Sukant Khurana’s works have been displayed at many places in India and abroad. In an email conversation, he talks about his artistic side.
Ashish: What is the story behind the artist Sukant Khurana?
Sukant Khurana (SK): Same as that of a scientist or a writer or a person who is exploring the infinitesimally small part of the overall dimensional space of our universe. I feel happy if I manage to do a tad bit better than some of the other naked apes (Homo sapiens).
Ashish: What inspires you to put your energy into art?
SK: After reaching interesting career heights, my life has seen one crisis after another in personal, career, and health spheres. Art, philosophy, and literature allow me to explore life hanging by a thread and also celebrate small successes. They also allow economical ways to conduct thought experimentation, without the need of the resources needed for scientific experiments. They sometimes allow me to venture further than mere empirical or rational approaches would allow.
Ashish: What materials do you use in your paintings?
SK: Everything near me. I paint on wooden boards, glass, cement slabs, canvas and even regular cloth sheets. I have used distemper, paints, spray paints, oils, a sprinkling of pure undiluted pigments. I usually do not dilute my paints but sometimes have added cement, putty and even clay for texture. Depending on the kind of work, some can have one layer hiding another. I treat my works in analogy with my life, with bullets, knives, fire – weathering in the sun, rain and snow (when I was in the US). There are others which gradually add up, where I wash my works immediately after making them, leaving washed up small parts of each layer to contribute to the final work.
Ashish: You seem to take inspiration from events and people around you, Can you tell us more about it?
SK: I would not consider myself the most social person and not someone who is quite happy to be that way, so when my paintings are not looking inwards and aren’t autobiographical in nature, then they are about events or ideas that are changing the shape of the world. I love the new world and free societies where people’s identities are shaped more by their action than their birth. So, after moving to India, where identities tend to be more strictly defined based on one’s birth, I have picked up the theme of identities and explored it from a social, biological (especially neuroscientific), and artistic perspective.
Ashish: As an artist what do you think needs to be done in order to reach out to more people?
SK: Reach out to people’s bedrooms and not just drawing rooms. That can happen through television, podcasts and video blogs. Unfortunately, newspapers and books stop at drawing rooms and those too are limited to a small section of society. Art would not have an appeal beyond commodity purchase in India or as a craft, unless it becomes part of our living culture, as you see in France or New York City or Brussels or in Beijing. The other thing, in addition to reaching to people’s bedrooms, is public art. It is good to see that in Delhi and in few other cities, there has been a humble start to such efforts. Whatever exists is in very limited places but at least there is a start. If art just remains confined to galleries and artists to their studios, art would die.
Ashish: Who is/are your favourite artist(s)? And why?
SK: Rothko for peace; Pollak for chaos; Monet for beauty; Escher and Van Gogh for gut-wrenching visceral feelings; Escher for mathematical beauty; Warhol for bringing commodification and commercialization to the forefront and thus, showing a mirror to the art world; Dali for dreams and Picasso for not knowing the boundaries of established art schools.
Ashish: What differences do you find in the audience of India and abroad?
SK: Audiences in India need a certificate from others before they can appreciate non-conventional art. They approach art more for its commodity value unlike in Europe and parts of North America.
Ashish: Is art limited to some classes in India? if so, what are the reasons behind it?
SK: Art is not part of people’s living culture yet and is perceived as a proxy for status. Hence, it is limited to the upper class or upper middle class. The internet and social media provide important mediums, which, if used well, can be used for the degallerification of art. Hence, it can help spread art. The bottom-most sections of India, who struggle to make their ends meet, still have folk art and craft intact but that too is fast under attack from the forces of modernisation. Also, there is a big disconnect between art and craft and high art. A continuum, which should exist for the organic growth of art, is missing between folk art and high art. This gulf is not as wide for songs and poems.
Ashish: How do you see the economics of art in India?
SK: Sale prices are clearly a bimodal curve, with sales of things that are predominantly craft. The aesthetically pleasing art of starving artists is sold at dirt-cheap prices. With celebrity artists, the price is that of signature instead of art. If one looks from an investment perspective, as a buyer, it is easy to get fooled, at times, because different auction houses sell paintings to each other to artificially jack up the prices of a few artists. That said, given that South Asia, despite its wealth, is in single digits of the global art market, and given that economic growth is heading for some uncertainty, commodity buying of art is certainly going to only go up. In simple terms, commodity buying has only one way to go and that is up. Whether commodity buys are good for art is a different question. Even after five years, where I see doubling to tripling of purchase, I think less than 1% of artists would benefit, because, in India, there is very rarely the intention of purchasing art instead of purchasing a commodity when it comes to high-end purchase.
Ashish: Where do you find synergy between science and art?
SK: It is just one continuum for me.