PAINTING THE ORDINARY LIFE
An fnbworld exclusive interview by Ravi V. Chhabra with
artist Ranjan Kaul
Q1) You have chosen to paint mainly human figures over abstract or landscape. Why?
RK) I’m a humanist and a socially conscious artist. I like to depict the human condition, with all its banalities, compulsions and predicaments. Figurative work thus appeals most to my imagination and sensibilities. But I do appreciate other genres and would single out Ram Kumar for his abstracted representation of landscapes.
Q2) How is it that you’ve been drawn to portraying the “other side”, those who live in the margins?
RK) I’m fortunate that I did not have to lead the life of someone who lives in slums or on pavements. These marginalised people lead an arid existence with no literature, art, music or even romance. But they are as much human as us more privileged. I use my imagination to put myself in their situation and try to capture their exigencies and emotions. My intent is to evoke empathy and compassion for those living on the “other side”.
Q3) Your favourite Indian painter(s) (reasons)?
RK) I am in awe of the late Tyeb Mehta and for his disquieting works of art and his pure, dominating forms and of Krishen Khanna for his highly nuanced expression of emotion. Among the contemporaries, Atul Dodiya is an artist I admire for breaking fresh ground.
Q4) How would you define art per se (not just painting)?
RK) Art must have a connectedness. It must express and evoke emotion and, for me, at the same time, engage with social reality. Creativity, individuality, skill, composition, content, and, of course, providing aesthetic pleasure (which includes both to the senses and to the mind) are other attributes that define art.
Q5) Passions, pastimes and hobbies?
RK) Reading, listening to music, watching theatre and dance.
Q6) Is art today in the downslide commercially?
RK) Yes, there has been a downslide in the Indian art market; demonetisation and GST have not helped. But what is more worrisome is the kind of art that is being sold. While the art market continues to be dominated by the works of masters, much of the balance part that is popular is an entirely different type of art. This latter type is either merely “decorative” (to match and adorn interiors) or imitative thatcompletely lacks individuality. I believe this is because the buyers of such art are not discerning enough. And a majority of art galleries have fallen prey to market demands rather than develop awareness of what in my view is good art. Emerging, talented artists find it difficult to survive in this scenario and often succumb to commodification. This is most unfortunate.
Q7) Your favourite genres in music?
RK) I do not have a favourite genre. Depending on the mood, I listen to classical music, both western and Indian; at times jazz; and having grown up with the Woodstock generation, rock of the 1970s.
Q8) What medium do you paint in and any plans to diversify?
RK) I mostly paint in oil or acrylic, but of late I’ve been exploring water colour and mixed media. I also plan to work more with charcoal.
Q9) If you were offered a commissioned to paint Kamasutra, would you do it?
RK) I’ve not trained myself to paint nudes, so I think I wouldn’t be able to do justice. But I’ve done a canvas on Indian sex workers and another is underway.
Q10) Your ideal place to paint?
RK) We’ve a place in the Shimla hills, where I’ve a small studio. I use it as a getaway as also to escape Delhi’s pollution.
Q11) Did art come to you naturally or by training?
RK) I’ve had an abiding interest in art and was exposed to it from childhood, because of my mother who was a designer. Driven by my interest and passion, I’ve trained myself over the years.
Q12) Since the first four letters in ‘painting’ come as ‘p-a-i-n’, do you see any visual connection?
RK) Pain and suffering are strong emotions. One sees its depiction in not only in painting, but in all art forms, including music.
Q13) Your definition of happiness?
RK) A search to find meaning in life and pursuing that search passionately. I try to do this through my art.