Gogi Saroj Pal is a living legend whose age (she is in her early 70s) belies her vivacity and her youthfulness. Gogi lives in South Delhi with her equally famous spouse, painter Ved Nayar. Gogi offers me some green tea as we sit down for a chat in her slightly crowded studio.
Gogi Saroj Pal is more a philosopher and poet than a painter…
No, I don’t agree. I am an artist, I paint. My pictures present my philosophy, my view of the world. My paintings express my inner thoughts, my deepest feelings. You can call that philosophy or you can call that poetry. To me it is just me, myself, portrayed through brush-strokes on a canvas.
Gogi’s women are symbolic of a changing India. But have they got caught in a time-warp?
No, my women are alive. They are contemporary. They are current. Actually they are age-less. It is just that I paint them such that they reflect our society in motion. You can see that in the eyes, in the expressions of my women. My women are quintessential: sometimes oppressed, sometimes suppressed; sometimes embattled, sometimes empowered. They symbolize a society constantly embracing change.
A Punjabi by birth, one who grew up in UP, yet you belong to the mountains. What makes for your free spirit?
My mother was a Punjabi and my father was from what is now Himachal. I was born in Uttar Pradesh and I have great influence of Bihar as the domestics who worked for us, and who brought me up, hailed from Patna. This makes me a true Indian by spirit!All these influences have made me well-rounded … ready to absorb and imbibe. Culturally homogeneous. And porous in welcoming new ideas. Shedding stereotypes.
How would you compare your work with that of Arpana Caur and Anjolie Ela Menon?
I don’t want to compare myself with other artists. Everyone has their strengths. Arpana is commercially savvy. Anjolie is in the mould of a teacher, constantly espousing new ideas.Both of them have their own style.
Have Indian lady artists received their fair recognition? Commercially too?
There is no gender inequality as I see it. I have displayed worldwide on an equal footing to my male counterparts. And sold at prices that compare as well. And have received the respect and patronage of the best collectors. I think those who cry inequality based on sex or gender just find excuses for incompetence.
Indian artists you admire? Someone you wish you could have been?
I am inspired by Leo Tolstoy. He was not a painter but a Russian writer who is regarded as one of the greatest authors of all time. Leo had a simplicity that bewitched me.
I got inspired by my grandmother’s stories too. These stories took me to an all new imaginary world where I had the freedom to think and do as per my heart’s desires.It was an Alice in Wonderland like feeling.
VedNayar: A legend… How much has your husband influenced you?
Ved is an erudite and learned man. But humble and simple. His art is definitive and emphatic. However, while we discuss a lot of art, he has never tried to influence me. Ours has been a wonderful, and fulfilling, journey together.
What makes Gogi so unique?
I am from a family of freedom fighters who gave their blood, and lives,for India’s independence. I inherited the same fire. I have tried to take that revolutionary spirit to my canvases too. My paintings reflect aspiration, ambition, audacity, aggression, anger … humility, hunger, hate, hope … impudence, intensity … despair, despondence, devastation, desire, devotion …
(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 firstname.lastname@example.org).
Pictures courtesy: The Kailasham Trust; Mukul Rai Bahadur