Artists tend to attract other artists. Imagine having two equally powerful creative forces living under the same roof. Get to know Anju and Atul Dodiya in part three of the HT Brunch four-part series on artist power couples.
Indian contemporary art is incomplete without a mention of Atul Dodiya, and his works, replete with popular culture references and kitsch. He grew up in the company of cultured Maharashtrian as well as liberal Kathiawad families in a chawl in Ghatkopar, Mumbai (he still has a studio in his father’s old house).
At the age of 10, he had decided to be an artist. He would try and see as many contemporary works of Indian masters as he could, and then explain to his parents whatever little he understood. Luckily for him, his parents supported Atul in all his art-related attempts (mostly successful).
Atul reacts to everyday life in the city through his work, sometimes with an element of humour – like at the 2011 India Art Summit, where his work included printed text messages, one of which read, “Those who have sinned in their previous births go into Art Fairs”!
Atul came into the limelight with his series on Mahatma Gandhi in 1999, the same year he received the Sotheby’s Award in Contemporary Art. Gandhi remains a recurrent theme in his work, though his work changes and evolves in form every few years – underlining his relevance in changing times.
The next most-loved set of artworks is his Shutter series, where he paints on shop shutters that can be rolled up to reveal a completely different work of art underneath. And then there is his cabinet of curiosities, where he collects and displays forgotten items, like old paintings or typewriters.
In 2000, Atul Dodiya was a part of a major travelling exhibition (that showed in nine cities) at the prestigious Tate Modern in London, something that remains a dream for most artists.
Unlike her husband, Anju Dodiya is an introvert. When Atul describes his very talented wife, he says that she has a “lack of ambition,” she doesn’t crave success, fame or money.
Anju’s work reflects an artist’s anxiety, mostly in an autobiographical context – difficult to explain in words. So while Atul maintains a diary of every project he has in mind, Anju discusses projects only when she reaches a certain level of clarity in her mind. And only when her thoughts have somewhat settled down. At times, she paints her internal conflicts as an artist.
Always supportive of his wife, Atul has helped her to unleash the creativity bottled up inside her. He has boosted her confidence, taught her to trust her intuition, take risks and attempt works she was initially hesitant about. When her work was showcased at the prominent Venice Biennale in 2009, she gained much critical acclaim.
Just as they know each other’s limitations, they are also aware of their strengths and share an “unbelievably fine tuning”. It was a conscious decision to keep their studios separate and outside the house to avoid distractions – and also because of the size of their artworks.
The love story
“She was the most beautiful girl I’d seen, and above all, she was as passionate as I was about movies and art,” says Atul, about the start of their relationship.
They met as students at the JJ School of Art in Mumbai, Atul a few years senior to her. Anju always admired his work and they would visit galleries together. Coming from a conservative Parsi family, it took time for Anju to convince her parents to marry the bright young artist she loved and admired.
Both Anju and Atul are film buffs and love good literature.Home is a place for movies, music and books. And for spending time with their daughter who provides them relief from work. They are each other’s best critics too. But though they might argue over ideologies and ways of working, and give prior notice before visiting each other’s studios, their unanimous reaction to the question, “Can you imagine living with a non-artist?” is a firm “No”.
YIN AND YANG
What he loves about her
“I love the way she prepares Spaghetti Aglio e Olio. She’s a fantastic cook.”
What she loves about him
“His memory is really good, the way he remembers exact quotes and dates.”
The man behind the success
Atul Dodiya’s father was a great support at each step of his career, without his wisdom and faith, we might have missed out on Team Dodiya!
From HT Brunch, March 22
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