Milind Sathe of Indiaart talked to Anuj Malhotra to decode the artist and understand his journey, motivations and aspirations. Here is Anuj unplugged :
Do you remember any impressions or incidents from your childhood days that triggered your interest in painting ?
I was brought up in a very small town. I started dabbling with various forms of art right from when I was three and havenít looked back ever since. The opportunities available to learn art formally were few and far between but I would grab any chance that came my way. In fact when I was seven, a young couple, graduates of JJ School of Fine Arts, started a night school for teaching the basics of fine art. I remember being the youngest in the class and loving each and every session that they conducted. It helped me get a grip on the basics of fine art.
I have since worked with a myriad of mediums such as clay, wood, sand, pulp, thermacol, and metal apart from the usual canvas and paper. I have also played around with other forms of art like sculpting, clay modeling, batik, carving and so on. Each medium and form has taught me very valuable lessons and given me insights into the potential that they hold.
At what age, did you start sketching or painting in a serious way ?
All through the way in my college and school I kept myself connected to my artistic self. Sometimes as the fine arts secretary in the college cultural committee or sometimes through intercollegiate cultural events and even stuff like painting large Murals on school or college walls. It is only when Mumbai happened to me that I really got engrossed in my work and lost my touch with art for over five years. Then one day, almost ten years ago, I was invited to an art show and that really re-kindled my passion. I started painting again and slowly started approaching online art galleries to display my works. Over time, art collectors started showing interest in my works and my canvases started adorning more and more walls.
What has been your motivation to paint ?
Motivation is all around us. The morning breeze, autumn leaves, cobbled pavements, people from various walks of life, a journey or even dreams. Interestingly, i have got some great ideas while being in the loo - yes literally. I am not joking. I think it is one place and moment eveyday in our lives when we are really meditating (provided we are not reading a newspaper or whatsapping)
Basically, what i am trying to say is that all we need is eyes to be aware and a wilingness to be inspired. We need not wait for THE BIG MOMENT. Generally, nothing BIG happens in our lives. The small, delta things that happen all round us all the time are enough to give me motivation or inspiration.
You have often said that you are not really bothered about the money you will earn by selling your paintings but your greatest satisfaction is derived from the fact that somebody has liked your work and is willing to pay some amount to acquire it. Is that a genuine high ?
A BIG YES. It was in the year 2005, when a collector wanted to own one of my works and he reached me through one of the online art galleries, and tried to negotiate the price for a 5% discount. The very thought of somebody wanting to own my painting was so great that I was ready to give him the painting at 5% of the cost instead. I still get the same high even now, every time, when somebody enquires about my works, while how I react to the discounts may be a lot different.
To be an artist is not an easy path. Despite the difficulties, what sustains you on this path ?
Yes. It is not all that glamorous as it may sound. It entails a lot of sacrifices. At times it makes me antisocial, not wanting to go out meet friends, party etc. Painting is indeed very lonely hobby, it's only a myriad of thoughts that gives an artist a company. Each painting is a struggle between 1. the artists thought, execution and 2. the canvas. Some times the canvas wins and the works don't see the light of the day, but most of the time the artist wins (at least I ensure that) and the painting reaches a wall on the gallery. These are the winning moments that keeps me going all the time. It is very akin to playing an online game. After one wins the first level, there is a short burst of adrenalin which gives the player a high and immediately the player moves on to the next level and next and so on and so forth. By the way, there is a study on this which cites this reason why kids today are addicted to games on a tab or mobile phone.
The only difference is painting is not virtual and it gives you a real high.
Support from family is crucial for an artist to flourish. What is your experience ? After all, your family would prefer that you spend time with them on a picnic or on a shopping outing rather than lock yourself up and paint.
I would say I am really lucky on this aspect. My wife and son are very supportive of my passion and they have accommodated very well. I would also like to think that I have not made any compromise as far as time with my family is concerned. In fact I feel it keeps me more at home, else I would be out playing some sport or the other. Also since I am not in a hurry to complete my works, I always give my family the first priority.
And I NEVER lock myself up and paint. I always like people around, lost of music, food, hungama and excitement around. It helps me concentrate better. Oh yes, family is also a very good sounding board for works in progress (provided one gets genuine feedback). I have taken many course corrections basis interim feedback from family members and close friends and neighbours.
Could you elaborate on your journey as a painter so far ? What were the initial themes that you painted ? Did these themes or your style change over a period. Take us through this journey.
This part is not so interesting. Frankly there is no consistent pattern. I have done everything at all times. I started doing landscapes, then dabbled with abstract and then figurative, and now I dabble in all. I like to take up different themes and go deep into them one at a time
You interact with so many people in your professional career. Have these interactions enriched your though process and provided you with inputs for your painting ?
It does help to meet different people not only in art but also generally in life. Every individual and every interaction leaves me more enriched. One can learn a lot by just meeting different people from different walks of life.
Oh yes, one more important learning for me is exactly what the book "Secrets" talks about. Every individual who I tell about my passion of painting, has helped me in some way or the other. Some immensely and some to a small extent. But each and everybody has helped me by nudging me towards creating better and better works, reaching out to more art galleries, online web sites etc.
It is interesting to note that you like to paint figures as well as abstracts. There are not too many artists who do that. Could you elaborate on this ?
I don't like to restrict myself to a particular form or style for two reasons. First, it would be really boring for me and Second, I believe in telling a story. Each series of my works is woven around a particular theme, a unique story. For me it is more important that I am able to tell the story well, for which even if I have to, i will cut across styles, formats and even mediums.
When I look at your figurative work, what strikes me is that you are not merely painting good looking figures which will look good on the walls but these seem to be thought provoking works. Could you elaborate on this ?
I always like to communicate some thought through each one of my paintings. While like the viewers to interpret my works from their own world view, I prefer that they see it first through my eyes. There each one of my series has an overarching theme, each painting a name and most importantly a very clear caption which is basically the lens that I see that particular work through.
You like to run and participate in marathons. As I have mentioned to you earlier, I do not know of too many artists who would do that. Is running as intense a passion for you as is painting ? Are there any parallels ?
Humans are wired for reaching unbelievable frontiers both mentally and physically. I am a very staunch believer in this. It is only when one crosses a particular barrier does one realise that the next bar is not too far or high. Running a marathon tests my physical strength while painting allows me to stretch my imaginations, therefore yes, they both are equally intense passions for me.
While one should have clear long term (and most of the time seemingly unachievable) goals, they should be broken into smaller, achievable goals. This makes life much simpler and happier with a very strong feeling of accomplishment.
Like one of the pacers in the Mumbai Marathon kept rattling in the last mile "2 minutes of pain and a year of glory"