“There are no ‘themes’ in my paintings, no ‘mood’. That’s for critics to analyse.” Artist Jatin Das is clearly in an excitable mood. After all, his one-man show Earth Bodies — his first in the Capital after almost nine years — was to open at the Visual Arts Gallery (India Habitat Centre) that evening (May 12-19).
There are canvases lined up all along the walls — there must be at least a hundred large and smallish paintings in oil, acrylic, watercolour and conte — some of them in piles. Amidst it all Das, cowboy hat perched firmly on his head and flanked by daughter Nandita and wife Bidisha, rushes about deciding what to show and where, giving directions to sundry helpers.
And there’s a lot to irk him. The framer has torn the canvas of a large painting called Grounded, the partition boards are chipped and patchily painted — even the small black patches on the dune-coloured floor has him agitated. “The floor of a gallery should be plain, nothing should come in the line of vision… I was art consultant when this building was being made. It’s come to such a sorry pass.”
“I never paint for a show,” Das claims. For Earth Bodies he just picked out some of what he has done over the last four years or so. So there are women and men, in pairs and alone, articulating the pain and joy of living and loving, drawn out in Das’s uniquely dynamic style — broad patches of colour in bold strokes bound by a few decisive, almost random lines.
For someone who is one of the most distinctive figurative painters in the contemporary art scene, and whose works are in all the major national and a few international museums and have fetched high prices at auctions abroad, Das finds exhibitions “boring and cumbersome”.
“Exhibitions…are held for such a short duration that the amount of trouble one takes for mounting, framing, photographing, cataloguing, packing, unpacking…it just doesn’t seem worth it,” he says.
One can be only thankful that he has found exhibiting worth his while this time.