Utpal Borpujari

April 13, 2009

Art in the lap of nature

By Utpal Borpujari in Corbett National Park

When you see top artists like Rameshwar Broota and Gopi Gajwani keeping aside their paintbrushes and taking out their cameras, you know there is something in the air. Well, it is only a natural thing to happen, when a bunch of well-known artists are let loose at the lap of nature, that too in a wildlife hotspot like the Corbett National Park, home to the Royal Bengal Tiger and hundreds of other flora and fauna, many of them rare and endangered. And that is what exactly happened when around 20 well-known painters from various parts of the country came together to attend an art camp at the tiger haven.


Art camp it was, but for the artists, it was more of an occasion to expand their horizons by interacting with peers, breathing in the fresh, cool jungle air, and discuss, among other things, the impact of the worldwide economic recession on art. Of course, paint they did, but it was the exchange of ideas that the artists like Jai Zharotia, Manish Pushkale, Paresh Maity, Prabhakar Kolte, Vanita Gupta, Vasundhara Tiwari and Jagdish Chander were seemingly more interested in at the camp that brought them out into the lap of nature from the familiar confines of their respective studios in crowded cities they live in.


So, if Jai Zharotia was diligently creating a painting on a big canvas in his cottage at the Corbett Hideaway resort owned by Leisure Hotels, the organisers of the camp, Pushkale was in two minds whether he should actually start working on a fresh oil painting, his preferred medium, or just carry home ideas for art work to be created later, considering the wet weather thanks to a few drizzles. For Broota, who can paint only in his studio in Delhi, it was, however, time to practice his other love, that of photography, though for his landscapes and wildlife are of no particular interest, he being a man besotted with the abstract forms and figures. Maity, meanwhile, was sketching away to glory, particularly during a visit to the Hideaway River Lodge, a first-of-its kind public-private partnership project in the form of luxury tents inside a national park. Keeping a photographic eye on him was the legendary Nimai Ghosh, the official still photographer for almost all of Satyajit Ray’s films and a close friend of the late cinematic maestro, who is now documenting Maity as an artist.


The artists attending the camp had a specific task at hand – to create at least one art work of approximately 3X4 feet size for an exhibition to be held in Delhi at a later date. But that did not shackle them, as quite a few of them decided to soak in the atmosphere and create their art later. As Gajwani said, “It’s a great experience to meet so many of your contemporaries, many of whom you have never met but have been familiar with their work. It’s a feeling like the one you have when you see the live performance of a musician for the first time after listening to his music for years.” Vasundhara Tiwari agreed, “I personally like to paint in the isolation of my studio. But this is a great experience because normally in a place like Delhi, you happen to meet other artists very briefly at social dos, while here we are spending quite a lot of time together, speaking to one another, sharing thoughts, exploring ideas. It helps in strengthening your beliefs, and there is always a possibility of learning something by interacting with others, especially when it happens over a couple of days at a place like this.”


For Broota too, it was an experience worth every rupee spent, though he resolutely avoids touching his brush during such camps. “I instead concentrate on my photography. I can always paint in my studio, which gives me the comfortableness of a familiar surrounding. When you come so far away, to such a place, it is time to enjoy the surroundings,” he says. Also, as he points out, there is often a practical problem in painting canvases in camps – that is of improper lighting, especially for artists like him who mostly use black and white as the preferred colours, and absence of proper easels and other equipment. “But I love attending camps since I get to go to new places and meet other artists whose work I have seen but whom I have never met. It helps in expanding my horizons as an artist, more so as I paint from what I have acquired from observations and experiences,” he said.


Pushkale, who is also an abstract painter like most of the artists who attended the camp, found the experience exhilarating because of the location. “I come from Madhya Pradesh, which is full of forests. So, this is a place that I find very soothing, though the wet climate here is not very conducive for oil painting,” he said. What adds to it, at least for Pushkale, is that one faces some constraints at such camps, the kind of which Broota mentioned. “Since you face certain constraints, you tend to share things with others, unlike in your individual studio where you work in isolation. So, you tend to develop bonds with others,” he said.


For Zharotia, whose artist wife Ingrid Pitzer too attended the camp, it brought back memories of another camp he had attended as a youngster 30 years ago. “I attended a camp in 1976, held at Haryana’s Badkal lake, which unfortunately now has dried up due to rampant mining in the Aravalli hills where it was nestled in. Greats like M F Hussain, Tyeb Mehta, Kishan Khanna and Akbar Padamsee had attended that camp. I was the youngest one,” he reminisced, highlighting how such camps help broadening the horizons of the minds. “You get a broader perspective of things. It is very difficult to pinpoint how you get influenced, but you do get influenced by the experience as a creative person,” he said.


It is not the first time that Leisure Hotels has organised such a camp, and that is not very surprising given the fact that artist Shruti Gupta Chandra is part of the family. As the chain’s director Vibhas Prasad said, “Many artists have supported our efforts in the past, and this time too the response has been great. A venue like this provides a much-needed break from the hurly burly of city life, and the artists can interact with one another in a leisurely way.”


Of course, with the global economic meltdown having severely impacted the art market, the downturn in the fortunes of the artistic community too came up for discussion quite often, but that did not deter the spirit of the artists, as they painted, chatted and lapped up the natural beauty of the place, something that would definitely emerge in some form or the other in their work in the days to come.

(published in Deccan Herald, www.deccanherald.com, www.deccanheraldepaper.com, 12-04-2009)


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