I don’t feel like exhibiting,” artist Jatin Das says. “I am (only) exhibiting to prove that I am still alive.” He is speaking in jest—kind of—but the sentiment fits with the rest of what he has to say today.
Unvarnished: Das, who is showing in Delhi after nine years, at his studio. Madhu Kapparath / Mint
The natural light in his first-floor studio is beautiful. The windows overlook a ground with neem trees awash in the strong early May sunlight and, above the treetops, in the distance, looms the imposing bulbous top of the Asiad Village tower—which last enjoyed a certain prominence in 1982 and is now a picture of a prime property allowed to go to seed.
A good example of what is wrong with us and our times, the veteran painter—who hails from Mayurbhanj in Orissa, trained at Sir JJ School of Arts in Mumbai, and has lived in New Delhi for 41 years—would say. For that is what he wants to talk about—the myriad things wrong with India and Indians today.
Earth Bodies, his forthcoming show of oil paintings, drawings and watercolours, selected from what he has produced over the last five-six years, will be the first show of his studio-works in Delhi after nine years. The fact that it will be up for only nine days is a sore point with him. “Nine days!” he says. “By the time you put up the show, it will be time to dismantle it.” A similar show in Europe, he points out, would have been on display for two-three months. This, to him, is symptomatic of the “quickie” culture that has gripped India.
“I am filled with dismay, pain and anguish and stress,” Das proclaims. But he doesn’t look particularly anguished or perturbed as we drink coffee and he takes light drags from a cigarette in his sunny studio. A large, nearly finished painting of a man and woman kissing is resting on an easel at one end of the studio. Das refuses to say much about the show or about his art. Requests yield stray comments—his paintings and drawings, he says, show “human beings in their turmoil, their anguish and their pain”, adding that there is no narrative in his works. “You don’t paint themes, you paint concepts,” he remarks ambiguously by way of explanation. The works that go on display are in the classic Jatin Das mould—lines that mark out dynamic human figures which are muscular and full-bodied, yet agile. They are filled out with colours in a way that even the oil paintings remind you of drawings.
For all his disillusionment, Das is fully engaged in the world around him—his lament on the decline all around is punctuated with instructions to the carpenter in the studio and to his domestic help over the phone about laundry and vegetable purchases. He dotes on his six-year-old son and is proud of his actor daughter Nandita Das’ accomplishments. More than her fame, he says he appreciates her sincerity to her vocation.
He plans to house his collection of lacquered terracotta toys in a museum along with his well-known collection of over 6,500 hand fans, and is happy that the JD Centre of Art in Bhubaneswar, which he founded, is gradually establishing itself. Funds are critical for these initiatives and a constant concern. “I don’t want recognition, just some support,” he says.
Earth Bodies will show at the Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, from 12-19 May.