Atul Dodiya’s association with Mahatma Gandhi goes as far back as 1999, when he created a series of watercolour paintings on the Father of the Nation. This time, the veteran artist will again portray Gandhi, albeit not in the same physical portraiture, at a new show at the very same gallery.
Bako Exists. Imagine is an adaptation of Gujarati poet, Labhshanker Thaker’s fictional account of a schoolboy named Bako, who has imaginary conversations with Gandhi. Says Dodiya, “Bako is a Gujarati nickname for a young boy, something like chhotu or pintu. Thaker is a well-known contemporary poet whose work I admire. I’m influenced by his creativity and his approach to art.”
The artist has often used text in his work, and this time too he’s incorporated the poems in their English translation, handwritten on a blackboard, thereby making it apt for the schoolboy. “I wanted the audience to read the painting. I don’t force myself, but allow it to emerge gradually. The illustrations came later, but are not necessarily connected to the text,” explains Dodiya.
Using Gandhi as a subject, Dodiya has depicted him as a character in Bako’s fantasy. The two exchange banter that is simple, yet unusual. The artist claims, “When I read the poem for the first time, I could see myself in Bako — my early days when I decided to be a painter and was learning the Gandhian way of life in school.”
This is Dodiya’s first exhibit in the city in three years, and it took him almost five years to conceptualise and a little over a year to create. Apart from the 12 blackboards, also on display is a 40-ft wide cabinet, which immortalises the artist’s childhood memories and inspirations.
“It’s called Meditation (With Open Eyes) and houses lots of paintings, photos and objects related to the exhibit. They also have a lot to do with me as a young boy and the masters I have admired,” smiles Dodiya, adding, “These are people I still go back to for inspiration — all their references and quotations are in this cabinet. They range from Arun Kolatkar (poet) to Francois Truffaut (French filmmaker), Jasper Johns (American pop artist) and even Rabindranath Tagore and Ram Krishna Paramhans.”
While Dodiya is still putting the finishing touches to this exhibit, he’s already planned a show of watercolours in Delhi and Paris next. “Also there’ll soon be a book published about me and my work, which I’m very excited about.”