90-year-old artist Himmat Shah says, 'Freedom and courage are crucial for creativity'

Noted painter and sculptor Himmat Shah reflects on his nine-decade-long artistic journey, his latest artwork, future plans, and what makes an artist distinguished from the lot

Chhaya GuptaUpdated: Tuesday, December 13, 2022, 07:02 PM IST
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90-year-old artist Himmat Shah says, 'Freedom and courage are crucial for creativity' | FPJ

Himmat Shah, one of India's most acclaimed artists is known for redefining traditional art through his paintings and sculptures. The artist's latest work is on display at TAO Art Gallery in Worli. Known for extraordinary terracotta and bronze sculptures, the ongoing art exhibition brings Shah's most prominent work of bronze sculptures.

Reflecting on his creative abilities, each art piece at the exhibition represents the realities of life. From abstracted bronze to terracotta heads, the artwork boasts Shah's signature style and knack for details. The gilded clay sculptures have traces of paintings with a dramatic touch. And just like Shah's profound fame as a sculptor, his outstanding paintings present intriguing themes in exquisite detail.

What drew our attraction were the terracotta and bronze sculptures with primitive appearance mimicking the proto-historic iconography. We learn that his consistent mark-making style despite transitioning from drawing to print to sculpture is a result of his growing up years in Lothal in Gujarat. Interestingly, his early drawings employed a frantic but guided pattern of lines that implied an evolving iconography. “I try to explore multiple mediums such as bronze castings, paper etching, terracotta, litho and many more simultaneously. I work with a team of highly talented craftsmen,” said Shah, as he shares his journey of becoming an artist of his stature.

Shah, who started his career with mud and clay bought with 60 paise from a potter's shop in his village, would spend hours practising his craft on it and started creating head sculptures. Later, Shah started adding a sense of sophistication and a nuanced aesthetic. “I tried using a wide array of mud, including extremely primitive soil over 100 years old,” he added.

At the age of 90, Shah continues to extend his search for his own medium and craft, pushing boundaries in sculpture as well as drawing. As a result, the artist is all set to unveil his studio in Jaipur next year. “I have dreamed of starting my very own studio for the longest time. Finally, today at the age of 90, my dreams have come true. I am excited to create massively scaled works. My interior designer assisted me in creating a space with a magnificent ceiling height of 20 feet,” said the artist adding that he aspired to create 20 feet tall sculptures in future.

While Shah's inclination towards terracotta and bronze is inimitable, he enjoys creating and admiring other forms of art as well. “Any medium and anything is an art and can be my favourite. I like to go on creating works and find my grammar. I can’t spot one particular piece as my categorically favourite,” said the sculptor.

When asked about what makes an artist sustain for decades, he said, “Freedom and courage are crucial. Creativity needs the highest peak of courageousness. I am deeply inspired by Rollo May’s book ‘Courage to Create'. For every artist, rasa (emotion) to appreciate, courage to delve in, and a positive attitude are essential,” Shah reflected.

On a parting note, Shah shared his future projects with paper maché to create massively scaled murals. “The idea is to mix diverse materials and mould heads through paper maché, just like tribal artisans use organic mud and natural colours and create beautiful folk creations,” explained the artist and added that he wants to create a different type of art using this innovative medium. He added, “I want to play with many other mediums, such as bronze, board, marble, ceramic, litho, etching, drawing and painting,” and signed off.

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