‘The art is not meant only for rich people’

Ambika Shaligram
Thursday, 12 October 2017

Senior contemporary artist Atul Dodiya speaks about art, galleries and museums, ahead of his talk in the city

In 2005, Atul Dodiya inaugurated Maharashtra Cultural Centre’s (MCC) Sudarshan Art Gallery. And, 12 years later, he is going to be back at the gallery to deliver a retrospective of his creative journey of the last three decades. On Saturday, Dodiya will be engaging in a dialogue with students and members of the art fraternity, wherein he will be making an audio-visual presentation of his paintings.

Speaking to Sakal Times ahead of the ‘Chitra Sanvad’ initiative of MCC, the senior contemporary artist says, “In my talk, I will explain the variety of mediums and subject matter of paintings that I have experimented with. As far as explaining art is concerned, I talk in the same language with the layman and the artists. My articulation is very simple. I myself don’t understand too much critical and theoretical approach.” 

This sets the tone for a free-wheeling and candid chat with the Ghatkopar-based artist. Excerpts...

A senior artist once revealed that he prefers bare walls in his home because he can visualise his next painting on them. When we asked if Dodiya follows a similar approach, he remarked, “An empty room doesn’t inspire me. I need people around me, talking, arguing, joking, gossipping — it’s from here my art emerges.” 

The enduring themes in his work are cinema motifs and a series of portraits of Mahatma Gandhi. “There is no agenda that I have to follow certain films, theatre or literature. These engagements happen seamlessly. I love poetry, especially Arun Kolatkar’s and Vinda Karandikar’s. Their works inspire me to do something. When I was a teenager, I watched lots of plays at Chhabildas in Dadar — those of Arvind Deshpande, Vijay Tendulkar and Nana Patekar. I also followed Avishkar’s theatre productions. I used to watch Satyadev Dubey’s Hindi plays,” he says.

However, his overriding love has been for Satyajit Ray’s Bengali cinema. “The images in his movie are beautiful. They provoke me, inspire me. I have seen his Apur Sansar — Apu Trilogy — several times. Currently, young Marathi filmmakers are doing fine work,” Dodiya points out.  

At home in Mumbai and coming up with splendid work after his stay in Paris, one wonders if geographical locations have influenced his art. The contemporary artist agrees and says, “I have always said that whatever I have achieved through my work is because of Mumbai, where I have been born and brought up. If I was born in Santiniketan, I would have been a different kind of painter. The pace of life is different there. It’s in close proximity with nature while in Mumbai, there is lot of noise, chaos. My creativity is within this chaos. The geography does play a role, but it doesn’t have to apply to all.” 

It’s only recently that Dodiya moved to his penthouse studio in Ghatkopar. Earlier, he worked from his father’s house in a Ghatkopar chawl. There his neighbours would often stop, take a look at his work, comment and ask questions. Dodiya believes that his neighbours have every right to stop by and see his work, and raise their doubts. “That’s one way of getting acquainted with modern art. Many say, ‘we don’t understand modern art of Gaitonde or Raza. But they understand Ravi Varma, Moolgaonkar and Deenanath Dalal. The reason is because they don’t visit art galleries. It’s also our fault that the galleries are in South Mumbai. Shouldn’t we open more galleries and museums in suburbs? The art is not meant only for rich people. It’s for everyone,” he emphasises. 

“When we have to do good shows, we have to go to Mumbai or Delhi. Why not Ahmedabad or Chennai and Bengaluru? Or Pune and Nagpur? Ours is a huge country, but very few people run galleries. There should be active galleries, holding programmes every month. First, a small group of people will attend, then more people will join. The tribe will increase,” he adds. 

Continuing with his thoughts on galleries and museums, Dodiya says, “Seeing art is more important. Practising is one thing, but seeing is another. I wouldn’t say ‘go and watch any Tom, Dick and Harry’s painting exhibition’; but go and look at the work of the masters like Picasso, Van Gogh etc. These are the people you should be visiting — through their works, reproductions, reprints, interpretations of their work in museums or reading books on them or making use of internet.” 

When asked what role biennales have to play in art education, the creator of Shutter series says, “In India, we don’t have museums, institutions dealing with contemporary art. So in this kind of scenario, when you have a biennale, where the works of international artists are shown, it is a great thing. So whether a biennale is being held in Kochi or Pune, please attend. This is how you make people aware of how you can enjoy and enrich yourself through art. Art can be a life-changing experience.” 

Art can also be a shattering experience when politics enters art and sets limits on what an artist can do with his canvas. For the 50th independence of India, Dodiya had made a series of portraits on Mahatma Gandhi. Has anything changed at all in the last two decades? 

“There is so much of hatred now, so much of intolerance. People are not willing to accept other people’s lifestyles, food habits. Any imposition on anyone is not a right thing. A single party or group cannot decide what the entire country should do. It’s not acceptable. As an artist, my primary requirement is freedom. If there is no freedom, then there is no creation,” he says emphatically.

And, as far as deciding what can artist do or not, it solely depends on the artist. “Only I have the right to decide about my work. There are some people who like the experiments I do in my work. They feel that Atul’s work is amazing. There are others who feel that my work is too diverse, which is fine. But what I should do on the canvas, only I can decide,” adds Dodiya. 

Atul Dodiya will be holding a retrospective of his art work as a part of the 50th episode of ‘Chitra Sanvad’ organised by Maharashtra Cultural Centre’s Sudarshan Art Gallery, on Saturday, October 14. The talk will begin at 6.30 pm. 

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