented musicians faced in the country. To help such talent get trained and recognised, he set up Gurukul Prathisthan, a charitable trust for dedicated learners who are staying in Gurukul and taking guidance in the traditional Gurukul System of learning music. Today, Gurukul Prathisthan’s music academy has over thousand students enrolled from India and abroad. Here, the composer flautist, who has had a two month-long concert tour in the USA and Canada this year, shares his journey in music, and more.

You were abroad for two months this year giving flute performances in the US and Canada. In general, how would you compare Indian and overseas audiences and their responses?

Music has no barrier of language because it is a heart-to-heart dialogue. In India, audiences generally appreciate immediately with a “Wah Wah!” or by applauding. Sometimes this is what happens abroad too. But more often the audience listens intently, and gives a standing ovation for long after the musician finishes performing. The ways of expressing appreciation may be different, but one thing is the same – the joy and satisfaction after listening to Indian classical music. Of course, one point I should like to mention is that I have never heard any mobile phone ringing in a concert hall during a music performance abroad! This year my concert tour began on July 30, and the last concert was on September 25. I performed jugalbandi concerts with santoor artist Madan Oak as well as solo flute recitals in Houston, Atlantic City, Fremont, Milpitas, Phoenix, Burbank, Redlands, Bakersfield, Dallas, Farmington, and Washington DC in the USA, and at Calgary in Canada. There were also a few interviews I gave to TV channels in both the USA and Canada. All concerts were well received. Appreciation, of course, does give satisfaction. It is noteworthy that in Dallas, close to 1000 tickets were sold, and that was the concert that had the largest audience amongst my concerts held in the USA. It was a jugalbandi with Madan Oak on the santoor, and it also included fusion music.

Have you also collaborated with any foreign musician/band?

In the past I collaborated with a French artist. That was before the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown. We did a fusion of French mediaeval music, which existed in the period between the 6th century and the 15th century, and Indian classical bansuri music. This form of French mediaeval music disappeared centuries ago; it did not exist between the 15th century and 20th century. A small French group referred to history books and came across these scripts and have revived it in the last few decades. And now they are promoting it globally.

You are one of the seniors most disciples of Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia. You have had a long association with your guru. Please share with us the one outstanding quality you find in Panditji – as a musician, as a guru, and as a person.

Yes, I have been training with guruji since 1997; it is 25 years now. With regard to his being a musician, I can describe him simply thus: Guruji is “God of Flute”. He is synonymous with the bansuri. He has given an identity to the Indian flute as bansuri to the world. As a guru he has created generations of those who play the flute, and, therefore, lovers of the music of the flute. He teaches us, his students, open-heartedly. I am from a small village named Chalisgaon in Jalgaon district of northern Maharashtra, but I got the opportunity to train with him. He treats me and loves me like his son. He is literally my guru, my father, my guide and my god. As a person he is a legend, but is so humble, loving, caring and polite. He is a great human being; I have never seen such an amazing human being.

Tell us something about your concept of Flusion.

Flusion is my fusion band. It brings together the best-in-class artists of today in a musical ensemble. It is a league of international artists who celebrate their art with great aplomb.

You are a pioneer of the flute symphony. Please tell us about it.

The flute symphony is a novel concept that features more than 100 flautists who perform together on stage. It is a treat for the eyes, ears and soul. It is a unique and copyrighted concept that was created by me in the year 2007, and ever since it has been setting new benchmarks and giving an incredible experience to music lovers. The symphony is similar to a humongous hundred-piece orchestra. It consists of a group of artists on flute in the centre, accompanied by other artists on instruments like the saxophone, guitar, harmonica, keyboard, and drums, besides others. Every year the symphony features a special Indian classical raga-based composition in a format of Western harmony. It has been an endeavour to create each piece notably different from the earlier one – classic yet new, refreshing yet nostalgic. It includes film songs, fusion, and folk numbers.

Your beginnings in the field of music – when did it all start?

Your father had spiritual leanings too, belonging to the varkari sampradaya, a spiritual tradition that includes devotional music and poetry. Yes, my father, the late Ramchandra Sonar,was a vocalist in the varkari sampradaya, which is a Vaishnava religious sect in Maharashtra having 700 years old tradition of spiritual music, and therefore, it was natural to listen to bhakti sangeet (devotional music) at home. He was a vocalist in the bhajan-kirtan genre. I started playing film songs on my own when I was in fifth grade. Since my childhood I was in love with the bansuri. My parents encouraged me to learn the bansuri. My father took me to my first guru, Purushottam Antapurkar, when I was studying in the ninth or tenth grade. Subsequently, with all the support that I got, I reached Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia to learn to play the flute from him. For me the bansuri is really a lovable instrument.

You also run the myGurukul app to teach music. Tell us about it.

I used to live in Chalisgaon and used to travel to Mumbai to learn to play the flute from guruji. The return journey from Chalisgaon to Mumbai is approximately 14 hours, and I used to undertake this trip. I was fortunate that I got the chance to learn from the maestro. Now my point was: What about those who do not get the opportunity to learn music from the maestro? In the 25 years that I have been a disciple of my guru, I have learnt many important things. I believe everyone should have the right to learn authentic Indian classical music. As I am techno savvy, I collaborated my learnings with technology, and I created the my Gurukul app, which was launched by my guru on January 26, 2017. The myGurukul app is the world’s first Indian classical instrumental music learning app. To date, more than 3 lakh people in 65-plus countries are getting the benefit of learning the Hindustani flute, Carnatic flute, tabla, violin, and sitar from the myGurukul app.

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The Lone Genius

Even as he feels lonely in the present times of a new normal, acclaimed artist Riyas Komu challenges himself to remain alert and active through his art, says Neelam Gupta

A master storyteller and one of the most influential artists active today, Riyas Komu began life studying literature when he actually wanted to pursue textile design. “My parents wanted me to become a doctor, but for bachelors I had to switch to English literature as I didn’t score enough for science,” says the Mumbai-based artist, curator and educationist, who as a child was obsessed with becoming a footballer. For Komu, who was born in Thrissur, Kerala, art is a medium for social commentary on the situations the world is facing today. The critically acclaimed multi-media artist, whose works depict aesthetically brilliant imagery and a strong personal narrative, believes that internal conflicts and political events offer a chance to reflect upon our own presumptions and values through which we relate to the world at large. “Good art is always true to its political times,” says Komu, who has successfully explored the shared histories and colonial encounters of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Afghanistan and Maldives through his Young Subcontinent Project.

“Even though I used to feel very lonely, a feeling I get even now, I have challenged myself to remain alert and active through making art, politically and aesthetically.”

His artistic practice has become known for its narrative dimensions, combining film, photography, sculpture, installations and painting in the service of social and political critique. Most of his artworks are inspired by the social movements and political events of current times, speculating issues like violence, dispute or displacement. In his own words, “As a student, I moved away from textile design and started learning visual art, beyond that the chaos and the human suffering the city (Mumbai) went through after 1992 prompted me to think of art as a site to learn and express secular humanistic beliefs through my expressions and since then has been the basic conceptual framework of my practice.” With memories playing a hugely significant factor in his projects, Komu’s work conjures elements of curiosity. It addresses a sense of identity – aesthetics in which we, as viewers, can compellingly indulge. “The hardships I went through; missing life with my old parents, inspired me to new ideas of making art and new sites of learning,” he says, adding, “My experiences from my travels have contributed in a big way to the making of my art. I gained confidence to do art through my journeys and visits to museums and cultural institutions all across the world,” says the artist, who was always interested in watching television news. “Those early figurative images in my works came from television images and international news,” he informs. “Later, I started focusing on oil paintings and started doing portraits of young migrants into the city. I was always interested in large scale paintings and the single layer treatments that I developed are the key to those works.” Co-founder and Secretary of the Kochi Biennale Foundation (KBF), Komu was one of two artists from India to be selected by curator Robert Storr  for the 52nd Venice Biennale in 2007 and he represented the Iranian Pavilion at Venice Biennale in 2015. In this interview with Art Soul Life, Komu speaks about life, work, his love for textile and how he tries to understand the idea of making through many political and cultural symbolism connected with “weaving” our nation has experienced.

You landed in Mumbai in 1992 to study textile design, but switched to Fine Arts. Any particular reason?

I grew up in a large family among seven brothers and two sisters. My parents gave me an emotionally expensive ticket to Mumbai as I wanted to pursue textile design, a passion I still carry along. As a child my obsession was to become a footballer. When I was in college my parents wanted me to become a doctor but for bachelors, I had to switch to English literature as I didn’t score enough for science. In 1992, while I was doing my BA, my brother Ibrahim insisted that I pursue my passion, upon which I secured admission in JJ School of art and left Kerala. I started enjoying my longest campus life ever by immersing myself in multidisciplinary activities as part of the academics. Parallely, beyond my recognition of it, the city was splitting apart. As you know, 1992 was a crucial year in Indian history in which we saw the emergence of communal politics, hatred, polarisation, giving a big jolt to the democratic fabric of our society. The coming apart of the city marked my life too, as I grew up in Kerala in a plural atmosphere and with political constitutional values. When I started living in Mumbai my experiences of growing up with hard working parents, who believed in the history of social action became an ideal and virtue to hold on to. Easily, Mumbai became my new home in every sense; crowded local trains, aspiring migrants, growing art world, busy people, music and cinema, and the city that never slept started growing in me. As a student, I moved away from textile design and started learning visual art, beyond that the chaos and the human suffering the city went through after 1992 prompted me to think of art as a site to learn and express secular humanistic beliefs through my expressions and since then has been the basic conceptual framework of my practice. That humble beginning in response to the time, a challenging decision, I took in isolation which gave me a new identity to move forward as an artist. But I still maintain my love for textile and keep trying to understand the idea of making through many political and cultural symbolism connected with “weaving” our nation has experienced.

When and how did you get interested in art and art curation?

Believe, interest in curation was part of my evolution as an artist. Initially, I worked on many major projects as an assistant in curating, logistics and administration, which gave me a lot of confidence in working with people on large scale sites. My large studio supported by a team of skilled carpenters, carvers and other technical assistants gave me a sense of ease to work and I developed a great belonging with the community. It was a period I worked like mad and produced many works and did international projects. I feel proud that I could represent the country at the Venice Biennale in 2007 and my participation was an eye opener in understanding the relevance of political art. It also offered me a big opportunity to showcase my work in one of the biggest international projects along with major artists. Curation for me is a site to dissent along with like-minded artists and youngsters. I cherish the co-curating of the first edition of Kochi-Muziris Biennale as an act of political and cultural importance in building an ecosystem engaging with history, people and art. My long engagement with the well-researched Young Subcontinent project, which I began conceptualising in 2015, is the best experience I ever had in the act of curation and travel and exhibition making.

Your photographic or hyper realistic style is very popular. What do you have to say?

Painting is one of my practices where I find a sense of reflectiveness, especially at times when it provides me with a feeling of compassion. I think continuous working and practising seeing is the most important thing for an artist to develop their perspectives, skill and aesthetics. My experiences from my travels have contributed in a big way to the making of my art. I gained confidence to do art through my journeys and visits to museums and cultural institutions all across the world. I began to engage with mediatic-realism as I was always interested in watching television news. Those early figurative images in my works came from television images and international news. Later, I started focusing on oil paintings and started doing portraits of young migrants into the city. I was always interested in large scale paintings and the single layer treatments that I developed are the key to those works. As artists when we are working upon the material consciously, it happens that we are simultaneously worked upon by the texture of the materials that takes us to the realm of the past; memories, dreams and all that goes with them. The physical aspect of making art and the presentation of it as a work travel through many layers of time, space and memory.

Some of the major motifs in your work have been migration, displacement and exile. Why theseparticular topics of interest?

As I mentioned earlier my shift to painting was a decision that evolved out of the historical political site and the moment I was in. In fact, if you notice the works I produced since then you will see a gradual process of moving into diverse issues around displacement and exile. My early shows spoke on religion as a site of conflict. The polarising nature of religion was very much the theme of my 2005 solo titled Faith Accompli. The ‘Left Legs’ project with the Iraqi football team was a project on exile, longings and it was deeper research in understanding the resilient nature of humans. In ‘Watching the Other World Spirits from the Garden of Babylon,’ a large installation I showed as part of my solo show in Berlin titled ‘Related List’ is a stark reminder of the war and occupation. The ‘Designated March by a Petro Angel’ is a series I showed at the Venice Biennale that speaks about religious fundamentalism, patriarchy, alienation and sufferings of women in social spaces. I published a tabloid called Brick, which is intended to explore deeper into such sites through photographic research supported by statistics and analysis.

What message do you want to convey with your works that are inspired by social conflicts and political movements?

When organised hatred has upstaged the new normal, art carries the meaning and relevance of its practice. In a time where everything is in chaos, I have kept myself away from mediocrity and wanted my practice as a site to engage in conversations. According to me, when I shared the idea of doing a Biennale with the Education and Cultural minister of Kerala, it was in a way one of the most important political acts I have done so far in my career as an artist. The idea was shared with a receptive political mind and I feel proud.

Artists never work in isolation; their process of work is interspersed by acts of people on the street and elsewhere. In a country like India where the density is so thick that one body cannot be separated from the other, a mere gesture of walking on the streets appears as a collective search for meaning. There has always been a social movement behind art; the secular public sphere created by art with the energy of social movements is a very important gesture towards making art in the sense of a community.

Other than promoting the local artists, what was the idea behind Kochi-Muziris Biennale?

Biennale is a site of dissent, politically and culturally and it should remain one. It was introduced in Kochi with a larger aim of discussing art history, politics, making and thinking and emerging social trends in the world. It did the much-needed cultural acupuncture and the system has benefited immensely out of it. It rejuvenated a much needed ecosystem from all perspectives. The Biennale changed the perception about contemporary art practice among people, empowered young artists, educated the aspirants and connected children with art and its immense emancipatory potential.

Another important aspect worth emphasising is that it gave unimaginable possibilities to local art and increased the confidence among youngsters, which I think is getting noticed more and more. The global perspectives and emerging discourses that the biennale brought to the shores of Kerala created a new art route which celebrated local cultures with radically refreshed memories of arrivals and departures. After all, the art world got a site like Kochi to come together at a place where many communities live together and speak different languages. Most importantly, a project supported by a politically, culturally and socially active state like Kerala is the backbone of the Biennale.

Education via the pathways of art is a very important element of knowing oneself and the community. The idea of having a biennale of our own was a collective search for meaning on the one hand, and working out the secular and political public sphere on the other. We need institutions that look after the passions of many, not the interests of powerful elites.

What is your view on the international art fairs like Venice Biennale and Indian artists’ participation in these fairs?

Biennale are sites of experiments and imagines art practice beyond the confines of galleries and museums. As an artist who participated in Venice Biennale in 2007 curated by Robert Storr, I feel biennales and Triennale’s offer a platform to take our discourses to a community that engages the most with art of the time. It helps in doing survey projects. Biennales are the sites that showcase emerging concerns and present curatorial experiments; it is also an international gathering of scholars, historians, curators, artists, students and art lovers from across the world. A nation which can host a biennale grows in confidence among the world and it will bring opportunities. Indian artists have started getting more opportunities in international projects and they also have started curating many of them at important sites, globally. It is sad to add that we don’t have a pavilion in Venice this year and it shows how divided the art world is and it is definitely not a good sign for the future of Indian art.

What is your take on multimedia art and video installations?

I have gained confidence in making art by probing into all kinds of experimental sites that provide and provoke you with larger possibilities. Art has no limitations but personally feel its language has to work towards its maturity in whatever form it assumes. I work a lot with different materials and it comes as a basic requirement or as a material to engage in conversation with our time. For instance, cinema is one medium that has been using all the possibilities offered by existing and emerging art forms, sounds, textures and technology. In multimedia art projects that incorporate cinema with its full strength and its new age digital attributes have in many ways enhanced the aesthetic and physical and emotional experience of art on many levels. Today, as technology is inseparable from our skins, young artists are at the forefront of these practices. They look at many layers, textures, diversions, pitfalls, spatial coordinates and temporal visions within the cinematic time to explore their own place and self in a community of shifting and altering populations. The other perspective is that the dominant medium of audio-visual method has been co-opted by surveillance and state agencies to limit the movements of the people and people know they are being watched, their spaces are being taken over so much so that they remain visual prisoners without there being a wall. The importance of this medium lies in the transformation of this space of social gaze into a subversive art practice.

What is the future of art considering the fact that NFT is taking off in a big way?

These are outcomes of human innovations especially in the face of an economic crisis, but this revolutionary method demands transparency, accountability and should empower its users. In this case, I hope, it will definitely be much more democratic in its use and application, and for artists it will offer a systemic economic platform as it moves further from site to site. We all know that technologies of communication and transaction will keep emerging with new trends even further.

How will art shape up in a world that is heading towards the metaverse?

I think we should not worry much about the fate of art in a collapsing world. We need to ask the question in reverse; whether we have a future without art, this is one, the other important thing to note is that we should not be thinking that art ceases to exist when everything falls. The reverse is true, the art goes on, into the future when everything falls apart. There cannot be art without a future and the reverse. Art and time are intimately connected. That is why every event in history has been followed by art and to a certain extent it is also true that art practices have created historical and social transformations in the ways of seeing.