Archives for posts with tag: India

MF Husain died today… but for some he was never there…

Many years back MF Husain, was seen uncomfortably moving around our Art College¹ office courtyard… And our ‘art professors’ were seen peeping through their ‘office’ windows… it was our break time. I was sitting on the grassy lawns of our campus with some of my friends. It looked so uncomfortably stupid… here was this Art College in the heart of nation’s capital, and in here had come an iconic artist…( I don’t know the reason why). And no one was brave enough to go upto him, talk to him etc. During our lunch break all of us would be setting on the lawns, on the courtyard steps or in the canteen. We all watched this iconic artist strolling around uncomfortably… not knowing what to do.. maybe he was waiting for his appointment with some one..or he may had come to meet the principal or something…

Photo courtesy of © Pankaj Sharma

As I watched this lanky man amble around.. and all eyes watching him in awe… I decided with my friends to go over to him and invite him to sit with us on the lawns.. I went upto him, and he agreed and came and sat with our group of about 4 friends!! I still remember the peeping art professors turning red!!

By the way our art teachers made sure never to invite any of the ‘real artists’ from the outside world, ever to interact with the students for fear of their stature getting more dwarfed than from their already pygmy sizes!!

We all sat down and treated him as one of our friends.. he had no airs and spoke as one of us.. we asked if he would have tea and he readily agreed!! I ran towards our canteen… and reaching the counter hollered:

“Kamal (he was our canteen owner and chef!! who could rustle up lovely tea, samosa, bread pakora, rice, dal, kardhi…) make tea… 5 cups! Jaldi!!” and Kamal with a dour face replied:

“No milk!!”

 I shouted “Kamal we have MF Husain.. please!!”

 Kamal hearing this got equally excited and enthusiastically replied:

 “No problem!! We’ll make black tea.. Husain Saab loves black tea!!”

 So we rushed back with our black tea and had tea with MF Husain!!

 Of course I become more unpopular with my college staff… and had to struggle through my stay there for 4 long years²…


*MF Husain died today (9 June 2011)?! 

But for some he was never there.. so the heading of my essay reads — ‘MF Husain Is Dead… Today?!!’ (2011-06-09) This blog was written when I heard the news of Husain’s death last summer. Indian Art Collectors (a well know art website) was kind enough to publish it then. The extraordinarily beautiful portrait of MF Husain was taken by Pankaj Sharma, also an alumni of Delhi Art College. He has kindly agreed to let me publish it here.

¹Delhi Art College, New Delhi, India



Wheat Harvest, Early Summer Noida Villages, India Oil on Canvas, 38.5cm x 38.5cm, April 2008. SOLD

Some paintings do have a story… this one sure does have one…

It was my first of series of paintings I did in the plein air just before the wheat harvest.. in fields along Yumuna river in Noida (UP).

I went in with my painting equipments etal in the late afternoon …as the April sun can be very strong early on.. I found the wheat just the right colour.. whitish yellow, ripen..and the plant golden yellow.

Finding a spot i went about starting my work… working in oils is always messy and complicated… and doing it outdoors can be sometimes tormenting!! I was quite happy this painting came out well… some don’t and then there is a struggle to make it well..and I hate that moment..when the painting is not getting the right look!! Thus immersed in work, trying to finish the painting, when i noticed a small girl standing close to my elbow… and she blurted out a startled “Hello!!” I realised on the road next to the fields was a big black car and next to it her parents… all ogling at me…

Crowds, passerby coming up and asking questions is part of plein air adventure.. unless it’s the police..or the military..which can be sometimes messy!!

When I smiled at them, they all trooped in and the usual conversation started…

“Wow! lovely!! you just did that…? We saw you when going towards our farmhouse an hour back… you paint so fast, do you sell? etc etc”.

They went away promising to come over to my studio and buying… (which of course they never did!!)

By the time I cleaned brushes, palette and packed up, it was dark and i dumped all paints, oils, easels into the back seat and only the wet painting in the dickey of the car… the biggest problem of oil is to bring back wet painting home safely… my work is thick impasto..with fresh colours like a relief..a kind of a torte!! and one little touch or it getting softly rubbed will completely spoil it..

I kept the wet canvas on the floor of the car dickey.. which i generally keep empty.

On the way home i stooped by for some tea at my friend’s small tea shop next to the fields.. back home i didn’t want to open the dickey in the dark and bring out the wet canvas and carry it three floors up.. so left it to do so the next day. Rest of my painting gear lies always in the car.

Next day I had some work in the day in Delhi so I left in my car and after finishing my work I drove straight back to the Noida fields… I started a new work as soon as I reached without even taking out the wet one lying in the that once done I can lineup the two works and compare and also do the last minute touch ups..

So once done with the second painting i went to my car to open the dickey.. to take out the painting.. and what I saw broke my heart!! In the night i hadn’t realised the existence of an old stupid empty plastic bottle!! which had been using the wet canvas as a dance floor…

So here it was, a finished work had a plastic bottle rolling all over it the whole time i was driving back home and then to Delhi and back…

Many of my works are very spontaneous..and I don’t rub and repaint over and over.. I like the strokes to show… and here all those lovely thick impasto were all smothered!!  It had never happened this scale.. though it does happen.

Anyway with a dogged determination I went about recreating…I don’t like to sit on a work which I have once finished…

At the end though I doubt anybody can make out that this painting had a makeover?!! Can you?

you can view my works here..

Art Today.. in India

The other day I received an email inviting me to give few of my paintings in a ‘charity exhibition’.. the terms were they mustn’t be more that fifty thousand Indian rupees and I get 50% from sale… I agreed and gave away some of my ‘better works’ priced within the prescribed bracket, for it was a good cause. After a few days I get an email from unknown person claiming to have seen my works on the net and has been very impressed etc… and asking the prices of 2 of my works etc. (Not the works I had given away to the Charity exhibition.) I gave her the prices but never heard of her again; Acting on a hunch I just googled and ‘facebooked” her email ID and found her to be some ‘potter’ (one of those who sell ‘designer pots’ to the elite.. not the humble potter who makes clay pots for our daily use, they are generally not on Facebook or on the net!!)

I was amused as the person wasn’t old enough to look like a serious art collector..

Next day I hear from the ‘Charity people’ that I have priced my works over “my market price”… The ‘Potter’ was their spy/ decoy customer… who had enacted the entrapment!!!

This funny and sad episode truly exposes the decadence and utter ignorance that has set into the consumerist Indian society today…

Let me briefly go into the details for the one who are not aware of murky world of “Indian Art” today:

I have been painting and exhibiting my works since 1990 after my completion of four-year of art college from Delhi College of Art, India. I never really took up any job as I wanted a fairly independent life and never believed a true artist should do a 9 to 5!! And fortunately didn’t have to work in a claustrophobic binding environment… Maybe I was more lucky than the ones who had to sustain their families, and thus went on to join various ‘jobs’ available for art graduates…

Its been 20 odd years now… a life of hardship, struggle and most importantly of joy and fulfilment!! I have exhibited and sold my works around the globe… I still remember the money earned (Rs 1500) form the sale of my first work.. it was in Madras… well that some other day!!

When I had my first solo show in 1992 there were some really good art critics and they were the old school types… especially I remember Krishna Chaitanya, K.L. Kaul.. both dead now.. was fortunate to get very encouraging reviews not mention Keshav Malik. Later the art critics and writing about art and artists turned into a business… for a bottle of whiskey or cash one got a headline with razzle-dazzle reviews in our national dailies!! By late 90s the bosses at the newspapers must had got wind of the this nefarious activity and put an end to publishing reviews altogether… the critics went to town: “its mass commercialisation, the media doesn’t want to waste its precious columns/newsprint on something as insignificant as art…when they can earn a huge amount from advertisement etc!!” The reason must have been both. The once mighty art critics went around writing for artist’s brochures and invitation cards!!

The one thing I have always have been intrigued is how to sell a painting and how to set a price… here I must tell you the story of my ragging:

I was being raged by two very serious, senior, arty types, the first day of my art college…

Two-serious-senior-arty-types: ‘What is art”?

Me-nervous-fresher: ‘Art is the out pouring of our soul…blah, blah, blah..’

Serious-senior-arty-types: ‘Is it like a part of us etc?’

Me nervous-fresher (now falling in the trap): Yes a part of us…

“Like our own blood… like our offspring?”

“Yes, yes…” I replied getting very carried away now..

Their next remark still rings in my ears:

“Then tell me how come we sell our art? Would you sell your son or daughter?!!”

It was a funny comparison but it made sense…

A painting/sculpture is very dear to us..and selling it is a difficult act. Leonardo carried Mona Lisa around for 16 years (it was a commissioned work)… on pretext it wasn’t finished yet!! But then it is also a happy occasion that its accepted and appreciated. I still feel the pang when I finally pack a work off to a buyer.. never to see it again. But I think these emotions are now a thing of the past with the crazy advent of art as a commodity, as an investment… the craze to sell overpowers all other emotions. Agree selling our work is important as its also our only source of livelihood.. here am referring to artists who are refereed to as “full-time”. But that’s how it is and has always been.. since a long-long time.

Something changed as we entered an era of liberalisation et al… suddenly there were loads of buyers, art galleries (these are not to be confused with galleries in the west… these are basically basements owned by rich husbands to lets his bored wives do a bit of arty business!!) and lot more ‘artists’ selling their wares!!! Artists and buyers both were now in a frenzy pace to become hot selling artists and big collectors respectively!! Like this diamond merchant from Bombay who bought some of my paintings sometime back. Within a few months he emailed me to know if my “works are going to go up or has they gone up etc?”!! I told him they don’t go up and down like the stock market and anyway I am no ‘investment’ artist!! He felt betrayed and remorseful!! I don’t expect him to buy my works ever in the future!!

Some years back when I was in Delhi I would visit my artist friends’ studios while they are painting. They all painted in a frenzy… and all using Acrylic, the most important invention of all time in the medium of painting! No fuss, no smell (o I love the smell of linseed and turpentine…my wife loves me more because of that..she says!!) drys off as it leaves the brush!! And once in a while these artists would move away from their ‘masterpiece’ and ask: “बिकेगी? Will this sell, Roy?” Not how the work is coming along etc!!

They all goaded me as to why am not exhibiting and that there are so many buyers… and mostly they would laugh at my size… that is the size of my paintings!! I generally paint “small size” accordingly to them… like a 9×6 inches or a 10×12 (20x30cm, 30x 40cm)etc!! The maximum size I would paint was about 20×30 inches or 30″x 40″ (100cm x90cm). Well the arguments was if you paint large sizes you get more money!! That is, a large painting is valued more in the Indian art market than a small 10x12inches!! So all these frenzied mad artists were busy painting humongous sizes like 78x 120inches!! Also during this time I heard the bizarre story that artists in Bombay (the so-called Art capital of India) are now selling their works at ‘square inch rate’… that is each artist has a rate say – Rs 1000 per sq. inch’!! I, of course didn’t believe it till I got this email from the ‘Charity people’ who ‘calculated’ my ‘rate’ by taking a quote of some of my works and then dividing it by the size of the canvas!!! God please help me… (this is coming from a staunch atheist!!)

Yes size can be one of the factors.. but it is not the only factor which can make up the price of a painting!! Size only can affect the physical part of the painting.. like a big size canvas, more paint, more on logistics, may take more time and ‘labour’!!… But these cant makeup the cost-value of the painting… a paintings cost because of its artistic cannot be calculated with the size of the canvas… it makes me sick even to explain all this… this is so fundamental, even a child knows!! So what are those? The quality of the work is first and foremost… and this the artist decides..mostly…we asses our work first and then put a price, also I have had many a discussions with gallery owners or friends and have taken their views too… I judge my works very critically.. why it should be so priced..etc and it’s always the quality of the work.. the workmanship, skill… For artists are all human and we don’t paint, cant paint in the same quality every time.. that’s why we have this concept of a Masterpiece.. meaning a master’s piece.. the best of the best.. and likewise we do produce some bad paintings..trash!! And those, I paint over…reuse, linen/ canvas is expensive!!

An artist can’t possibly paint consistently, our quality, skill, workmanship, etc. keep changing from canvas to canvas.. from one period to another… So lets say a canvas 24×30 inches can’t possibly be exactly as beautiful as the next one.. so how can 2 works with the same size be priced same? Yes its convent for the galleries (Art shops) do price them evenly..but the artist must hold his ground..this his territory. He must decide.

There is also a policy a senior artist must price his work high.. and I don’t get it… there were some who sold all their life works at a very consistent and affordable prices.. even when they were very famous.. I recall an Artist from Bengal who kept her prices very middle class through out her life!!

And now we have most artists (who are senior) trying to command unheard of prices only because they are old..and have been painting for long!!

The tragedy is that many of them try to fix a price according to their years in the circuit…which calculates to such an astronomical figure that they don’t end up selling at all!! Recently one of them committed suicide as he was unable to sell!! I had known him since my art college days… a humble stupid man.. he rose high and for some years was very successful… but then he kept increasing his price..trying to keep up with others of his hierarchy… and a time came there wasn’t any buyer left who could afford him!! He died penniless!!

I am not in their league and I have kept my prices very humble… giving away many of my work free at times.

But my price is my price and i set it…not by size!! by my conviction of what its artistic merit is..

To come back to the ‘Charity Art people’..they told me I would have to bring price down and they gave me a figure!! Of course I had already backed out of the show!! But they were not used to artists standing up to them… they told me most of the “(Indian) art buyers are well-educated and well versed with both trends as well as pricing of the works of the participating artists.” The farce of selling and buy art has come to such that it’s now reduced to just taking a sample off and a simple calculation.. lo and behold you have the pricing of an artists!!! Just the way one shops for curtain/upholstery material, fabric!! My wife when she heard this said: “Tell the ‘Potter spy’ to make large-sized pots… it would definitely fetch her some big money!!!

This is where we have a dark damp pit!! Imagine now sculptors selling their wares by kilogrammes!!! Rs 1000 per kg!! Or by volume?

What about writing? Poems? and short story writers? Lev Tolstoy’s War and Peace would make a killing while Hemingway’s Old Man and The Sea would find it tough going!!

When we judge some of the well know works around the world do we do so it by size?

 Les Iris Oil on canvas 71 cm × 93 cm (28 in × 36.625 in) 1889 Sold Price: $105, 000,000!!

What is the size of Mona Lisa? (77 ×53cm), Sunflowers (92.1×73cm) and Irises (71×93cm) by Van Gogh… some of Monet’s Lilies are large.. but his intention were not to get more out of buyers!!

Here lets talk only of living contemporary artists… The pricing farce has reach such ludicrous level that some time you just feel like you are in a mad house!! For example we all are aware there is a price for things attached to famous /infamous people… those who are dead and gone long back… like if I had an umbrella used by Monet, it would get me good money… its knickknacks like these which ‘item collectors’ pay and is often auctioned, quite understandable… they have their charm. But does it make sense in a country like ours where the so labelled ‘famous senior artist’ selling their scribbles, mindless drawings etc. for over cores of Indian rupees?!! This idiotic piece of ‘Pen and Ink’ on paper by Jogen Chowdhury (alive, famous-senior-artist-type) is priced at Rs.1,500,000 / USD $33,333 ?!! Its laughable..and plain stupid that someone will ever may pay such an amount!!

I want to end this essay with S.H. Raza, was in news recently for his work went for around $3,486,965 or approximately Rs 16 crore, a record amount and the media has gone mad over fact media person is hoping who will now break this ‘record’ and reach a Rs 20 crore !! à la cricket score!! I am shocked at the vanity of this lady (wife of a business man) who could spent such an amount on a painting which by all account is just a painting.. one hangs on one’s wall to decorate one’s home or office!! I say so because a Raza painting is not going to drive millions to line up outside her house to gaze at it… thus earning her or the Indian government any revenue. It’s not a Van Gogh or a Monet. Some year back I went to Basel (Switzerland) to see Van Gogh’s landscapes.. the exhibition was mounted on such a scale that the entire country was involved. From airlines, trains, buses, hotels… all were geared up for millions of art lovers and tourists who came from all over the world. Last summer I spent a month in and around Florence and saw the queue outside the museum.. people were waiting for over 5 hours to just buy the tickets to get in!! Imagine how much the Italian government earns from its’ collection of Leonardos and Michelangelos.. India and Raza have to wait for some time for that!! In the meantime I wish this buyer could have bought up a ‘museum full’ of works by talented artists from the same amount!! $3,486,965 could easily have bought her as many as 1162 paintings @ rate of  $3000 (approx. Rupees 1,50,000)!!

Anyway now about artist S.H.Raza, alive, famous-senior-artist-type. After spending over 50 years in France when Raza wanted to donate his works etc to the place where he lived the city municipal refused!! Non of his works have been acquired by any of France’s innumerable Museums…He returned to India few years back and I remember had gone to a nondescript art gallery in Haus Khas, New Delhi.. to get my works back.. as I waited patiently.. being told curtly by the gallery manager, “We have customers!!” as some foreign tourist walked in.. and all staff got busy sucking up to them!! Of course I raised hell and shot back, “And an artist is nothing? Is this a shop or an art gallery? Hold your customers at bay and return my works at once!!” In this melee an aspiring journalist who had come to interview the gallery owner came up to me and I took the opportunity to give ‘the interview’!! Told her some hard facts about the state of art we live in!! On one corner of this art shop sat the company parrot making one phone call after the other, à la telemarketing. Parroting the same line over and over:

“We have Raza, we have Raza, world-famous artist, M F Husain’s friend blah-blah -blah etc”

It was pathetic… neither the caller nor the ones he was calling had any idea about the artist!! They must have got hold of his work as the old man was in town!!

Now wheelchair bound and painting in his lonely apartment. Outside a long queue of art galleries, art collectors awaiting to snatch up whatever Raza can paint…The scenario is like on National Geographic TV.. the vultures closing on an old dying majestic elephant!!

you can view my works here..

Two Friends At A Tea Shop, Noida Fields, Near River Yamuna. 2009

As India is getting all excited and ready for the F1 (Indian Formula One) race event… I wonder, like me many more would remember the space, place we once cherished and occupied… the vast wide open fields around Noida, Yamuna. It wasn’t long ago that I would spend time around these very places, where today ear-splitting sound of Formula One cars would be jet-setting.. and ironically this was my space!! A space I had found and cherished, for its quietude. To run away from the madness of city life, to be with wide open green fields of rice in autumn, wheat fields in winter. Not to mention the yellow mustard fields and innumerable vegetables I would get from large hearted villagers, mostly refusing money…

The land around the rivers Yamuna and Hindon have been my happy hunting ground to paint and take pictures, to sit under a tree, to drink tea at my friend’s small tea shop. I had just returned from Europe. One late September afternoon while out on a drive to spot Nilgai, a waft of strong aromatic rice being cooked floated in, but there wasn’t a soul around! I stopped and looked around the ripened Basmati growing fields and then my friend told me the aroma is coming from the rice fields!! Later we saw those large beautiful animals crossing over the vast rice fields, their short, sharp pointed horns and a beautiful gait. The concerned agency had taken away the land and cut them in huge chunks and laid roads in a grid pattern.. a layout our forefathers from the banks of Sindhu Civilisation did some 5000 thousand years back… Though the land had been taken away and some kind of roads were being laid, it was still cultivated by the enterprising villagers.. to extract the last benefits before being buried completely by an asphalt jungle…

My flat too is constructed on these plains..and pointing towards that he said, ” You know an entire village can feed and sustain from just the area of land these flats occupy?”

There are so many memories and paintings I have painted in these fields… but every now and then when I would go back to a favourite spot only to be greeted by huge construction machines and workers turning the spot into a huge dug up mess. The Kash flowers grow in abundance here (in the wild) during the autumn months, just as the rains go away and the festive season starts. In winter villagers grew vast fields of marigold and roses.

Now the land is gone, with little compensation in banks, these villagers don’t know what to do… some have bought land elsewhere and some have squandered it off..

India is in a frenzy, trying to make a statement to the world…”We need development. We need Formula one.” I don’t know. But the very place where these developments are happening – these vast area around Yamuna, the numerous villages and the Yamuna itself. I didn’t see any development. The villages are a hotchpotch of houses, roads, lanes, narrow and not metalled, no drainage system, nor is there a sewer system in place and when it rains, there is knee deep slush in the roads and lanes. The roads are so narrow that two tractors won’t pass by. Once while painting in the wheat fields nearby I was invited by one of the villagers to his house to have warm गर्म Buffalo milk, meaning freahly milked not boiled!! So I hopped onto his tractor, leaving my canvas and paints in the fields. His mother and others working there would be looking after. “Anyway there aren’t any thieves here.. only sometimes the migrants from other states can be trouble..” they informed me.

So off we went to his house… the roads were narrow and full of pot holes with open drains. The buffalo shed was cramped. All in all a big unplanned mess. A far cry from our heritage town planning form the ‘Sindhu Days’ we are so proud to tell the world. My friend milked his buffalo and then offered me a big glass of warm milk, it was nice.

While returning back we hit major traffic jam!! It was wheat harvesting season and tractors were all now coming back to their village. While we were to go back to the fields! The village road was so narrow that two tractors wont pass. And we went back and forth to find any vacant space to reverse into, someone courtyard, someones vacant plot! A mere 10 minute walk from the fields took us about an hour!! When we came out of this hell hole called a village and I took a long deep breath of fresh air. And wondered why on earth, when so much land is available we cant have a planned village? I don’t know…

Now we have spent Rs. 1,700 crore (around $400 million) to built a F1 track… and a stone throw away the villagers don’t have playing fields, no gymnasium, safe drinking water and electricity supply is erratic. In stark contrast private builders are offering RO water swimming pool, spa with flats in the enclosed townships. The villages will be there, trapped amidst these private flats. Most have buffaloes and once there were many watering holes for them to bathe and while away time (buffaloes need to do that) now there aren’t any left. All ponds have been filled up for optimum land use. I have talked to these villagers and they are most comfortable when they can keep buffaloes and can cultivate land. These are the two things they do well. Now when we take these away what will they do? I don’t know..

As I gathered my paints and easel lying in the filed, with the moon shinning above, I remembered another evening…

Noida Fields (with Flowers in foreground) Oil on Canvas 14 x 17 inches 2006  

I was painting the Sun setting beyond the Yamunas, over the Delhi-Faridabad skyline. I had put my easel near to where the farmers were busy tending to their vegetables.

I had finished one and wanted do one more of the setting Sun. And by now the group of farmhands had gatherer behind me to see me paint, having finished their work. We all watched in awe as the mighty red Sun went down and the evening was cast in a red-orange robe… and then darkness slowly fell. I quickly started to gather my paints and brushes. One loses them a lot when the light dims!! With a sigh I said to the small band of people around me…”So the sun has set for the day,”.. But one of them told me to turn around quickly, as I did so I saw the dazzling sight of a moon-rise! Coming out from behind a small dark tree, a large sized ball of white and yellow, same size as the sun, only the sky was dark around it. I realised I had forgotten from years of living away from nature, that as sun sets in the west, the moons rises from the east…

Fields3 /Fields, Noida, UP. India
Oil on Canvas
91.5cm x 122cm
36x48 inches
Nov. 2006

One day I went to the banks of river Yumana to paint. The river now is reduced to a stinking-sewage-like-drain. As I neared the banks a strong stench came from the river. Still determined to paint the famed river, pitched my easel next to it and I got down to paint. Soon I noticed villagers crossing the once mighty river, just walking across! Of course the daunting task now was not how good your skills as a summer against the strong currents! But how not to throw-up midway!! Many of the simple villagers mistook me for some Government engineer making drawings for a new bridge and requested me to do so at the earliest!! Across this lies Haryana. Many of them come from the village across to work in the fields along Yumana. I don’t know how much money is needed to turn Yumana into a river again. But don’t we need to remedy these flaws first and then move onto F1?

you can view my works here..