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Artist Profile2
A veteran artist influenced by rich traditions and contemporary concerns
In an acknowledgement of his valuable contribution to the field of art and also his efforts to preserve our rich visual traditions, Jatin Das has been selected for the prestigious Padma Bhushan award by the Government of India. It’s a timely gesture to appreciate his achievements during an illustrious career spanning over five decades.

Constantly absorbing influences and images from his environment like a video camera, the experiences and impressions act as a source of motivation or as a reference point to him. He can be inspired by even a simple interaction or a complex churning of thoughts. Sometimes he looks at his earlier works and might draw something entirely new from an old theme. Spontaneity imparts freshness in one’s work, he emphasizes. A painting is something beyond a painter, he reveals. “I portray human forms - sometimes metaphoric, sometimes poetic and suggestive, at other times. I don’t paint to a specific theme. It takes its own shape automatically.”

The core concern of his introspective artistic quest has invariably been the human predicament. Those mystifying human figures within the compositions, mostly devoid of any embellishments and bare from the beginning itself, seem to speak their own language and convey shades of emotions. A female figure even doesn’t have hands because they are not needed, he explains. They exude subtle sensuality, amplifying the beauty of form and the emotions within them.

The passionate painter seldom thinks of a definitive concept before he starts working on a composition. Very often the process is akin to that of a child groping in the dark, hoping to find an object of desire. According to him, he doesn’t try to explore the theory of his work or fathom the creative process, but for the fact that he simply loves painting. Even his choice of surface as well as media depends on that particular moment or the place and the image he is painting! For example, the paper he utilized for the Cairo ink & gouache sketches reflected the mélange and color of the city, whereas the shades of paint and texture of paper he employed for the African series was tuned to the way of living there. He has explained, “Everywhere, actual human beings are also providing me with images constantly. When I was in Kerala, I painted typical Malayali people. While in Cairo and Africa, I painted the people there.”

Born in Mayurbhanj, Orissa in 1941, Jatin Das studied at Sir J. J School of Art, Mumbai (1957-62). Among his selected solos are 'Hand-held Space' courtesy Gallery Art & Soul, Mumbai (2010-11); shows at the Artists Alley Gallery, San Francisco; Chelsea Arts Club, London; 'Earth Bodies', Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre, Delhi (all in 2009); ‘Body and Line’, Jehangir Gallery, Mumbai; a show courtesy ICCR; ‘Charged Figures’, CIMA, Kolkata (all in 2009); ‘Journeys across Foreign Lands’, LKA, Delhi (2006); 1X1 Art Space, Dubai (2006) and Archaeological Museum, Thessaloniki, Greece (2005).

His recent major group shows and participations include 'Masterclass', Dhoomimal Gallery, Delhi (2011) 'Celebrations 2011', Kumar Gallery, Delhi (2011); 'Master’s Corner' at Jehangir Gallery; India International Art Fair, Delhi (2010); 'Contemporary Printmaking in India' courtesy Priyasri Gallery, Mumbai (2010); and 'Indian Harvest' courtesy Crimson, Bangalore in Singapore (2009). A recipient of Senior Fellowship, Department of Culture, Government of India (1989-90), he was conferred Order of the Star of Italian Solidarity Italian Government, Italian President Award, Delhi and the D.Litt. (Honoris Causa) by Utkal University of Culture, Bhubaneswar in 2007.

Providing an insight into his working process and philosophy, an elaborate essay by The Wall Street Journal critic Margot Cohen notes: “The renowned painter has his own interpretation of modernism. Over the course of his career, his large oil canvases have featured muscular human figures – limbs akimbo, devoid of any ornamentation. The backgrounds remain abstract, with shifting fields of color and confident lines that define the composition. Such works first brought him acclaim in the 1960s and '70s, and they continue to win him admirers today. Some critics note the erotic vitality of his artworks – from jutting hips, and sometimes playful, coquettish poses. Such energy also comes across in his watercolors, drawings, murals and sculptures.”

As a little boy in the eastern state of Orissa - famous for its wonderful cloth appliqué wall hangings and exquisite temple carvings - he returned home with brightly lacquered handcrafted toys from bustling village fairs even as his doting grandmother would often indulge him. This is how his journey as a collector began. Not many of his countrymen, he states, share his high regard for craft traditions. The artist rues how they are destroying their heirlooms and their treasures. They’re opting for the plastic or the synthetic culture, he observes. While his artistic ambitions led him to J.J. School in Mumbai and subsequently to set up a studio in the capital city of India, he still regularly visits his home state to purchase tempting terracotta objects, ceramics, toys and other handicrafts. Of all the amazing artifacts he has amassed, the collectible closest to his heart is the vast variety of pankha (a hand-held fan) sourced from across the world.

The master artist moans the fact that theatre and painting has lost their prominence, if not relevance, over time. Instead of blaming the circumstances or simply giving up, he is striving to bring about a change through the JD Centre of Art in Orissa. This institution formed to encourage both traditional and modern artists in India promotes tribal, folk, classical and contemporary art forms, bringing together painters and sculptors, dancers and craftspeople, scholars and philosophers. It’s an effort on his part to present the most representative and authentic representations of the various art practices in different corners of the country. Despite official apathy and hurdles he faces, such as lack of funds and archival support, he still remains committed to arouse awareness and interest in the rich craft and art traditions.