Popular work is entertaining but does not stimulate, says artist Indrapramit Roy

While his contemporary art is showcased around the world, noted artist and printmaker Indrapramit Roy discusses his love for children’s book illustrations

A packed bus is rolling down the road, unaware of Singam the lion waiting for it in the middle of the street. When Singam roars, asking them to take him along, the driver is petrified — he deftly shifts the gear to reverse and darts backwards. The motion of the bus at that moment, and the people inside partially recoiling as the vehicle whizzes in reverse, is one of the scenes that artist Indrapramit Roy brilliantly captured through his illustrations back in 1997, for Tara Books’ first ever handmade book, The Very Hungry Lion. All this, in Warli art.

Now sitting cross-legged in The Book Building [in the backdrop are winding staircases and chirping birds], Roy is delighted to meet old friends. It is a quiet evening — but soon the space would be abuzz with acquaintances and other art enthusiasts who would come to listen to him talk about the history of illustrations. He has had several solo shows across the world, and represented India at the Asian Art Exhibition in Macao and the Cairo Biennale. He is currently Professor of Painting at MS University, Baroda.

A storehouse of tales, and interestingly not only an artist, but an artiste (theatre, being his first love) too, he sat down with MetroPlus to talk about illustrations and his brief tryst with the genre, before darting off to replay his slides and see if everything is in order.

The journey

Roy was born to a family steeped in the arts: his father was a prolific figure in Bengali theatre, associated with Bohuroopi, one of the premier theatre groups. His mother “was a silent supporter” and a sitar player. Roy’s initiation to the arts, was, unsurprisingly, through theatre. “Later drawing and painting happened, and when I decided to join an art college, it was a cakewalk,” says the 55-year-old, who graduated from Shantiniketan and later went to the Royal College of Art, London. Chennai was the next stop: he lived in Cholamandal Artist’s Village for two years. And it was through his wife, that he met Geetha Wolf of Tara Books. Discussions followed; about the dearth of quality books for children.

Popular work is entertaining but does not stimulate, says artist Indrapramit Roy

“Back then, I was a freelance artist concentrating on painting and drawing; and was only remotely interested in illustrations. The book was a way in which I could reconcile with my interest in illustrating for children’s books,” says the artist, whose first book about a boy scared of snakes was published much later.

The Very Hungry Lion followed, and it was decided that the book had to be handmade. Roy’s illustrations drew from Warli art which, back then, was not hailed as it is now. “Warli did not have a lion. So I had to look at how a Warli artist would envision a lion and create it.”

Popular work is entertaining but does not stimulate, says artist Indrapramit Roy

The critically acclaimed Greek series came shortly after: this led Roy to revisit his days spent at the theatre. The series which included Antigone, Oedipus, Hippolytus among other classics, were meant for American young adults who did not know of such narratives. A retelling was decided on, to introduce them to playwrights like Sophocles and Euripides. Antigone, illustrations of which were in two colours, was published in 1998, the rest in the early 2000s.

“Back then, computers were not equipped to do colour separation. It had to be done manually. I needed flat colours. Each page had to be drawn separately, and on transparent sheets each colour had to be separated,” he recalls. Roy looked at photographs of international and Indian productions of the plays, and studied elements of Greek pottery.

As an artist who loves to experiment, plunging into illustrations from time to time was cakewalk for Roy. But his main driving force to work with children’s publications came from the knowledge that there is a dearth of quality work out there. “Popular work is popular, because there are not being exposed to other, unconventional ideas. You don’t necessary have to feed into what they want. As artists we have a responsibility to provide them with varied visual traditions,” says Roy. He says the popular will remain popular, because they only entertain; they don’t stimulate.

“Illustrations should add value to text and not just picturise the content,” continues Roy, who dabbles with concepts like space through his favourite medium, watercolour. Most of his canvases have a translucent quality — as though a veil lazily covers them. “I have always been drawn to the drama of lights,” Roy smiles.

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Printable version | Feb 19, 2020 3:17:04 AM |

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