Art News & Views

Creative Impulse

Sudhir Patwardhan was born in Poona in 1949. He studied medicine and practiced as a radiologist in Thane, near Mumbai. His first solo exhibition took place as early as in 1979. He deals with the question of dwelling, the narrativization of built environs- jagged landscapes of tumult and chaos, habitation in a city where the state is no longer an impartial arbiter of social justice- a crucial dimension of urban reality.

The humanity and enactment of the human gesture of Sudhir's work, which infuse them, may be traced in some measure to his own experience and ideology he imbibed early in his life. Regarding his landscapes of Thane and Bombay, Sudhir is neither selective in his affections, whether it be workers in Bombay mills, the fishermen of Worli slum,  bending of bare bodied men, the  clogged roads, suburban railway platforms or the inhabitants of middle class neighbourhood. Coming from a family of Chitpavan Brahmin family, Sudhir's refusal in his work to employ fixed categories, such as class, caste, race and culture, explains human action at both social and philosophical level- “…in my youth I was rebelling against my belonging to an elite caste- group. At a psychological level, the rebellion was against family and caste. But intellectually, it was formulated in Marxist class terms…”

His new studio in his painted white flat is on the edge of a lake in Thane. The condominium in which he lives is on a curiously shaped street, it opens out midway to form a large tapering at either end which is brief. On one side, extending unbroken from the compound wall, sprawl the houses of working- class people: a line of narrow doorways with dark, dank little sheds, cramped windows, a string of tiny shops; the smells candied fruit, repair shops, engine exhaust, the cry of street urchins, the test- roar of a Maruti, a caterwaul from a court. On the opposites the buildings are taller, vaguely out of place, a distant hint of the ghats at a distance that acts as a backdrop, homes of well to do. The studio reflects its owner; cheerful, efficient, hospitable, controlled. With a great courtesy and in a rich voice which gives to his statement nuances of meaning much beyond the ordinary range, Sudhir continues a discussion began in the living room on a rain swept morning with Nanak Ganguly.

NG : You create a bricoleur of the world around you. Your earlier world depicts of a skyline with its light mills, its suburban locales, walks in the streets and its working class.
SP :
I am doing smaller works in this new home. I have shifted from my studio in Vrindavan Society. I am doing small canvases to gain confidence and get accustomed to my new surroundings. I don't bother failures. All of us failed to match our dream of perfection.

NG : Do you walk around in your new neighbourhood?
SP : There has always been an impulse to depict the real world to register and record what I see everyday during my walks in the morning-these are my basic impulses. It starts with a drawing…photography…earlier was preoccupied with the image of a sitting man, commuting, crowded platforms, the worker, encountered daily on the suburban train, and also the interiors some of which were in the 'The Crafting of Reality' show at the Guild Art Gallery. These drawings are private but not only satisfy other needs …somewhere along the way I realized the paintings do not carry always what the drawing had. Drawing is an important medium. Now one communicates with drawing, to touch people in ways painting could not.

NG : In an earlier interview you have said 'expressionism is a subjective choice”
SP : Yeah it does refuse to dissolve the subjective in a super- individual reality and seek a premature and false integration of the self with the eternal world its decision to live fully the poverty of our intersubjectivity is a source of strength for us, as the expressionistic work structures the consequences of this decision.

NG : Inter subjectivity as? ..Do you mean the signs of language that is the relation between signifier and signified?
SP : To coalesce the subject painted to painter to viewer….This is also the limit of its language where it does not structure an intersubjectivity that cannot say anything about the world and about other person. It cannot tell me about my condition. I can only live its condition and make it my own.
But in spite of myself, I experience fragmentation and a loss of bonding, if you notice my crowd works of the mid-nineties. The protagonists of my earlier works are enclosed in solidarity but post Ayodhya they are trapped in solitude in their tenebrous attempt to survive but that is not what I set out to portray. I continue to explore aspects that still offer the possibility of intersubjectivity, of community. Apart from the crowd paintings, earlier it was essentially the artist and the model, as autobiographical, only one, now there could be two figures relating to each other within the space, and the artist being a mere onlooker.

NG : Is the deep mistrust among communities some kind of obsession? Can't we really avoid it?
SP : Look at Kashmir today protest qua protest denies the texture of life. The problem is to permit every individual the fullest range of life into social awareness. I don't mean there's to protest about, but aside from the appropriate political, religious, sociological concerns, the problem is to see the protests in its relation to other things. Basically you don't solve it as a painter. I as a painter experience it. Life has taken two ways in our time: the crowd and the intellectuals. The day of the crowd is all accident; the day of the intellectual is all philosophy. There is no bourgeoisie now, only the crowd and intellectuals.

NG : You do not foresee a time, then, when you will occupy your mornings otherwise.
SD : I do not foresee a time when I shall feel that I have nothing to see and paint and draw.


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