Padma Bhushan Jatin Das has often been bracketed with MF Hussain and Satish Gujral as one of India’s most famous painters. I look to ‘stir-the-still-air’ as I join him at his studio-cum-office in the shadow of the Qutub Minar in Delhi.
Jatin Das is a prolific figurative painter, print maker, sculptor, muralist and poet. Do you decide every morning when you wake up which Jatin will it be today?
This is wrong notion. We eat all kinds of fruits and vegetables which become few drops of blood in our body. Likewise when I write a poem, I write a poem. And when I paint, I do just that. Nothing is a hobby for me as anything I do is my work.
This doesn’t mean I am master of all trades but I enjoy doing what I like. All of this is not done for some commercial purpose but to innovate for the soul.
You were at JJ School when the legendary Prof Palsikar was teaching. How was it to learn from a legend like him, and to have the likes of Prabhakar Kolte as your contemporaries?
First of all, Prabhakar Kolte was much younger than me. I left JJ the year he joined. JJ school was first school of Art established by the British, followed by Madras and Calcutta. JJ school had legendary professors like Gondalekar, Achalekar and Palsikar. Palsikar taught me. They were stalwarts and very talented people. Not like these days when professors don’t know what to teach and students don’t know how to learn.
People use terms today like Art Market. I don’t do business of art. Although I live on sale of art, I don’t paint to sell.
JJ school was a great exposure and it was a fantastic beginning.
Tell us how have you evolved since your debut at the Paris Biennale in 1971?
I don’t live in the past. Every human being is very creative be it any profession. One lifetime is not enough to relish everything. I am running 75 and there are is much I want to do. I have been honored with many awards in various fields. They give me happiness for that moment and make me achieve more for future.
After Paris came the Venice Biennale in 1978 and there were many after. Even if I participated or not I made sure my work continued.
In 50 years, 68 solo shows. Does it get repetitive after a point of time?
When you are a one man show you are the concept and body of the work. I don’t do repetitive work intentionally.
Which is your most celebrated work … or mural? Why is it your signature piece?
I don’t have any signature. I did a 67ft by 68ft mural at Parliament House about 20 years ago. It was inaugurated in 2001. It took nearly 3 years to complete. I had a fiasco at Bombay Chowpatty which was white washed ! I like working in scale but murals and sculptures cannot be done unless commissioned.
Frankly, in India architects have no idea. They are more like contractors. Art and architecture can travel together. We can have thousands of murals.
Tell us about your love for the pankha? What plans for the museum?
I have established the JD center of Art in Bhubaneswar. Government of Orissa has given 1 acre of land and various government organizations have supported us. It’s been 20 years since I am working on this. I have spent my personal money on it though I don’t have a house of my own.
Likewise, for forty years I made a collection of Pankhas. It is the largest private collection in the world and it was showcased at National Craft Museum. Later it exhibited in many corners of the world. Now I am planning to setup a National Fan Museum. The postal department is planning to release 20-30 stamps of fans. I am planning to donate the Pankha collection to the museum.
You’ve had a colourful personal life. Is that your personality or a brand surround?
I have had a painful angsty life but full of activity. Yet I don’t look back to stop and see what are the things which I never tried. Many great people have done fabulous things and I can’t compare to those. For me it’s my passion, anguish and never ending story…