| Subodh Gupta at the Patna Literature Festival on Sunday. Picture by Ranjeet Kumar Dey |
Subodh Gupta is the only artist with roots in Bihar to have travelled with his signature installation art from Finland to Ukraine or from New York to London. His first public art for the city came up at Eco Park in 2012. In a tête-à-tête with Supratim Pal of The Telegraph on the sidelines of Patna Literature Festival, he talked about contemporary Indian art and why Bihar is finding it hard to get space at national art galleries. Excerpts:
How was the journey from Khagaul to Delhi?
I had no one to look up to. It was not easy those days to make a mark in the world of fine arts coming from Bihar. I studied in Eastern Railway Boys’ High School, Khagaul, obviously not known for the best place for budding artists.
You always used to carry two pencils — green and red — in the class and only did sketches of Hanuman and Shiva. Why?
(Smiles) Yes, I always had those two pencils. Sketching the gods and goddesses was the easiest thing to do because the idols at temples and pandals had an influence on me.
Were you a painter then?
Yes, in a way. My first exhibition, around 30 years ago, had some drawings and paintings during my days in College of Arts and Crafts, Patna. Sculpture came sometime later.
You moved to Delhi in 1989. What prompted you to take the step?
What else could I do? In Patna, after completion of my studies, I hardly had any job, forget any link to arts. For few months, I worked with a Hindi daily as a designer and illustrator. Like many youngsters, I too had to dash to Delhi to survive — to survive with what I like the most — art.
But why did you take up installation art?
Just to make an identity for myself. Every artist has his or her passion in some sort of art form. I found my space in installation art. All artists, during their college days, have to study art history, painting, sculpture but specialisation comes after moving out of the close confines of the classrooms.
And, what about utensils, tiffin-boxes, steel, old bicycles in your installation art works?
You can say it’s a kind of connection to our everyday life, our roots. I find the bond with people around me crucial. Tiffin-boxes are not trivial elements. Neither are old bicycles, nor bolts and screws.
In 2012, you came up with “Cactus” for Patna. Parents take their children to Eco Park and say: “Look, that’s Subodh Gupta’s ‘Cactus’.” Why such name to a public art work?
It’s my way of tribute to the new dispensation. A cactus can withstand anything — from storm to drought. And when the flower blooms, it makes the surroundings beautiful. It represents the state’s present condition. After “dark ages”, we are on the development path. The two red structures in “Cactus” symbolise the blooming season.
Why don’t we see another Subodh Gupta from Patna?
The basic problem with my alma mater is the quality of faculty. Forget contemporary artists, you can’t even get a good painter unless you have someone like K.G. Subramanyan or Jogen Chowdhury.