Mumbai-based artist Sudhir Patwardhan’s ongoing exhibition, Spectres at Vadehra Art Gallery comprises a body of over 80 works that majorly inspects the concept of the public space in idea. A self taught artist, he was a plasticising radiologist until 2005. In this interview he elaborates on the role of an artist and his preoccupation with the portraits.
In one interview you have mentioned how your earlier works were deeply influenced by Marx ideology and how its reference has informed your art. Kindly elaborate.
My early works were images of workers who I encountered in Bombay in the textile mill areas and the local trains etc. These works were informed by the idea of class identity and inspired by the idea of a future that would overcome class divisions. The artist’s social commitment was important to me. Then in the eighties I also painted what I thought were the problems that this ideology was facing. I continue to have a generally left, democratic, secular orientation, and the present socio-political scene is very disturbing because the ideal of a secular, tolerant, and equitable society does not seem to be shared by many people.
What kind of relationship do you share with your subjects?
I choose a subject because I am attracted to it – be it a human figure or a landscape. If it is a human figure, I try and giving the figure its autonomy, without losing my identification with it. I try not to exploit the subject in the name of self-expression. The artist’s ethics does involve being true to his own vision – that is true to what he feels, experiences and sees inside himself and outside. But critically examining his own feelings and thoughts is also part of this ethics.
In your debut exhibition in 1979, your works were brought my artists like M F Husain and Krishen Khanna. How did this help you in your career?
And Bal Chhabda too ! It was a great feeling. And it was Ebrahim Alkazi who had chosen to show my work in his gallery. So all this was special. It definitely gave me a lot of confidence in my own work, but it did not change my life otherwise. I just continued to do what I was doing.
Being in a medical profession is already a hectic job. How did you take to painting and continue with your responsibilities as a radiologist?
My wife and I managed to arrange out home and life with the clinic hours for 30 years. That gave me at least four hours daily to work as an artist. My wife, also a doctor, taught Kathak too. And our son learned music. So it was all very tight but it worked. I stopped practice in 2005 and am now only an artist.
An artist is always expected to use his art as a tool to express his concerns. What is your opinion on this?
This is a personal choice that every artist makes – to take an open stand on issues, or to make social interventions. What matters for his art is what he believes, not whether he announces his beliefs openly or not.
Art, in today’s time, has become more of a circus where entertaining the viewer with theatrics is their utmost preoccupation. Do you see any kind of difference in the bonding and language within the art world?
I think art gets more media attention today, and there is more interactive technology in it, so the entertainment aspect of it is more noticeable. Also the market is bigger and global with more competition. So generally there are more ‘theatrics’ as you say. There were fewer artists and opportunities in the past, but it would not be quite right to idealise the past as ‘more serious’. Every age has its entertainers.
You are also known as people’s artist or someone who represents them. Do you agree with this?
Painting people has been one of my main preoccupations, so I guess that is a fair description. Also, I have been interested in involving more people as viewers of art.
What has drawn you towards portraits and exploring various expressions through them?
The human face is the oldest and most enduring subject of all art. I too am drawn to looking at people, and to painting them. The stories behind the faces are what attract me.
A bit about your daily schedule and other than painting what are your hobbies?
My studio is now at home, so I do not have to go anywhere. I start work around 9.30. Continue till 1.30. Lunch and rest till 3.30. Work again till 6 pm. Reading short stories – Alice Munroe currently. Classical music concerts, mostly North Indian, and plays – Marathi, Hindi, English. Movies- all kinds!
(The show is on until November 24)