Artist Atul Dodiya on the journey he undertook to understand the finer nuances of food

On a cold winter afternoon, artist Atul Dodiya arrives discreetly at the appointed time. His arrival at the Lodi - The Garden, for a chat over lunch, is not preceded by fervent calls and confusion. It’s easier to understand then how his work — executed in an array of media like laminates, marble dust on paper, roller shutters, assemblages, painted photographs and sculpture-installations — can be viewed as grand and understated at the same time.

One of the foremost contemporary artists of India, the trajectory of his art was for anyone to see at National Gallery of Modern Art, Jaipur House, New Delhi, last month, where the artist had a major show “Experiments with truth: Atul Dodiya works 1981-2013” exhibiting the significant works from his artistic career.

For the starter, the Mumbai-based artist zeroes in on the fresh rocket complemented with crunchy pine nuts, beet topped with honey lime and crumbled goat cheese. Appreciating the salad for its freshness, he says, “I think, everything is in proportion which creates a fine balance.” Although not a foodie, Atul says he can still appreciate nuances of food because as a creative person, he is interested in the process and its visual aspect. “I wasn’t that interested in the process of cooking until I started watching Masterchef Australia with my wife Anju (who is a well-known contemporary artist). The way they prepare the food, the way the chef explains, it started to fascinate me,” states the artist who says, he has never directly or indirectly referenced food in his work.

Maybe his simple food habits and preoccupation with cities, existential issues, cinema, literature and politics, kept it away from him. “Food was never something really important. It was like I ate to live. I discovered food as a fine art first when I was in Paris on a scholarship to pursue art. I was perennially broke so at the most I could afford a burger and other such fast food but there I noticed how much importance was attached to its presentation.”

His basic relationship with food could also be the outcome of his engagement with Mahatma Gandhi, who comes up in his canvases time and again. “The idea of simple living comes from him and my roots as well,” he avers. Having grown up on spicy vegetarian Kathiawari cuisine of Gujarat, he developed a liking for non-vegetarian food, especially fish, much later. Even now, non-vegetarian food isn’t cooked at his home. “We go to my younger brother’s house when we want to have non-vegetarian food or we go out,” reveals Atul, ordering pan seared river sole in caper wine emulsion served on a bed of rosti.

Preparing for a host of seminal exhibitions in Bombay and abroad, Atul Dodiya says he is happy with the response his show received in Delhi. “In Bombay, everything is quick but here I have seen people want to ask more, like in Kolkata. In Bombay, they just want to come to the point. They just absorb the sarcasm part of it so quickly,” says the artist winding up his meal.

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