Atul Dodiya, among India's most well-known artists, is not only a painter but also a thinker. His knowledge of literature and films is admirable
“When I was a child, a particular scene in Satyajit Ray's ‘Nayak' had left an indelible impression in my mind. In the scene, Sharmila Tagore, with a slight wave of her hand, refuses Uttam Kumar's offer of tea. This scene evoked in me a desire to tell stories through paintings.” Thus began, Atul Dodiya's journey as one of India's most respected contemporary artists. He was at the Goethe-Institut\Max Mueller Bhavan for a discussion on his works.
Dodiya's works consists of fine realistic paintings, most revolving around the theme of Indian cinema.
His works have won him worldwide critical acclaim. So there are paintings as varied as a man looking out of his veranda during a stormy day, installations in cabinets to life-like portraits of Gabbar Singh of “Sholay”. “I have a constantly evolving style. I create new expressions in my paintings to enthuse my viewer.”
“In 1987, I realised I enjoyed painting figures. I was inspired by Bhupen Khakhar and David Hockney.”
His works are an amalgamation of different influences, traditional Indian as well as European and American art. There is a strong narrative element in his works. A combination of symbols, quotations and references “merge into one another, creating a dynamic experience.”
Though Dodiya jokingly claims that his works are not original in nature, on a closer look, he provides a reinterpretation of the many Indian and Western films that finds expression in his works. “My roller shutter works, for instance, are influenced by Pablo Picasso. But I have added my own perspective to his style, which is more complex than the original.”
It's amazing how Dodiya's works are Indian in its foundations but imbued with Western styles. Most artists struggle with this synthesis, but Dodiya achieves a perfect balance. He attributes this to his deep knowledge of both Indian and Western art.
“I ensure, before painting, that I internalise the knowledge of a film or painting I have seen or a book I have read, completely. I never incorporate influences of which I don't have a thorough knowledge.”
Dodiya's works also reveal a deep understanding of films. He is influenced by filmmakers such as Satyajit Ray and Jean-Luc Godard.
“I am inspired by the filmmakers' approach. Ray's style is classic and humanitarian. I admire the sheer simplicity with which he told stories. Godard's complex style of addressing the political aspects of the Revolution of Paris appeals to me.”
Dodiya's most admired works are on Mahatma Gandhi, his roller shutters and cabinet installations. Each, in some way, addresses socially-relevant issues.
Dodiya, though, doesn't consider himself a political or social commentator.
“Very few works of mine deal with social and political events. I paint on these subjects if I think it must be spoken about. I painted my Gandhi series because I thought it was important to reinterpret his ideals.” Dodiya, otherwise calm and composed, gets angry when the media concentrates on the price a painting fetches.
“Though artists sell their works for sustenance, money is not the sole consideration. While painting an artist is in a trance, and when a viewer looks at his work, he too is elevated to a trance-like state. Painting is a philosophy on life.”