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Artist Profile2
Capturing the crux of a living legend’s creative energy and philosophy
He is a living legend, who continues to experiment, create and mesmerize viewers. Painter, sculptor, muralist, architect and graphic artist-all rolled in one-Satish Gujral, one among India’s living legends, has dominated the Indian art scene for over six decades. He has left an indelible mark in almost every conceivable form and medium of expression, and has rightfully received acclaim internationally during his illustrious career. The veteran has conceived architectural marvels like a palace in Riyadh for Saudi Arabia’s royal family; he has created sculptures out of burnt wood. There are murals at Shastri Bhavan in Delhi and Gandhi Bhawan in Chandigarh that reflect his love for public art. He has been among the first artists from India to work on paper collages.

In different periods of his life, varying concerns have driven him. During the post-independence phase, he depicted the human tragedy inflicted on either side of the borders. The pathos attached with the cataclysmic chain of events was reflected in his work when he first started painting. He studied art at the Mayo College in Lahore (1939-44) and Sir J.J. School of Art, Mumbai (1944-47). A chanced meeting with Octavio Paz changed the course of his career, leading to his selection for a scholarship to Mexico in 1952.

His hearing was affected due to an accident at the age of eight. To withstand and overcome the pain, he spent hours reading poetry by Iqbal and Faiz Ahmed Faiz that became an integral part of his art and life. During this period, the artist came close to his brother (Mr I.K. Gujral) whom he had described ‘a part of my being’. Forced to endure a haunting silence for 65 long years, he had an (cochlear) implant to retrieve his hearing power. Recounting the painful process, he had stated: "Silence can work both ways. It will make you doubt the depths. On the other hand, it will make you listen to yourself.” A medical expert he visited in Sydney for the implant was not convinced about the patient’s stamina and readiness to take it at this age, and cautioned him about facing a cacophonous world he wasn’t accustomed and used to, but he still wanted to have it!. Once the hearing came back, the artist was excited. For a brief while, he relished the experience. Soon he almost felt miserable…

Satish Gujral was immersed in a world of his for too long, searching alone for life around like a blind man that suddenly got disturbed. As he once explained only the way he could, “Every face, a blind man has an idea; he might think of an ugly woman as beautiful. Then if you bring him his sight back, it will uproot him from where he has lived.” Something similar happened to him, when his hearing came back so he finally decided to remove the implants. However, he did not regret the experience. It gave him no new vision for what he had lost. He realized it (the silence) was a true gift and not a handicap or a curse as he earlier had thought.

Keen to work on new ideas and tread an unusual path, the zestful octogenarian still relishes experimenting with different mediums and diverse themes. What is the secret of his passion to create diverse forms of art? “When you are consistently engaged in creative activity, it fills you up with a zest to carry on. I neither give titles nor ideas, so that you (the viewers) need to find your own truth,” he has stated. He has had a series of solo shows, including, Aakriti Art Gallery, Kolkata (2009); ‘Reincarnated Forms: Glimpses of a Glorious Life Relived’, LKA, Delhi (2008); ‘The Third Dimension’, Tao Art Gallery, Mumbai (2007); ‘The Energy of Creation’, Cymroza Art Gallery, Mumbai (2007); ‘ A Retrospective 1948-2006’, NGMA, New Delhi (2006); and 'Satish Gujral: 2001-2005’, Jehangir Art Gallery (2005), among others. He was honored during the NGMA Golden Jubilee Celebration (2004-05), and won the Lalit Kala Ratna Puraskar (2004) and an Honorary Doctorate from Visva Bharti University, Santiniketan (2000). In 1998, he received Padma Vibhushan from the Government of India.

Incidentally, Satish Gujral’s most recent suite of paintings, drawings and sculptures, entitled ‘Tryst with Modernity and Tradition’ on view at Jehangir Art Gallery and later at Cymroza Art Gallery in Mumbai was a peep into the interplay of tradition and modernity. It amazes the veteran artist how the people have taken to modern way of living, even without forsaking their religious beliefs and traditions. Indeed, age and subject are not a hindrance to his artistic sojourn. The crux of his creative energy and philosophy lies in constant innovation and observation. According to him, an artist’s style becomes his identity, but it cannot be stretched beyond a point. Summing up the spirit of his continual quest for excellence, Satish Gujral quips: “Novelty challenges the mind; it makes you think. One can discover new things every day, everywhere. The acceptance of one style only nudged me to find something I had not as yet experimented with, one that may refresh my excitement. Personal excitement is what I seek to get out of my creativity...”