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From palate to palette

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TASTING, TESTING Satish Gupta at the Empress of China, The InterContinental Eros
TASTING, TESTING Satish Gupta at the Empress of China, The InterContinental Eros

Whether it's food or his world of colours, artist Satish Gupta is always searching for eclectic flavours

To get artist Satish Gupta, a follower of Zen philosophy, to have a meal at Empress of China, a Chinese restaurant in Eros Intercontinental, Nehru Place, wasn't any deliberate exercise. Gupta wasn't asked about his food preferences either. The artist just happens to have a palate that's ever so ready to explore and experiment. Here, at the restaurant too, Gupta completely surrenders to Chinese chef Peter Xu's recommendations. “I love sushi, I can live just on that. It's so Zen… straight from nature. It's because of its purity that it I like it so much,” says Gupta thoughtfully. Tucking into the wasabi prawns with chopsticks, Gupta goes back in time to tell us how he developed this eclectic taste in food, but not before asking Chef Xu to get him the green wasabi sauce which would have more wasabi than the one on his table.

“It was during my scholarship to Paris. I was just 20 and a complete vegetarian. I did a lot of part-time jobs, as a gardener on the campus, or in the canteen to ensure good meals for myself. I befriended a Japanese guy, who then invited me home for dinner. A simple meal of fish rice that I had that day opened a whole new world of fish, oysters, snails. I started enjoying different kinds of cuisine from then on.”

From the palate, his experimental streak extends up to his palette. His creative mind was behind the sculpture inspired by the five primal elements, weighing over 10 tons and displayed permanently at the Jindal Centre in Delhi. Then, for 15 years, intrigued by life in the Thar and Kutch deserts, he painted on the subject and created a voluminous collection of canvases bearing beautiful havelis, their intricate designs, beautiful close-ups of faces, details of their outfits and a few candid moments and extraordinary expressions. The exercise also culminated in a recently launched coffee-table book, “The Eyes Of The Thar” (Mapin Publishers), wherein each painting is accompanied by a poem penned by Gupta. He creates another first by becoming an art partner in M3M's upcoming township project Golf Estate on Golf Course Extension Road in Gurgaon. “It is for the first time that an artist and architect will be working together on a project. My work is to give it a soul,” he says.

His Zen moment

As he sips on the spicy lemon tomato and seaweed soup, another item from the recently launched menu of the restaurant, Gupta recalls, “I was on my way to Rumtek monastery in Sikkim. Just five minutes away from the monastery and the magical surroundings inspired me to take out my canvas and paint. I made a Zen empty circle. I felt so porous and light. I stood on the edge of a cliff and I would have jumped off, had that urchin, who was holding the palette for me, not shaken me out of my reverie. It was followed by a thought of giving up painting and opening up a bookshop or becoming a cook.” But very soon, he realised he was best suited to be an artist. “I would have excelled as a cook though,” quips the poet-writer-sculptor, sampling Fujian fried rice and drunken chicken. And even though he is a tad disappointed to know that the chicken pieces are tossed in an Indian beer and not in some exotic Chinese brand, he appreciates the combination of water chestnut and the chillies in it.

Duck in oyster sauce impresses him, but it is the absolutely delightful steamed basa fish which gets him talking about his current body of work, the “Matrix” series he has been working on for four years now. Like always, it amalgamates the techniques of painting and printmaking. “The whole of creation is not by any chance. There is some force, so my work probes the warp and weft of the universe. The collection has paintings inspired by different religions but takes it beyond religion. The idea is to bring them into a world where they will forget it's Kali, Allah, Buddha,” sums up the alumnus of College of Art, Delhi.

SHAILAJA TRIPATHI

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