As a 14-year-old from Asarganj village in the Munger district of Bihar, Uday Pandit was interested in art but had no idea what oil paints were. Then someone told him that in Bhagalpur, a couple of hours from Asarganj by bus, local painters who make signboards use oil paints, so Pandit went looking for them. “I used to stand outside their shops and watch them till they stopped working. At times, I would try and walk around the market so I didn’t appear too suspicious.” he says. His persistence paid off and he got his first set of oil paints from those painters; then, unaware of the existence of canvases, Pandit used them to paint Bollywood actors and actresses on pieces of cardboard. “A visitor to my house bought them for Rs100 each, that was my first sale,” he says.
Untitled by Tribhuvan Deo
Now, 19 years later, Pandit, together with six other artists, is part of a breakout show in New Delhi that has been brought together by the reigning golden boy of the art world, Subodh Gupta. (Incidentally, a Gupta canvas just crossed the Rs1 crore mark at an auction for the first time in the recent Saffronart autumn online sale.) His interest in these painters is not merely altruistic, he is linked to them by two strong common threads: Bihar, and Patna’s College of Arts and Crafts. Gupta will curate his fellow alumni in Regional Race, showing at the Bodhi Art Gallery in Gurgaon. “There is no theme as such except that they are all from Bihar,” says Gupta. “And unlike other art schools, the College of Arts and Crafts does not have a big reputation.” But Gupta has the means to help these artists go beyond parochial restrictions and reach a larger platform.
Regional Race is also a tribute to artist Sikander Hussain, who died in his 40s unrecognized. Hussain was a regular face at the College of Arts and Crafts. “He was our senior and a mentor to many students there, including me,” says Gupta. “He used to come and have tea with his juniors while he spoke about art. In Bihar, where teachers were not a regular feature, he became a teacher for many of us. By exhibiting his works, I hope to honour and respect him,” he adds.
The exhibition will demonstrate the range of work of the seven freshers and will include installation art, sculptures and watercolours; prices range from Rs10,000 to Rs6 lakh.
Pandit used to help his brother make traditional idols as a young boy but in his contemporary sculptures, he prefers to stick to the everyday rather than the divine. “I use material such as the jhola I carried when I came to New Delhi or the Ramayana I found thrown torn and tattered in a scrap yard as models for my sculptures,” he says. “I would rather people interpret my work on their own.”
Rest in Silence by Rajeev Ranjan
And interpretation without typecasting is important. Regional Race is the break these creators need to escape the mould of “Bihari” artists. “I am already well-known in Bihar but this is the first time I will display my work as an “Indian” artist,” says Rajiv Ranjan, a 41-year-old artist who abandoned the family profession of engineering to follow his passion for art.
So far, exposure to the works of the seven has mostly been restricted to competitions and solo shows in college. Therefore, this exhibition is a source of both excitement and fraying nerves. Pandit says, “I feel good about receiving this opportunity but I am fearful of how my art will be received.” Tribhuvan Deo, who will show an installation piece and watercolours at the exhibition, has different concerns: “Subodh has broken the myth about Bihar in the art world. I hope this exhibition will further destroy that myth.”
FOLLOW THE LEADER
Subodh Gupta isn’t the first to promote the younger lot; these artists have also done their bit for the up-and-coming
Krishnamachari is an old hand at promoting young art; he has consistently supported artists from his home state, Kerala. The last show he curated was of a group of four new artists, Prasad Raghavan, Dia Mehta, Simrin Mehra Agrawal and C.K. Rajan, titled ‘Spy’ at the Museum Art Gallery in Mumbai in early August.
In September, Chowdhury curated a show with 20 young artists who graduated from art schools in Shantiniketan or Kolkata at the Aakriti Art Gallery, Kolkata.
In October, Upadhyay will curate a show of drawings from a combination of young talent and established names such as Jagannath Panda and Yashwant Deshmukh. The show, which is sponsored by Mumbai’s Pundole Art Gallery, will be on display at the city’s Museum Art Gallery.
Regional Race is on at Bodhi Art Gallery, Gurgaon, between 11am and 7pm till 29 September.