On a misty winter morning, as the sun rebels to lift itself from a thick cover of fog, nonagenarian artist Satish Gujral cannot wait another moment for the mercury to rise, making it feasible for him to paint comfortably in his resplendent garden of wondrous blooms. He asks for his chair to be placed in front of the work he wants to quickly finish, in the hope that it’ll be included in his exhibition titled, A Brush with Life, at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts. He tries to convince Pramod KG, 42, curator of the exhibition, and MD, Eka Cultural Resources and Research, to somehow squeeze it into his curatorial narrative; however, he doesn’t assert too much. This is precisely how Gujral is in his personal life too, and that’s just one of the things Pramod hopes to highlight through the current showcase. After all, they make the artist who he is today.
‘A Brush with Life’ is a compilation of Gujral’s illustrious journey, both as a human being and as a creative visionary. Poor health and a few visits to the hospital of late haven’t kept him away from expressing his eccentricity through myriad concepts that his intuitivity and inventiveness continue to stir up even as he ages. “His zest for life is admirable. When you sit with him, you realise he’s literally itching to do something; to work, to create, to move on and do with something constructive,” says Pramod, who believes that memory as metaphor shadows the artist’s work, with characters appearing as leitmotifs across the many mediums he worked with over six decades: sketches to collages, abstract paintings to narrative depictions of the human condition.
More than 70 works from his expansive magnum opus are being presented by The Gujral Foundation, a non-profit trust founded in 2008 by Mohit and Feroze Gujral, along with some archival photographs from Madan Mahatta archives. “Some images are of works that he had made for big industrial exhibitions in the late 1980s. These were temporary exhibits that were shown at Pragati Maidan and were ephemeral in that sense. These photos are the only recall of the work done at that time,” says Pramod.
Cumulatively, the collection is not only rare, but also poignant as it captures the essence of the heart of the artist. “I see the entire Indian nation in him as he’s illustrated almost every aspect that’s ever mattered to the country and its people. Take for instance, his first works that he began his career with in 1947, the partition series that lucidly portrayed the trauma of the subcontinent’s partition resulting in the creation of India and Pakistan. Many other such explicit works followed,” says Pramod who has incorporated works not just from Gujral’s early days, but a few recent ones from this year and the last. Mostly untitled, these evoke a sense of wonderment; one that’s left wholly to the viewer to discern. It allows room for multiple interpretations, which brings about ambiguity in his creativity.
After developing a hearing impairment at the age of eight, the artist, who is also well known as a sculptor, muralist, graphic designer, writer and architect, has never let his disability come in the way of his other heightened abilities. He is an artist who listens only to the trusting voice of his passion that guides him even to this day. His memory fails him sometimes, but his willpower supersedes all possible constraints. Given that his strokes are still vivid and voraciously expressed, it’s not surprising that even at 90, he wants to share his art with the world.
“I’ve noticed something quite interesting about his works. It’s that some of his formations are now beginning to resemble the ones that he used to draw when he started his career as an artist. Age in a strange, but wonderful way, is taking him back to where he began,” says Pramod. It seems life has come a full circle for this artist.