I am, one early Saturday morning, at the Borivali apartment of the legendary Prabhakar Kolte. Known in art circles as ‘The Paul Klee of India’, the 70-something Kolte looks much younger than his years, despite his recent ill-health. He welcomes me with a broad smile and much warmth. The apartment is large, but spartan. However it has a well-lived air about it. This is both his studio and his home. Kolte ‘sir’ (as he is most commonly referred to) lives alone.
In informed art circles, it is said that Prabhakar Kolte is the new Hussain. Do you agree?
No, sorry I don’t agree! Prabhakar Kolte is Prabhakar Kolte and Hussain is Hussain, and there is a lot of difference between him and me. Hussain is known to all; but not so with me; very few people know me. I respect him a lot. Hussain spread Indian art all across the globe. But Hussain was a better businessman than a painter; he knew how to sell himself. There is a Gujarati proverb ‘jo bole vobeche’. Hussain was, well, a bolbachan. He knew how to become big and moreover many controversies used to revolve around him. I respect him but honestly I am also his critic. I turned a serious painter after meeting him.
By just concentrating on painting abstracts are you limiting yourself from exposing your fullest talent to the world?
I can’t decide. Talent is talent. Whatever I do I give 100%. If people think that I am underleveraging my talent, it’s not true.
Let us take one of your canvases, an abstract, and please explain it to me?
Abstraction cannot be explained throughout life. As a matter of fact can you say you understand me or I can understand you completely? I live that moment when I paint. My paintings are spontaneous like blessings. I translate my feeling on the canvas: I feel love, hatred … anger all on my paintings. I was once having a solo show at Pundole’s and a man came to see my works. After seeing the works he came to me and said,‘What do think when you draw this?’ I said, ‘Nothing’. He again questioned ‘what is behind this painting?’ I answered him somewhat sarcastically that there is a wall behind this painting and hawkers are selling their goods behind this wall. The man said I didn’t understand his question. I said, ‘You don’t get my answer. It’s just a painting. I don’t take subjects for painting.’
How did your journey into art begin?
My maternal uncle who was a little older than me, was inclined towards art. He used to draw pictures from calendars. He would painstakingly make a graph, then copy the picture square-by-square. I tried copying him. But one day I just drew the picture free-hand, that too error-free! I knew then that I had talent. People used to say in those days that painting is a hobby, not a profession. But I wanted to make my hobby my profession. I joined the JJ School of Art. For me it was like a fish moving from a pond to an ocean of knowledge. In my five years JJ stint I metgreat teachers who encouraged me a lot and then finally I met Palsikar Saheb (ex-Dean of JJ School) who helped me to explore different forms of art and to learn from them.
Souza, Gaitonde and Hussain command such high prices globally. Do you think you need to market yourself abroad aggressively for your works to fetch the prices they deserve?
I personally won’t promote my art for money. People often tell me that you don’t socialise with the crowd to promote yourself. My answer to them is that my art is not a cheap commodity. The people who admire my works come on their own if they are interested. Whatever has happened is all God’s will and blessing and going forward the wheel of time will do justice. I live to paint and paint to live. I have done shows all over country and outside. I get a good response. My works get sold easily.
Is Kolte the painter and Kolte the art teacher the same person?
I am a teacher first, then a painter. My father was also a teacher. I feel may be I have this in my blood. After meeting Palsikar Saheb, I was sure that I wanted to become a teacher. I will be a teacher till my last breath.
Who are your favourite painters?
I don’t select people, I select art. Painting is my first love. I like good paintings. Picasso has given very iconic paintings. I remember his goat sculpture … it is just fantastic. I like Gaitonde, Hussain, Palsikar paintings.
Who would you rate as the best painters amongst the current lot in India?
This is a difficult question. (prefers not to answer)
Your message for FPJ readers…
We should reflect the mind of an artist in the newspaper; so that even the common man can read and imbibe.
(Mukul Rai Bahadur is an art lover, and critic. He lives in Mumbai and works at Star TV. He can be reached at email@example.com).
Pictures courtesy : The Kailasham Trust; Mukul Rai Bahadur