Scribbles, drawings, sketches, charcoal marks are strewn on the floors of The Guild art gallery in Mumbai’s Colaba area, as though dots waiting to be connected by curator-artist Sudhir Patwardhan. Drawings, snapshots of art, Patwardhan agrees, are often quick, one-sitting projects, but as the bare bones of an artwork, they are the fingerprint of an artist—telling more about his style than any painting or sculpture. “Drawings are deceptive in their spontaneity,” says Patwardhan, who has curated The Art of Drawing, the show now previewing at The Guild.
Vilas Shinde, for instance, comes back to a one-sitting drawing after a month or a year. Gieve Patel draws a few lines, and returns to them repeatedly to compose a sketch that is a dialectic between spontaneity and rationality. Krishen Khanna’s drawings are studies in evolution. Each is a unique expression of the artist. And yet, drawings exist in the notional space of the temporary. “It’s not just restricted to artists. Great film-makers used to do drawings, theatre people, even older architects used to do a lot of freehand drawing. You lose something when you lose the art of drawing; of course, you gain something else,” says Patwardhan. Drawings today are often seen as “on-the-way” to a painting, but not quite there yet.
Sketch man: Sudhir Patwardhan with his series of drawings made from photographs at The Guild art gallery in Mumbai. By Hemant Mishra/Mint
A painter and draftsman himself, Patwardhan is purposefully old-school about drawing at a time when it is losing its point. While drawing was once the grammar of art—much like reciting your multiplication tables every morning at school—and remains a discipline drilled in by art schools everywhere, Patwardhan says its role as the preparatory practice of painting, sculpture and other art forms is decreasing, with students choosing to evolve out of it. He explains: “One hears a lot of artists, especially young artists, say that nowadays one doesn’t draw as much as one used to. Students don’t see what could be the use of this activity—go out to the railway stations, bus stations, doing 100 sketches a day. Fewer and fewer preparatory drawings are available. This is for various reasons: Newer mediums are coming up; one depends on photographs, rather than drawings, to base one’s painting on; one is not moving towards painting—but towards newer media—and, therefore, drawing in itself has become a little less prominent.”
The Art of Drawing (Reshavishkar in Marathi) was conceived therefore to showcase drawing for students of art in Pune. The first part was shown from 17 September-1 October at the Maharashtra Cultural Centre, Pune. The second showing will be in November in Pune. The current exhibit of 10 artists at The Guild is a preview capsule of the show.
“My only aim is to reach out to students who would not ever have access to such works,” Patwardhan says. The exhibit spans the variety of ways in which drawing is still used by senior as well as junior artists today, covering the generational age of artists as well as the variety of work—artists working in pencil, pen, brush and wash. “Content-wise, some are political, personal, observational, introverted. I have tried to indicate the mini-genres within drawing.”
The drawings are as varied as the artists. There are independent drawings—as in the case of the youngest artist in the group, Parag Tandel, or Patel’s sketches; unrelated to his painting practice. Khanna’s drawings are precursors to his painting practice. K.G. Subrahmanyam’s brush drawings are also related to his practice, “not in the sense that he makes this sketch and then makes a painting out of it, but that this is a riyaaz of doing trees, figures, animals in a certain way. It is what he has continuously done, which is what leads to, and what translates into, his paintings,” Patwardhan says.
In a world where art is increasingly investment, the interest in drawing separates the men from the boys. Ergo, to love a Khanna painting, you simply must be interested in the sketches that were its genesis. “These pages from Krishen Khanna’s sketchbook; he didn’t do these for an exhibition in a gallery. He did these for himself. But they are very important for critics and students of art and for anyone who wants to understand a Krishen Khanna painting.”
But that is a concept of art still not quite developed among buyers. There is a tendency to look at it as less important, just as there is hesitation to buy prints. There is, understandably then, less demand for a sketch, Patwardhan points out (the sketches on show range in price from Rs 25,000 to a few lakhs, depending on the seniority of the artist, size/complexity of the work, etc.).
Each artist uses drawings in his own way. Patwardhan himself devotes half his time to painting and half to drawing. “Drawing remains very important to me in both ways—as an independent activity and as a preparatory activity for my paintings.” For Patwardhan, it is a discipline that connects him to the critical evaluation of technology in art. “I’ve always been interested in how photography has invaded art—a lot of artists, including myself, depend on photographic images.”
The series of Patwardhan’s drawings currently on show are drawn from photographs; a shift from drawing directly from nature. “When I am taking the photograph, I am not looking at it as a photographer, I am looking at it as a draftsman. So I seek something that appeals to me in drawing.”
Just as drawings for Patwardhan are connectors in a technologically evolving space, he explains, they map other things for other artists: “Drawings open a window into an artist’s mind apart from painting, or sculpture, or any other medium, in a manner that is distinctive.”
The preview of The Art of Drawing is on till 15 October at The Guild, 02/32, Kamal Mansion, Second floor, Arthur Bunder Road, Colaba, Mumbai. For details, call 022-22880116/0195.