Conducted by Milind Sathe
Do you remember the time when you started taking keen interest in drawing and painting? Was it your childhood days or later?
In my Std 7, I had no idea of any so-called art-field or never heard of any Artist at all. But , incidentally, I had copied a close-up of of a pair of folded hands in the mudra of "Namaskar'' from a press advertisement in BxW with a 6B pencil in a 'Durga Puja Speciol Magazine'…and forgot about it.
When was it that you first thought about making this your profession? Did you have a role model to emulate or was there someone in your family who was an artist and therefore a big influence?
But, my only brother, who was elder to me (and who was like Theo to Vincent Van Gogh) noticed it and enthused me after my general schooling, while teasing 'As all subjects in syllabus are impossible for you, better go for Art' !!...and he was a professor in Bengali.
Tell me more about your early years and education.
I had never known that I have a definite, hidden feeling and love for Art. As one likes fresh air, as one likes Nature, vast violent waves of the Sea or Huge layers of still Waves of the Mountains. After joining Govt. College of Art & Craft, Calcutta (now Kolkata), I enjoyed sketching, drawing and to use oil paints on canvas. Slowly, I was exposed to the vast world of art. Though I enjoyed my 5 years in Art College, even then, I loved Literature and joined General College (Bangabasi College, under Calcutta University ) for evening classes simultaneously. As, my father had expired in my first year in college, all the expenses were borne by me. I had to take tuitions in the morning, everyday. We were taught to give most importance to learn the anatomy of figures. We used to go to the Zoo for animal study, in groups. And, also used to visit the Railway platforms of Sealdah, Howrah stations regularly, for the knowledge of human anatomy. The Sealdah Station was the make-shift homes of the Refugee Families from East Pakistan / Bangladesh.
My teacher Jagadish Roy told me once, "Milon, carry your sketch-book, pens or pencils always with you, as, the ladies carry their purses, vanity bags with them….", and, I had taken it so seriously that, I carried them with me even when accompanying my father or brother to community weddings, thread ceremonies during my early years in the art college.
What did you do after completing your education?
I Was invited by Metal Box Company to join them as a Visualiser in Calcutta. But after a couple of months I started hating the job. I was feeling suffocated as if I was in a closed box. I thought, 'was I born to design containers throughout my life' and left it. Started to do freelance illustrations and book-cover designs to earn money. Used to go for drinks with non-artist friends and visited Sonagachhi ( The notorious red-light areas in Calcutta). Had my first solo Exhibition of Paintings on brown 'Cardboards' (less priced than canvases), titled 'Gray Community', on the days & nights of Prostitutes of agony, torture, fear and eternal loneliness. I was 20 at that time and the show was the talk of the town, but no sell. Who'll buy prostitutes on perishable cardboards, for his walls?... Came to Bombay (now Mumbai) to look for a job.
I got the illustrators' job in Ajanta Advertising, within a week. Left it in 3 months, when they tried to force me to copy a lathe machine for an advertisement for approval of their client. Unemployed in an unknown city, started contributing articles in Bengali magazines of Calcutta as a columnist. Stayed sharing a room with 7 other roommates of a "Mess"(Lodge) on Hill Road, Bandra. Due to the absence of regular income, had to spend nights on Dadar platform no.4 often & on.
Your journey as an artist?
I got a job of free-lance Illustrator/visualiser with Times of India which eventually turned as a Permanent one. And had started painting in Oil colours on 'real' canvas. The First solo Exhibition in Mumbai was "Children without Childhood" in 1971 at Taj Art Gallery was sold-out before the week. Though, some reviews in the media were not appetising. Since then onwards, I have never looked back.
Other interests in life? If you were not an artist, what would you be?
A Bohemian, a Vagabond or may be a Gypsy Pied-Piper!
Which artists have had a lasting influence on your thought process?
Edward Munch, Dali, Expressionists like Gauguin, Van Gogh, Lautrec…Picasso, MF Husain and so on…
How interested are you in social and political issues? Have these at any point in time influenced your art practice?
Once I was attracted towards Marxism, because of the vast differences between the living standards of human beings in our country. If you see my earlier works (most of which were sold or destroyed during Monsoon, when I was staying in a slum on Versova Beach, which got flooded. Another reason is my negligence.) Frankly speaking, I am and was always pained, suffered and at the same time, enjoyed and loved the process of my execution of the thought behind any theme. But, after the canvas is ready with the painting , I start losing interest in general. Because, I think, I could have executed it much better. I remained, as always, dissatisfied.
What do you think is the reason that the art market in India is going through a long period of slow growth? I would like to believe that this is because few greedy art dealers and artists sold mediocre art to gullible investors as high grade investment in art and when the investors realised this they simply stopped investing in art. Do you agree with this?
Absolutely. Though my knowledge about the nitty-gritty of art-business or market is almost nil, because, I have never broken my head about selling. Had never created an art piece, keeping in mind the thought of selling. After creating if it sells, I would be happy, thinking it has been admired by a viewer, who wanted to own it. I would feel proud like a father, who is glad to see his good daughter is getting married to another person.
Why is awareness about visual arts so limited in India? I mean why so few people visit art exhibitions?
Because people have less basic knowledge to observe and enjoy art. The urge also has not been created in General schools or colleges. The 'eye' of the general people has not been trained to observe and enjoy a creation. Look at the aam-janata who never look at the beauty of creation around Nature, whether it's a flower, waves of the sea or mountain or the clouds in the sky. Alas!
Do you think that the system of art education in India needs to undergo a thorough overhaul? What is lacking and what needs to be done?
Sorry! I am a good student of art or literature alright, but never a good teacher.
Which themes have you enjoyed working on in your career so far?
All of them. They are all my children. May be, a little biased about my Music Makers.
What kind of work you see yourself doing in the future?
I don't think or dwell in the Past or Future. This day is in my hand. I live everyday.
Do you believe that an artist should do figurative work in the initial years and turn to the abstract form, if at all, after having fully explored the figurative genre? Your thoughts on this debate about abstraction?
You are capable of breaking a sentence if are aware of how to construct a correct sentence. If you are aware of the anatomy of any object or subject, you know how beautifully you can break it towards abstraction.
Name your favourite paintings (not more than 5) and a brief note on each.
Picasso's "Guernica", Edward Munch's "Scream" Lautrec's Ballet dancers, Van Gogh's "L' Eglise d' Auvers", Husain's "Mother"
Any persons you wish to acknowledge for having contributed to your journey so far?
My Brother, who is no more…And, my viewers who enjoyed my works .