Durga Kainthola is a renowned Indian artist. Her works were on display at “Desi Canvas” under the theme “Oorjaa”, which was an all women artists’ show. She talks about her inspiration, style and the world of art in an email conversation.
Ashish: What is the story behind you becoming an artist?
Durga Kainthola (DK): There is no story. My childhood was spent in wondering how a movie is made and out of curiosity, I made a small theatre out of a shoebox. I collected images of film actresses from the newspapers and pasted them side by side and rolled it onto a pencil. I cut a window and fixed a glass and with the help of two holes on opposite ends of the shoebox, I inserted the newspaper roll. I manually kept winding the pencil and one after the other, the images appeared. This was even before TV was introduced in Mumbai in the mid-70s. As a teenager, I made dolls and I loved embroidery and making rangoli. I was born in Kolkata and then moved to Mumbai, so I was soaking in different art forms, from the Rabindra Sangeet of Kolkata to Lavani of Maharashtra. I have always been curious and creative since my childhood and my parents never stopped me. They let me be myself. As a creatively inclined person, being an artist came very naturally.
Ashish: What inspires you to put your energy into art?
DK: Anything and everything that catches my attention empower my curious mind. For example, a stranger’s smile in the crowd, green fields, the rain in the mountains, watching both the sunrise and the moon together, early morning on my lush green terrace garden. Watching my father since I was a toddler and growing up with his values. He is no more but I cling to his spiritual way of life that gives me energy. Various sources are responsible for evoking my visual senses and energies. That is a part of my thought process.
Ashish: What materials do you use in your paintings?
DK: I have experimented with various materials, but I usually use gouache on paper, acrylic on canvas, embroidery, and continue to experiment with new techniques. Since the late 90s, I began to use inkjet printing and made multiple prints of my self-portrait and made a series of works on paper titled “Pages from My Visual Notebook”. In the early 2000s, I experimented with short video films. So I must say I am a multi-media artist.
Ashish: How have you evolved as an artist? How would you describe your journey so far?
DK: It’s a never-ending journey; with each passing year, I have evolved with my experiences. I don’t know whether I have evolved or not in literary terms but the thought process changes and for that, the sky is the limit. It’s a process and I never thought of it because it’s a part of my being/existence. To me, art is an expression, a way of life.
Ashish: Who is/are your favourite artist(s)? And why?
DK: I learn from everyone. Past, present and future are all rolled into one. Andy Warhol possibly plays a great role and is a role model for my creative journey. This led me, since 2001, to find a path of documenting history in contemporary miniatures, titled, “Warhol and the History of Art”. I find something good in every artist’s work.
Ashish: As an artist, what do you think needs to be done to reach out to more people?
DK: I don’t focus much on this issue because I do my work and galleries that represent me do most of theirs. I do have a website, my works are on online galleries and the galleries do have some of it. I just paint and focus on my work. I don’t push myself and don’t want to lose my space and peace for 15 minutes of fame. Let history judge me. When I am living and breathing, I know I have to make every moment beautiful, long lasting, timeless. My spiritual upbringing has made my life easy and hence I place success and failure on the same platter.
Ashish: What differences do you find in the audience of India and abroad?
DK: I don’t find much difference between Indians and the audience abroad. Each person has a different way of looking at art and what he or she seeks is a personal opinion, so why generalise.
Ashish: Is art limited to some classes in India? If so, what are the reasons behind it?
DK: People understand academic art more easily as it is straightforward. One must not forget that art is everywhere – “Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder”. Installations are everywhere – for example, in our country, an oval stone smeared with orange becomes a symbol of Hanuman. To the same oval stone, add a trishul and it becomes Shiv Shakti. A banyan tree becomes a symbol of spirituality and when people tie a ribbon on it, it is turned into a “Wishing Tree”.
The general public seldom ventures into a gallery space and they are often confused about what they are looking at. This is common and is something that art institutions need to make people aware about. How to look at an artwork and how to appreciate it – that is what is lacking and makes art, not inaccessible, but difficult for most classes.
There is no gallery-going or museum-going culture in India and it is high time for that issue to be addressed. Another aspect is that being an artist has its highs and lows and not everyone is able to sustain the lows that come along with the profession. There has to be financial security – one needs that to practice their art.
Materials and supplies are expensive and when the works don’t sell, making a living becomes difficult. That is a limitation. I am not going to go into details about the reasons but think about it: Art is taught in schools until maybe class 8 and then is discontinued. What is the reason for this discontinuation? Why is a child not allowed to pursue creativity? Art will become accessible for all only when the importance of it is understood.
Ashish: How do you see the economics of art in India?
DK: Art is about passion and thrives on passionate patrons. It’s got only a limited audience. The new dealers/galleries at present believe in a secondary art market of the blue chip that is thriving. The so-called market of contemporary art of middle-aged and young artists is going through its worst journey. Today, most galleries don’t want to take the risk and nurture a talented artist. The art patrons have to take the lead as they did before the art market boom. The young artist should price their work of art modestly if they want to make a comfortable living. They should live in reality. The boom was a bubble and it burst.