It is a bit of a hit-and-miss with my Gopi Gajwani meeting. But when I do get to meet the veteran painter at his West Delhi home, he obliges with lots of personal stories, anecdotes and perspectives.
You were with the American magazine Span for many years. Any influence on your art from there?
When I graduated from Art school in 1959, things were very different compared to today. After studying art, an artist had to work to survive as in those early days there were no buyers for art. Many big daddies of Indian art did odd jobs to eke out a living. Krishen Khanna was a banker; KH Ara, Hussain free-lanced small assignments; and many famous artists did something or the other to keep their kitchen running.
I was in abstract art which was very grim to sell compared to figurative art. I started as a daily wage artist and slowly I got associated with this American organization as there they had a requirement of an artist and I got the job.
Besides working with Span I regularly painted to keep my love alive.
Critics say your work is very similar to that of Prabhakar Kolte? True?
I don’t think it’s true. No one has ever compared me to Kolte. Our strokes are poles apart. I had my first show in 1966. I hadn’t seen Kolte’s works till then. I met him after many years. He is one of the finest abstract artists and a great human being. I admire his work but his language is very diverse from mine.
What distinguishes a Gajwani abstract?
There is an abstract‘language’ which I have created. It is my invention and I feel delighted when folks all across the country like it. I don’t draw figures; I do it without objectives. Since my schooldays I used to sketch, paint. My drawing was my mother tongue. It’s very different and I relish doing that. People come and ask me what exactly is this? I don’t have an answer.
Are you still actively painting? How did your solo go earlier this year?
Year 2017 has been very special as I marked it with my 27th solo show, after a long gap of 10 years. I was busy working all these years. I got a good comeback post demonetization. People truly loved my works.
Where did you study art? Tell us about the early years?
I did a 5 years fulltime course from Delhi School of Art in 1959 and was fortunate to study underBiren De, SomnathHore andDhanrajBhagat. That era was unlike today … art is sold much more easily today. It took seven decades for art to become a lifestyle. It was a phase which I don’t wish upon the upcoming artists of today.
Later, I joined Span magazine as you mentioned earlier. I wanted to paint since the very beginning but to buy the colors and other material I required money which only a stable job could have provided me. It was difficult making a living those days purely as an artist. Today the younger generation is doing so well … they have their own house, a big car, a beautiful studio to work!
Any inspiration from international artists? Indian peers?
Kolte is my very favorite and I just love the works of RanbirKaleka. I think the internet has fundamentally changed the way we think, work and live. You don’t have to go looking for inspiration. It is right there on your mobile phone. So many works. So much to see and learn.
Where do you see Indian art headed?
Indian art is going strong all over the globe. It’s a favorite at Christie’s and Sotheby’s. Gaitonde is creating new benchmarks for Indian art globally and making everyone proud. Tyeb Mehta gave Indian art some fabulous creations. Both Gaitonde and Tyeb were good friends of mine. They have both gone through tough times. When Gaitonde was alive he had very limited resources. These individuals have made a good foundation for Indian art on the world map. I admire Akbar Padamsee’s works, they’re like a melodious song.
Going forward I am very bullish on Indian art!
(Mukul Rai Bahadur is an art lover, collector and critic. He lives in Mumbai and works in a media company. He can be reached at email@example.com).
Pictures courtesy: The Kailasham Trust; Mukul Rai Bahadur