Vikram Seth, the artist, hits the bottle | delhi | Hindustan Times
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Vikram Seth, the artist, hits the bottle

delhi Updated: Sep 21, 2012 23:31 IST
Indrajit Hazra
Indrajit Hazra
Hindustan Times
Indrajit Hazra

Vikram Seth likes his drink. As he lies back on a couch, intermittently taking recourse to his lemon juice, he speaks about the series of three art works that he has created with the iconic Absolut vodka bottle as their protagonist.

"What drew me (to painting them) were essentially two things: whether I would be inspired enough by the idea of creating a visual work of art and whether the result of this inspiration was any good," Seth says with his eyes shut.

It was his love for calligraphy - which he learnt as a student and has been masterfully executing ever since - that finally brought the paintings to fruition. The Chinese character for wine 'Jiu' in the bright orange painting wraps itself around a red bottle, embracing and trapping the iconic design.

"In a painting, you can't make out whether the artist painted the left eye before the right eye. In Chinese calligraphy, you can see the progression of the artist's stroke," he says of the striking image with seven smaller characters - 'Xie Binland shu yu Deli' (Vikram Seth wrote this in Delhi) - cascading down the side.

Another painting, with the chiselled solidity of the Urdu script 'Na Maain Na Mai' curling down a blue Absolut bottle, captures a different emotion.

"Neither I (remained) nor the wine," Seth explains, adding that there has been a rich tradition of celebrating drink in India from the poetry of Ghalib to passages extolling the virtues of soma rasa in the Rig Veda.

The green painting, with phantom-like objects behind two standing bottles and one supine one, has the words, 'Pyasa Pyala', (thirsty cup) in Devnagiri, lines from Harbans Rai Bachchan's classic poem Madhushala, etched across it.

Not too many writers have 'crossed over' as artists - or, at least, made their artist avatars public. While writers such as Rabindranath Tagore, William Blake and Sukumar Ray have been lauded for their art, Seth doesn't see himself in that mould. And he doesn't believe in piggybacking his art on his reputation as a writer.

"Your works have to have value for what they are," he says with finality.

Seth joins an illustrious set of artists such as Andy Warhol, Louise Bourgeois and more recently Bharti Kher and Subodh Gupta who have been 'inspired' by the iconic design of the vodka bottle.

But it is red wine that Seth sips when he says, "I was approached to do this after I painted the 'Kolom' (pen) calligraphy at the Kolkata Literary Meet in January this year," he says while shielding his eye from the light illuminating his three small framed paintings on a black wall.

"But now I have to finish A Suitable Girl," referring to the sequel to his most famous novel due for publication in 2013.