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Colour is his life

Jatin Das has been an artist for more than four decades. He speaks about his work and interests.

STEEPED IN ART: The artist is setting up a museum in Bhubaneshwar. — Photos: K. Ramesh Babu

JATIN DAS needs no introduction. He is one of the celebrated artists of the country. An articulate speaker, he is unlike an artist when it comes to human relations. Instead of isolating himself, he loves to interact with people. His journey in art has been quite long (he has also traversed from his roots Mayurbhanj in Orissa to Bombay and Delhi) - marked by 50 one-man shows, numerous participations in exhibitions in the country and abroad and donations of works for charity events. He has designed three postal stamps and lectured on art in various museums and institutions abroad. A singular achievement is the painting of a mural `The Journey of India: Mohenjodaro to Mahatma Gandhi' at Parliament House Annexe inaugurated by the Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee on August 28, 2001. Presented below are some excerpts of an interview when he was in Hyderabad.

How would you recapitulate your journey?

You don't look back, (laughs). In India survival of a human being is difficult, so survival of an artist is even more difficult. You live on your own terms. There are so many problems of day-to-day life and as an artist there are problems of space, material, professional needs and demands. So one is busy and working that one does not have time to look back. My travels have taken me to many places within the country and abroad. So many things have happened in work that one also forgets. Sometimes the fact that you forget is good. I reminisce Bombay because the years there were great. But it's period after that.

You have struggled to come up.

The struggle is still on.

Have you not reached the end of the struggle?

No, there are arrivals and departures. There's no end - end is death. In the artist community, each artist works individually, suffers and carries the cross alone. It's a lone journey. Each one has to find his/her own solace and salvation.

How do you conceptualise your work?

I paint human figures. The human predicament is a basic concept, which concerns me. The human endeavour, anguish, passion, pain, love, angst - all that is a part of my concern. I don't make narrative paintings. I don't do story telling. My works are stances, poetic and metaphoric. When I paint I try and do something new, as if I've not painted before like a child. It's a risk - there's danger and excitement of surprises and failures.

Are you conditioned by the environment you are in?

Naturally, every human being would be affected but I don't make factual paintings.

So your paintings are not statements on a particular event?

BRUSH STROKES: Jatin Das at work.

No. But sometimes I do. Like when Safdar Hashmi died in Delhi I made a painting. My daughter was acting in his plays. Normally I don't paint events, but the energy of the events gets internalised in the work though it's not obvious in the work.

Today you are one of the celebrated artists of the country. How do you feel being one?

I'm not a celebrated artist. I'm still groping. I am still evolving. I'm have not arrived at all. However I did a mural in Parliament 7 ft by 68 ft Mohenjodaro to Mahatma Gandhi. They told me to do something after Gandhi, which I didn't do.

Why did you not do it?

Because I feel there is nothing beyond Gandhi.

How did you work on the mural?

I was invited by Parliament. I worked on it for two and a half years.

What is the secret of your success?

I have no success. The secret is idealism, commitment and do what you like to do (laughs).

How do you view developments in art today?

There are many good artists in the country but unfortunately society at large is not involved in visual arts. There is a lot of buying and selling going on. The kind of respect and concern there is for cinema, television, music and dance has not grown for painting in terms of appreciation of art.

How could one promote awareness and appreciation of art?

By introducing art at school level. If there is art at home and at school. All the art colleges have to revamped - should be rooted to this country and its ethos.

Has Indian art been accepted in the West?

Not really. The contemporary Indian artist is as good as anybody in the world. But Indian art has not gone global. It has got to do with the socio-economic condition of a country. The Government of India has not really promoted Indian art properly. So have our galleries. Otherwise it would be as good as anywhere in the world. There are many good artists. Art should be part of social concern, part of interest. There should be rasikas. In South India everybody learns an art form. Likewise it has to be a part of the need of everybody. Lot of people are going in for art as they think there is money in it. But there is money not for everybody. It is unfortunate.

You have been involved in folk art?

Orissa has a rich tradition of folk and tribal art like A.P. and other States. Right from the beginning I have a deep interest in folk, tribal, classical and contemporary. Although I am a contemporary artist I have a large collection of handicrafts and antiquities. The Government of Orissa has given me an acre of land in Bhubaneswar (opposite Khandagiri caves) to build a museum where I am donating the entire collection. The collection is from many parts of India, Africa and other places. It's going to be a unique art centre. It will have five-six museums - museum of hand fans, museum of handicrafts, handloom, tribal and contemporary work. There will be seminars and artist residency programmes as well. It will be ready hopefully in a year's time.

What prompted you to set this up?

Well I had built up a collection and there was not an inch of space in my house. So I set this up and the Orissa government had asked me 10-12 years ago. So I thought why not go ahead. There is not much of art activity in Orissa. Art is meaningful only if you live with it or feel its need in day-to-day life.

Besides this what are you doing?

My painting continues. Penguin has got in touch with me for my memoirs. So I am trying to work on that. I have been collecting fans (pankhas) for 22 years, which will be displayed at an exhibition in the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi in March. I have also been writing poetry for the last 40 years.

How is it being known as Nandita's father?

(Laughs) Painting, cinema and television are different mediums. Cinema is a much more popular medium. It's stupidity on the part of people to say your daughter has gone ahead of you.

As a father are you proud of your children's achievements?

I am proud as they are not compromising. I am proud they have ethics and dignity- that is of concern to me.

They have not been corrupt or dishonest.


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