Artist Satyakam Saha’s studio is a charming mess of colours, canvases, paintbrushes, palettes and papers. Bright sunlight streaming through the open windows and Charles Mingus’ mellifluous Haitian Fight Song fills the place. Saha, 45, is sketching, sitting at a long table. Behind him is the staircase leading to the basement art gallery.
There are a couple of more working desks — and his living space — upstairs in Saha’s rented studio in Kaladham, the country’s first government-backed art colony. “Kaladham offers me the peace and solitude that most artists seek to work,” says Saha, who shifted to Kaladham in October, 2015.
For the uninitiated, Kaladham in Greater Noida, about 40 km from Connaught Place, is a unique government-promoted art colony in the country. The government began allotting land around 10 years ago to well-known artists. So far, about 96 artists have been allotted land to build studios and about 35 studio-residences are functional. Many of them, including that of Saha, are open studios where art lovers freely come, admire art and interact with the artists.
“The idea is to engage with the local community that comprises students of dozens of educational institutes in the area. I believe artists need to engage with young people to promote the cause of art,” says Saha, who works in multimedia. In fact, not just the studios, but parks too in this colony are often the venue for workshops.
With its green open fields, Kaladham exudes the charm of countryside. Every studio has a small front lawn and is known by its number; the facades of the many grand, villa-like studios are designed to display large artworks. Some senior artists, who have built studios here, have rented out properties to young artists. So the age group of the community is 25 to 80 years.
Not far away from Saha’s is the studio of Devendra Shukla, 50, where he lives and works with his artist South Korean wife Mun Jang Hee and two sons. While he works in his groundfloor studio, which has his paintings and sculptures on display, his wife has her studio in the basement. A cool breeze is wafting through the open windows, mitigating the heat and humidity of the August afternoon.
“I could not have afforded such a big space in Delhi. I have created some of my biggest murals and installation for museums and galleries here in this studio. Besides, at any other place my neighbour would not understand the reason behind the sounds I make while creating sculptures. Since everyone is an artist here, the place allows me to work without any such concern and gives an opportunity to us to learn from each other,” says soft-spoken Shukla, a painter and sculptor, who shifted to Kaladham two years back.
Kaladham’s studio-residences, built on 200 and 300 square metre plots, have fixed layouts decided by the Greater Noida Authority — a ground-floor studio with a 20-foot high ceiling, which gives an overwhelming sense of space, a basement which is used by artists either as storage or gallery. Some of the well-known artists who have built their studios here include Jai Zharotia, Sidharth, Gogi Saroj Pal, Ved Nayar, Sanjay Bhattacharya, Ranbir and Rashmi Kaleka, Vijendra Sharma, and Dattatraya Apte.
Well-known singers Rita Ganguly, Rajan Mishra and Sajan Mishra also have their studio-residences in Kaladham.
Many studios in Kaladham are quite sophisticated and tastefully designed. The studio of Sidharth, 60, a painter, sculptor, and film-maker, for example, has separate spaces for his myriad artistic pursuits. It has a library with hundreds of books on art, a colour library with colours made by him, umbrella lights, a large high-resolution light-cumbackground screen for photographing paintings, and many latest photography and video cameras. A music studio is under development on the first floor.
“There is a strong studio culture in the West and a place like Kaladham will go a long way in promoting a similar culture in the country. I had three studios in Delhi, but I wanted a bigger studio where I could pursue all my artistic passions under one roof. It is better for artists to have studio-cum -residences where they can devote more time to their art. At times, here I start painting at 4 am,” says Sidharth, who lives in his Kaladham studio-residence with his wife, daughter and three assistants.
But isn’t living away from the city a bad idea for an artist as far as selling his work is concerned? “An artist need not live in the city in this age of internet. A lot of art collectors visit my studio here. I believe that all the artists should leave the city,” says Sidharth.
But it seems that not all artists are ready for that yet.
Many artists who have built their studios here are reluctant to shift and have rented out their studios. Others want to sell theirs. “It is a complete shame that they are trying to make money out of the space that was allocated to them at such low rates. They got a 300 sq plot hardly for ` 4 lakh and now some of them want to sell the studio for ` 2 crore. And they are not some struggling artists, they sell paintings for crores,” says an artist in Kaladham, not wishing to be named. “In Kaladham, an artist can only sell to another artist, but some are willing to sell them even to non-artists,” he adds.
Saha believes the government should develop a library, art gallery, a resource centre in Kaladham to attract art lovers. “But eventually, it is the responsibility of the artists to ensure that Kaladham develops into a vibrant art community,” he says.