Bird’s eyeview acquires a different meaning in Jagannath Panda’s studio in Gurgaon. A giant eagle gazes out of a canvas with savage majesty while a resplendent peacock investigates bright red chillies above taupe urbania. Nature’s conflict with cities is the palette of Panda’s art reflected in canvases, sculptures and collages—large in size, vibrant with colour and overwhelmingly lifelike. There is a humanity in the distressed eyes of a rhino, seemingly anticipating destruction. Panda’s creative space is akin to stepping into an enchanted universe where fantastic beasts lurk in every corner, hunted by change. Says the artist, “It has taken me over a decade to arrive at this juncture.
Each project is time-taking while at the same time I keep discovering fresh possibilities. Never satisfied with the final outcome, I keep revisiting my works again and again.” Panda has worked largely with paper mache, blended with fabric and pasted on canvas along with other materials.
The results are wonderful collages that give an impression of floating sans context. The subject matter exists around him—distant locations to his own backyard. “I try to reconcile many of the contradictions in Nature with our existence, thoughts and beliefs. My works reflect the merging of realism and the abstract supported by self-narrative,” says Panda. Known as a thinking artist, he incorporates diametrically opposite scenarios to create an unified whole that interrogates the mysteries of existence.
Technology and fantasy interact, recording the growing urbanscape of India putting Nature at risk. “My social consciousness is part of my work. My approach to art, the narrative, my idea of India and all my questions lead to conversations on canvas. Amidst these contradictions, I aim to create a sense of balance,” says the 49-year-old Panda. Coming from Bhubaneswar in Odisha, he won critical acclaim for the first time when he was a student at London’s Royal College of Art in 2002.
He glued together thousands of bit-sized words snipped from an English dictionary over a gas-filled balloon, thus creating a moon-shaped shell. This installation entered the collection of a London-based insurance company. Back home, recognition came slower. But once he made it firmly into the limelight, Panda is at ease with fame. His art has found space at Mumbai International Airport’s T2 waiting lounge. “People will probably view my work at the airport maybe just for 15-odd seconds, but regardless, I put in minute detail work into the canvas,” says the artist.
To sum up Panda’s art in noted critic Peter Nagy’s words: “In a single work, Panda posits the existence of stylised gods, culled from the palm leaf manuscripts of his ancestral Odisha, within the skyscraper apartment blocks of the burgeoning, newest India. His realism believes in the existence of fantasy. The juxtaposition of diverse materials in a single work enables the artist to speak with multiple voices. Collage and assemblage are divorced from their surrealist patrimony and function as both memory and mirror, storing preconceived meanings and reflecting a contradictory reality.” Nature is in Panda’s nature with cities as his canvas.