Over an evening walk, artist Dattatraya Apte tells Ashish Singh, the story of the artist in him.
Ashish Singh (AS): What is the story behind you becoming an artist?
Dattatraya Apte (DA): It is just upbringing. My father was a teacher and he groomed the three of us in different fields. My elder brother was interested in literature, my younger brother was into music and I was interested in decorating the house. My father was always creating illustrations for his classes and singing bhajans. My father used to make the daily rangoli for Bhagwat Sapah for Ganesh Puja. When I started to make the Ganesha he made sure that it was the one always used for the puja.
My uncle used to go to the Krishna River for his bath every day and he would bring back clay. Every day the Shivling was made, prayed to, and then immersed. The ‘Mohenjodaro bull’ is still being made in my area.
My school teacher was from JJ School of Sculpture and he was good with academics. During my matriculation, I was told that I could do engineering as I had over 60% – but I did not want to be an engineer. My father’s uncle was a self-taught photographer. With him, I learned to paint photographs, retouch the negatives and he took me to Pune for art studies. Although I was enrolled with JJ school for sculpture, circumstances allowed me to study at Abhinav Kala Vidyalaya in Pune. The environment was available for me. Art is something that grows into your character. It cannot be forced.
(AS): What inspires you to put your energy into art?
(DA): Everybody needs space to express themselves. Some write. Others act or sing. I have a feeling that if I can draw, I can express myself better. It is a very personal expression. It is akin to writing a diary. Every day you get an opportunity to express. Observing people, nature and even reading a newspaper – the entire experience percolates into expression.
(AS): What materials do you use in your paintings?
(DA): I don’t confine myself to only paintings. I make prints in all mediums. I use oils, acrylics and make bronze sculptures. If I think of making a sculpture, I will make one and not try to make a painting of the sculpture.
(AS): How have you evolved as an artist? (Your journey so far.)
(DA): Evolution is a time span spent in different phases and your work speaks about the change. As a student, you do a lot of studies. You keep working and although you are not always successful, your failures push you to make new stuff. Adventure is always there, even though the rate of success might be low. I don’t follow the practice of translating the same ideas into different mediums, as I feel it limits your thought process. My medium is also paper pulp where 80% is evolving as it is being cast. The surprise you get when it is done is what I probably learned from printmaking.
(AS): Who is/are your favourite artist(s)? And why?
(DA): Mr J D Gondharekar from Pune. He retired as the Dean of JJ School of Art in the year when I was born. He was instrumental in getting me into printmaking. When he was studying at the Slade school he had seen Whistler and the stalwarts working in person. And his way of teaching the history of art was very different. He was fabulous at drawing during his travels. That was in the beginning of my career. One can have as many gurus as one wants in life – K G Subramanyan for spontaneity and Jeram Patel for his continuous intensity.
(AS): As an artist, what do you think needs to be done to reach out to more people?
(DA): The education system is very important. The idea of expression is not taught from a very early age. Art is not to be seen in a cage or a frame. It has to be seen in every walk of life. One should react, whether with appreciation or disgust – a reaction should be there. Appreciation of what the other person is doing has to be encouraged. They are the onlookers when they grow up.
(AS): What differences do you find in the audience of India and abroad?
(DA): That is the education. Going to a museum, parks, or concerts is a part of life. In India, we are too busy managing our daily affairs. But if you go to a tribal household the house is clean and well organised. And some paintings are also part of their life. The urban people have lost the touch. We are in between – the middle class wants to enjoy both sides but not be overwhelmed at all.
(AS): Is art limited to some classes in India? If so, what are the reasons behind it?
(DA): It is the upbringing that we are born with, like going to a good college. If you have a father who can afford it and you have the resources – who can tell you what to choose? Because art is seen only in confined spaces. Even on page three, the visibility is of the celebrities, not the art. It never gets the attention.
(AS): How do you see the economics of art in India?
(DA): The buyer should buy only if they like it and not because they were told to or because it will appreciate like shares. The connoisseurs will buy for posterity for the future generations. The unnecessary raise in art prices is also turning away buyers.
Dattatraya Apte’s works are part of the show IMPRINT at “Desi Canvas“.