Analyse, adjust, adapt – how these artists respond to the pandemic with creativity and resilience
Launched in 2014, PhotoSparks is a weekly feature from YourStory, with photographs that celebrate the spirit of creativity and innovation. In the earlier 530 posts, we featured an art festival, cartoon gallery. world music festival, telecom expo, millets fair, climate change expo, wildlife conference, startup festival, Diwali rangoli, and jazz festival.
In this photo essay series, we profile artworks and creative insights from the participating artists at Chitra Santhe 2021 (see our extended coverage here)
The online exhibition wrapped up with a showcase of over 1,000 artists from India and overseas. Hosted by Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath in Bengaluru, the 18th edition of the annual art festival was held virtually from January to March this year due to the pandemic.
See also YourStory’s coverage of six earlier editions of Chitra Santhe: 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016 and 2015, as well as compilations of Top Quotes of 2020 on Art in the Era of the Pandemic, Indian Art, Art Appreciation and Practice, and Beauty and Business of Art.
Bengaluru-based artist John Devaraj has compiled his interpretation of the Ten Commandments of Art (see 2020 video here). He explains that art is about humanity, unity, love, beauty, joy, childhood, and power. Art is about the heart, and is also prophetic and revolutionary.
“Artists are on a journey of understanding themselves, critically observing society, and creating social expression,” John describes, in a chat with YourStory. Artists are deeply involved in interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships, as seen in the works of Vincent Van Gogh, Kathe Kollwitz, and Diego Rivera.
The economics of art is separate from artistic creation, he adds. “Everybody can do without jasmine. But the jasmine fragrance intoxicates life, it is the essence of humanity and love,” John says.
He calls for more art appreciation in society, starting with primary education. “Art is inherent and natural in Indian traditions like rangoli. But urbanisation, computerisation and zombisation has rendered many people useless when it comes to art,” John laments.
So many people have surrendered their intelligence to digital devices, and become slaves to consumerisation and profits, he cautions. “The practice of art is an alternative to this deprivation,” he explains.
His exhibited artworks at Chitra Santhe include the Black Power art series. “It is my effort to empower coloured people to live courageously and proudly, with pride and dignity in the strength of their character,” John says. His artworks are priced from Rs 50,000 for paintings to Rs 10 lakh for sculptures.
Though the pandemic was tough on artists in terms of loss of revenue and social distancing, John spent the time with painting, sculpture, and music. “Online exhibitions have a far greater reach, across the world,” he describes.
However, artworks like sculpture cannot be easily experienced online. “I have spent many hours by the side of Michelangelo’s David, touching it – it is sensational. Seeing David in books is not even a shadow of the real work,” John explains.
“My sculpture of Charlie Chaplin in stone took me 100 days, working with 100 chisels a day, and 30,000 shots with a two-pound hammer each day. It is rigorous, and can’t be captured effectively in brochures and graphic design,” he adds.
John also offers tips for aspiring artists. “There is no shortcut to art. Practice, practice, and practice art. Art is not two-minute Maggi noodle soup,” he emphasises.
“Art is the oxygen of my life. I don’t remember when I actually developed this immense passion. But without art, I literally feel down,” explains Priya Ghosh. The subject of the artwork directly or indirectly reflects the phase of life in which she is immersed.
“Art had been my stress-buster since childhood. It was a hobby that fetched me various prizes in neighbourhood competitions,” she recalls. She learnt from art camps, workshops, and mentors.
“Success for me as an artist is improvement in my works. My artworks themselves vouch for me,” Priya says. Now, she herself conducts workshops and mentoring sessions, and friends and strangers alike have pinged her on social media with requests for commissioned portrait works.
She started off with an MSc in molecular biology and genetics but feels art also needs to get respect and recognition on par with science and technology. “Unfortunately, people are in the habit of judging a profession with the parameter of money it fetches,” Priya laments.
She calls for more art appreciation in society through art camps, exhibitions, and ways for aspiring artists to connect with and inspire each other. Priya keeps preparing to show better works each year at Chitra Santhe, such as her Wisdom series of watercolour paintings (see video here).
“In 2019, we went on the Chardham Yatra, where I was impressed by the peace in the smiles and eyes of various sadhus,” she recalls. This became the inspiration for her themed works.
Her artworks are priced from Rs 600 to Rs 7,000. “The biggest price I get when any of my works is sold is its appreciation and honour, and the new wall it gets from its buyer,” Priya enthuses.
Though the pandemic lockdowns cut down her outdoor activities, she attended online workshops by renowned outstation artists like Nishikant Palande.
“The disadvantage of online exhibitions is that there seems to be no difference between an A4 or a 6ft×6ft painting. Meeting new people and getting their feedback is the thing I miss the most,” she laments.
She also offers advice for aspiring artists. “Practice, practice and practice. Don’t get demoralised with work that seems to be unsuccessful – gather lessons from it and implement them next time,” she suggests.
“Make your eyes the biggest critic of yourself. Don’t just fall for likes, comments, and shares of your works in social media. Instead, explore other artists’ works – just by seeing them, many things can be learnt,” Priya advises.
José Luis Hernández “Chepe”
One of the international artists exhibiting at Chitra Santhe 2021 was José Luis Hernández “Chepe,” a graphic designer from Mexico. “Art is a creative manifestation that can be caused by external or internal situations of an artist,” he explains.
“I believe that there must be a balance between personal and commercial projects. In the personal sphere, one must participate in competitions, exhibitions, and festivals. In the commercial space, must consolidate a business model that allows living outside of art,” Chepe observes.
His artworks include posters and illustrations, priced from $200 upwards for limited-edition posters. Chepe calls for broader appreciation of art in society through early age education in schools, and forums on the importance of art for human beings.
He spent more time on artworks during the pandemic. “The advantages of online exposure are that there are no constraints of time, and viewers can come from anywhere in the world,” he describes.
“But I miss the coexistence with the public that visits exhibitions, and their gratitude,” Chepe says.
“Aspiring artists must nurture their intellect through looking, reading, seeing, observing, and analysing. That will allow them to have the elements to form a demand criterion,” he advises.
“Second, I recommend that you think like entrepreneurs, that you remove the taboo of the artist who suffers and must starve to be valued. Find the balance,” Chepe signs off.
Now, what have you done today to pause in your busy schedule and find new avenues to harness your inner creativity?
Edited by Megha Reddy