I hate exhibitions, they’re for sale: Jatin Das (Interview)

May 16th, 2009 - 9:54 am ICT by IANS  

By Madhusree Chatterjee
New Delhi, May 16 (IANS) Leading artist Jatin Das, who is exhibiting solo in the capital after nine years, hates exhibitions as he says they represent the indiscriminate commodification of art.

“I think exhibitions are for sale. A lot of young artists are copying the West and are taking advantage of the biennale and triennale cultures across the world so that the media takes notice of their art,” Das told IANS in an informal one-on-one in the capital.

“Exhibitions are like the emperor’s clothes - there is a lot of sensation and media attention to fool around. It’s like if 50 people walk naked, another will join in.”

However, he adds, “not everything is completely rubbish. A lot of good things also come out of exhibitions”.

The artist, who at 67 has been painting for 51 years, feels nothing can take away the joy of “painting - the sheer physical work that goes into making a canvas”. “Painting is great fun, but the process of showing them is very boring and cumbersome,” Das says.

The artist, who is the father of actress Nandita Das, is known for his “detailed figure drawing, linear compositions and mastery over strokes which appear mobile on the canvas” in a style reminiscent of the classical European artists.

He insists that his daughter be referred to as a social worker and actress. “She is not a Bollywood star. It sounds vulgar. Moreover, Nandita has been trained in social work. She does a lot of it,” he says.

But Jatin Das is a radical with strong views on contemporary art. “A lot of artists do video installations these days. One need not be an artist to do a video installation. Anybody who has an idea and is creative enough can do it.

“What is art and what is not is a big dilemma now. You will find a lot of computer-generated, tampered, over-painted and photo-transferred art in the market. A lot of buyers don’t know real art and galleries do not always educate the buyers,” says Das.

According to Das, “there is a lot of fake art going in the country for the last 15 years”.

“Never before has there been such debauchery in art in the name of commodification. Art auctions have been a corrupting influence. Why should a painting be sold at 10 times more than the original price and 10 times over? Now, nobody is buying art because of recession. We are living in a false society in many ways,” Das laments.

The artist says he does not know much about recession. “But I know that a lot of artists who had raised their prices are being forced to revise them. And galleries, who had branches across the world, had to close down,” Das says.

Born to a traditional Hindu family in Mayurbhanj in Orissa, Das was exposed to art early on.

“I grew up amid tribal and folk art, crafts, dance and music. My mother painted and wrote and siblings also painted. It comes from my mother. It was a very rich childhood,” said the artist, who moved to Mumbai at the age of 16 to study at the J.J. School of Art.

“I usually draw with conte and ink. I paint with oil. Sometimes, I work with acrylic. I have used water colour every day for the last 12 years. I engrave on metals and occasionally etch,” Das said.

The artist also likes to work on large scale murals and welded steel sculptures, many of which are installed in public places across the country like the Bhilai Steel Plant.

“My works are quite unlike other artists. They are usually linear and I sculpt paintings. First, I create the mass - the tone, the colours and the body and then chisel it with lines. They are linear. Most artists first draw the lines and then fill it up with colours. I do it the other way round. My style is more difficult,” Das said, explaining his style.

He scoffs at the “Bombay Progressives” - a group of five to six senior artists who wanted to free Indian art from the European shadows and make an indigenous statement.

“They could never hold the exhibition they intended to. Just because there was a similar movement in Europe, they had to create a movement artificially. Santiniketan was a movement because Rabindranath Tagore was a visionary,” he said.

Das is now busy putting together a Pankha Museum in Bhubaneswar where he plans to display his 26-year-old collection of fans. He also plans to build an art centre where he will donate his personal collection.

“I am busy,” he says with a smile.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at madhu.c@ians.in)

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