The Art Commune
The porch of the bungalow opens into a garden; the garden is hemmed in by the Arabian Sea. Different artists have made different corners and nooks of the porch their temporary studio, seduced by the rhythmic sound of the ocean (as the artists from Delhi call the sea), while others prefer the solitude and ease of their AC rooms. It is the second day of the RPG Art Camp. For the past 18 years, the show has brought together acclaimed and emerging talent to spend a week here. Anjolie Ela Menon will be arriving in a few hours. Krishen Khanna couldn’t make it last minute due to personal reasons.
At 24, Arijoy Bhattacharya is the youngest artist here. He is creating what seems like a mythological creature with what seems like a crow quill nib and ink. His father introduced him to the crow quill pen ten years ago. It is laborious work, but he doesn’t mind. Arijoy spent a sleepless first night at the art camp, nervous about what he would create. On the second night, it struck him. “Being an artist, I wait for things to happen,” he says. “I don’t make art, it just happens.”
Not every artist here has left it to serendipity. Puja Bahri, a Delhi-based artist, recently went through a phase where she couldn’t paint anymore. So she travelled extensively by herself, read a lot, and has now purged herself of all old ideas. She is working on something new, a series. “I am working on my third work in the series here,” she says. Previously, she explains, she didn’t do much detailing. She has begun to do so now, and the timeframe of one week the camp offers seems too little, especially when you use oil paints that take time to dry. So she worked on her canvas before carrying it here.
Next to her spot is Vijender Sharma, who is working on two things—a portrait and a painting. The painting, though it looks like him, isn’t him. It can be anybody. When it is placed upside down, the face seems to be smiling. When it is placed upright, the face is clearly frowning. Vijender loves playing with optical illusions. One of his works exhibited at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in Delhi, painted a bare white texture with red strings, was so life-like that the then President Abdul Kalam went over to untie the red threads, only to realise that it was an illusion. So impressed was he, he commissioned the artist to paint his portrait for Rashtrapati Bhavan. Vijender believes that life itself is a ‘zabardast illusion’. In his paintings, he alludes to illusions to point to the greater sense of disillusionment behind it. Right on the other end of the porch sits Rajan Krishnan, who’s come all the way from Cochin. It’s his second time here.
This time, he’s here to show his support. “Once artists are established, they don’t go for such camps,” he says. “But they work as a meeting point where one can share things with other artists.” He is here only for three days, so he’s decided to do a signature work. His entire canvas is covered with bamboo. Nature, especially landscapes, feature copiously in his works. In Kerala, he grew up with a reservation forest on one side, and the vastness of paddy fields on the other. He feels a certain closeness to rivers, but the sea is something distant. “It is probably the might of the sea,” he reckons.
Art in India suffered during the recent recession. Almost every artist tells you that. Through it all, the RPG Art Camp and its hosts, Harsh Goenka and Vickram Sethi, have supported art as a form of expression, not just an investment. This year, the camp completes 18 years. In human terms, it is now adult. It has come into its own.