‘Art should not be seen in a cage or in a frame’

<i>National Herald</i> gets up, close and personal with artist Dattatreya Apte and learns about his creative world and the world in which he also has to make a living

Photo by Ashish Kumar Singh and Akshat Sinha
Photo by Ashish Kumar Singh and Akshat Sinha

Ashish Kumar Singh

The ‘Desi Canvas’ along with 'The Drifting Canvas' was exhibited in April-June 2017 in New Delhi. While the Desi Canvas showcased the works of 41 contemporary Indian artists, ‘The Drifting Canvas’ had a multimedia display of 11 great artists like Monet, Van Gogh and Klimt. The ‘Desi Canvas’ held 8 shows that ran for a week each.

Designed and curated by Aakshat Sinha, the shows attempted to capture the cross section of Indian contemporary art scene. Paintings, sculptures, etchings, prints and installations brought together various styles on one platform.

Dattatreya Apte, an accomplished painter and printmaker, is one of the artists whose works were showcased in this exhibition. Apte was trained at the University of Baroda, India, and at the Glasgow School of Art, Scotland.

Apte has also taught printmaking at various workshops in France, India and Nepal and curated several graphic print exhibitions and published related catalogues. He has also taught at the School of Architecture at the University of Baroda. A conversation with him shows how being unconventional and innovative is essential to creativity.

1. What is the story behind you becoming an artist?

It is just the upbringing. My father was a teacher. He groomed three of his children in different fields. My elder brother was interested in literature. My younger brother was into music. I was more interested in decorating the house. Father was always doing illustrations for his classes and singing bhajans. From making rangoli during Ganesh puja to making the statue of Ganesha which was used for the puja, he made sure I became an artist.

My maternal uncle used to go to the Krishna River for his bath every day and he would bring back clay. Every day, the shivling was freshly made and then immersed in the river. The Mohenjodaro bull form is still made in my area. Art is something that grows on you. It is not forced. My school teacher was from JJ School of Art. The environment was conducive for art. After matriculation, my teacher told me that I could join engineering but I did not want to be an engineer. My father’s uncle was a self-taught photographer. I learnt to retouch the negatives and he took me to Pune for art studies. Although I was enrolled in the JJ school for sculpture, I ended up studying at Abhinav Kala Vidyalaya in Pune.

2. What inspires you to put your energy into art?

Everybody needs space to express him or her self. Some write, act or sing. I have a feeling that if I can draw, I can better express myself. It is a very personal expression. It is akin to writing a diary. Every day you get an opportunity to express. Observing people, nature and even reading newspaper, the entire experience percolates into expression.

3. What materials do you use in your paintings?

I don’t confine myself to just paintings. I make prints in all mediums, use oil, acrylics, even make sculptures in bronze. If I think of making a sculpture, I will make one and not try to make a painting of the sculpture.

Photo by Ashish Kumar Singh and Akshat Sinha
Photo by Ashish Kumar Singh and Akshat Sinha
A printwork of Qutub Minar 

4. How have you evolved as an artist?

Evolution comes in time spans spent in different phases and your work speaks about the change. As a student, you study a lot. You keep working, you are not always successful but even failures push you to try something new. I don’t follow the practice of translating the same ideas into different mediums. I think it limits your thought process. Adventure is always interesting although the rate of success may be low.

5. Who is/are your favorite artist(s)? And why?

JD Gondharekar from Pune is my favourite. He retired as the Dean of JJ School of Art in the year I was born. He was instrumental in getting me into printmaking. His way of teaching history of art was very different and he was fabulous at drawing during his travels. My monument series was similar to that in a way. That was towards the beginning of my career. One can have as many gurus as one wants in life. I appreciate KG Subramanyan for spontaneity and Jeram Patel for his continuous intensity.

6. As an artist what do you think needs to be done to reach out to more people?

Education is very important. Art should not be seen in a cage or in a frame. It must be seen and felt in every walk of life. One should react/respond. Appreciation or disgust: a reaction should be there. This idea of expression, of creativity and responding is not taught from a very early age. Appreciation of what the other person is doing should be encouraged.

7. What differences do you find between the audience in India and that abroad?

Basic difference is that of education. Abroad, especially in the West, going to museum, parks or concerts is a part of life. In India, we are too busy managing our daily affairs. We are never taught or tuned in to appreciating finer things in life. But if you go to a tribal household, the house is clean and well-organised. And paintings are also part of their life. The urban people have lost touch with this aspect. We keep hanging somewhere in between. We would like to appreciate art but then we will not want to be overwhelmed by it. So we will not bother to respond.

8. Is art limited to some economic classes in India? If so, what are the reasons behind it?

Appreciation of art comes with upbringing. Now, it has more to do with the economic class that you belong to. If you have the means, you have choices. Art nowadays is seen only in confined spaces and even on page 3. The focus is more on celebrities, not on the art. Art never gets the attention it deserves.

9. How do you see the market of art in India?

People buy art because someone told them that they should buy a particular work. In fact, a buyer should buy only if he likes it and not because of peer pressure or class compulsion. The connoisseurs will buy a work for the joy of it and for future generations as well. Unnecessary jacking up of price of art works is also turning away the buyer.

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