A glimpse at how a bunch of non-conforming artists is using unusual mediums for their artworks, writes Ketaki Latkar
The theory of probability explains the idea of mutual exclusivity of events. Art, nonetheless unlike logic, is not as linear. It refutes pre-determined rules, only to make way for artistic innovation. How else would you explain artworks that come to life in a range of hues, albeit without the use of paints? Meet Pune’s Ashish Kate, who chooses the rather greasy alternative of shoe-polish, and so far, has more than 1,000 such works to his credit. Quiz him on what led him to choose shoe polish, and he is quick to respond, “I was a 19-year old college drop-out when I started experimenting with polish. The future looked like a winding road. At that point, I needed a profession that would be welcoming to misfits like me; whether it is cooking, gardening, writing, or perhaps, painting. That’s how it began for me. Shoe-polish is cheaper than paint and yet, it evokes a certain seduction.”
Beginnings are interesting occurrences. Some may be planned, the others, unintended; a select few, products of serendipity and intuition; and the rest, a concoction of them all. 90-year old Gangadhar Tatke, who is one of the fewest of India’s encaustic (hot wax) artists, started to take a fancy to the art a decade back. Thereafter, he hasn’t looked back, and has already held five exhibitions in Pune. “Encaustic style is very ancient and more than 2,000 years old.
It can be traced back to the Roman era, and despite being a wonderful alternative medium, it is barely recognised in India. That is what intrigued me and I decided to explore it, and now, it has almost become second nature to me,” elucidates Tatke. Creative processes are more often than not, organic and intuitive.
But formal training adds technique and order to the art, feels Mumbai-based entrepreneur and artist Kinjal Trivedi, who graduated in fine arts from California College of the Arts in US. Trivedi’s unique style of creating abstract artworks involves only the use of her hands, sans the help of brushes, knives or any other painting tools.
Art of the matter
Art does not reproduce the visible; it makes visible. These words of expressionist painter Paul Klee seem like the inspiration for Pune-based indologist and artist Vikram Marathe, who works with rust on paper. For him, working with this chosen medium was a result of an accidental observation of rust stains on a floor at his family-run fabrication workshop. Marathe is a fine arts graduate from Pune’s Abhinav Kala Mahavidyala, and is an interior designer by profession. However, he has been experimenting with rust for the last two years. Created by processing metal impressions on water-soaked handmade papers, Marathe’s style is rather counter-intuitive and complex. So far, he has 45 such works to his credit. Last year, he had shown a series of 22 artworks, titled Matter of Rust, which was crafted on handmade paper in tones of mahogany, crimson and brown, and was worked around the theme of passage of time. “Rust unfailingly brings back memories of bygone times. It has that appeal, and although my works are open to interpretation, I prefer working on dedicated themes, so that the works become more relatable and simple,” he explains.
The journey from being bohemian to a more accommodating and people-centric artist has been a matter of evolution for Kate. “I believe that the job of art is to chase the ugliness away. The job of an artist is to see to it that it happens. Everything else is white-noise,” says the artist, in his signature quirky way. Kate, who visited Alaska in summer last year, was spellbound by the sight of the Northern Lights, and thereafter, has been working only on the same theme. “I already showed some of my chosen works in Pune, and was overwhelmed by the response. In a first, I think, I am doing something slightly mainstream and I am quite happy about it,” he admits, adding how he believes that art is not an elitist affair and must be made accessible and affordable to the masses. Owing to this thought, Kate does not price his works for more than ten thousand.
“My work is usually based on spiritual themes, and I love to bring that out with a riot of colours. Everyone usually likes textures, and I experiment quite a bit with them. Having said that, my works, in their most natural element, have an abstract character,” says Trivedi. Not only is the young lady a full-time artist, but has also pursued her post graduation studies in business management, and runs her business of garment exports in full throttle. “For more than a decade, I have started devoting equal time and mind-space for art. I am most comfortable working on huge canvases, typically as big as 7 by 3 feet, or 6 by 4 feet. Large surfaces enable better dexterity and are more suited for intricate works,” she adds. Trivedi’s artworks are priced from Rs 35,000 to 12 lakhs.
In an interesting contrast, Tatke, who is a self-taught encaustic artist, shares his take, “I chose the medium as it was almost like a discovery for India. Also, the need to ensure greatest dexterity needed for the work excited me. Since the melted wax immediately begins to solidify, the need to use it with a sense of urgency is the greatest challenge of the art. Also, while doing this, the aesthetic cannot be compromised upon,” smiles the artist. After completing his Diploma from Mumbai’s JJ School of Art in 1953, Tatke, worked as an artist and photographer with the Botanical Survey of India. In 1960, he quit the job to freelance as a commercial artist in the ad world, simultaneously experimenting with screen painting. Even at 90, the man is a repository of enthusiasm and energy, and actively teaches encaustic art to enthusiasts in Pune. “I am gearing up for the next exhibition, which I would probably plan in May this year. The theme is abstract and I wish to showcase more than 50 handpicked works of mine,” he informs, adding how this year, he wishes to take his works beyond Pune, to Indore and Goa. He believes in making art available to all, and maintains to price it in the range of Rs 3,000 to 15,000.
The Way forward
One of the greatest gifts of creative pursuits is the abundance of never-ending possibilities. Marathe cannot agree more, “Recently, I dabbled with scroll painting, of course using rust as the medium. In the long run, I wish to engage more with fusion, with variations in the surface, use of colours and other mediums. At present, I am working with impressions of blotted kite-paper, and it is turning out to be fascinating.”
Kate, at the moment, has his hands full with an upcoming series on Aurora Borealis, which he has been romancing for quite some time. But whatever theme he chooses to work on, the exclusive relationship status with shoe-polish is something he would never give up. “I don’t want to work with any other medium. They call me ‘polishwalla’. I’ll polish your shoes for free, if you please,” he chuckles.