Life's impressions

Life's impressions

Way back in 1984, an exhibition of prints titled David Hockney: Grimm's Fairy Tales was organised at the Faculty of Fine Arts, M S University of Baroda. "I went to the show every single day," recalls Vijay Bagodi, then a student there. "The way Hockney had interpreted the strange and supernatural stories, and illustrated them through visually striking yet minimalist black-and-white etchings was a real eye-opener. In some sense, it was a turning point in my own career."

Today, Bagodi (b. 1959/ Kalaburgi) is a well-known printmaker of the country. He has unwaveringly practised his craft for more than three decades. Critics have admired his innate understanding of the challenging medium, as well as the varied themes he has presented in his work. A long-time faculty member at his alma mater, he has also been involved in training and mentoring generations of students in printmaking. Recently, the genial artist, whose prints have regularly featured in national and international exhibits, has been elevated as the Dean of Faculty of Fine Arts.

In an extended chat, he looked back at his career and shared his views on the art of printmaking. Excerpts from the informal discussion:

On his introduction to the world of arts

I was born and raised in a typical suburban middle-class family in Kalaburgi. Even as a young boy, I had a fascination for drawing and sketching. It was professor V G Andani who noticed my ability and enrolled me in the fine arts college in Kalaburgi; he later encouraged me to go to Baroda (now Vadodara) for higher studies. I got my admission at the Faculty of Fine Arts in 1980 and duly completed both BFA and MFA.

On his early days in Baroda

It was not really easy initially to settle down in a far-off city which had a different language, weather and culture. Even after securing admission, I (along with several other students) could not get hostel accommodation for almost six months. So, our routine was to go railway station for sketching in the nights and sleep there itself. In the morning, we would get up and sneak into the hostel (where some lucky fellow-students were staying), take bath and rush to college for our classes. Additionally, Nasreen Mohamedi, a splendid artist, teacher and human being, had mandated each of us to do at least 200 drawings every single day! In hindsight, I think those difficult days really tested and toughened us, and ultimately helped in our evolution as artists. In fact, it was she who saw our plight as sleep-deprived and famished young boys and arranged for hostel accommodation by speaking to the then dean, Jeram Patel. Recently, when I took over as dean of the institution myself, I could not but remember those days.

On his early inspiration

Initially, I was inspired by my teachers like Jyoti Bhatt and P D Dhumal whose commitment to the printmaking medium was motivating and contagious. In addition, artists like Laxma Goud fascinated me by their pure skill and energy. When I assisted Bhupen Khakhar in one of his projects, I realised how he could produce exceptional works by just observing and depicting the dynamics of life around him. Of course, I was also enthused by the works of David Hockney and other foreign artists whose approach to art opened new vistas for us. But if you ask me about my real inspiration in the art as much as life itself, I would say: Mani-da (K G Subramanyan). He was a true friend, philosopher and guide to everyone who came in contact with him even for a brief period. I was close to him particularly during the last phase of his life. (Subramanyan passed away in June 2016). Just being in his company and listening to him was a great experience and education in itself.

On his work over the years

As in the case of many artists, my work, too, has changed with time. Earlier, I was more interested in learning the craft and concentrated on adapting my drawing skills to printmaking. But with experience, I started looking at the larger picture, which helped me to respond more vigorously to the complexities of life and the sociocultural environment around me. I realised that image-making was much more than a simple technical act; it required an intense self-driven commitment to bring processes and thoughts together. One is never actually satisfied with immediate results, and so we have to keep pushing the boundaries on both technical and conceptual levels all the time.

On the challenges of the medium

There are many challenges confronting a printmaker. First, the very process involved in making a print can be exciting as well as frustrating. Then, in our country, there is hardly any market for prints. So, selling prints and making a living of it is next to impossible. Still, there is great power and excitement in the medium; and one is encouraged that there are hundreds of talented printmakers who have remained committed to the medium. Being a long-term teacher and practitioner, I have tried to promote the art of printmaking in my own way. For instance, I'm actively associated with CHHAAP, an organisation involved in supporting young printmakers, providing studio/workshop facilities, and offering residency programmes to both local and international artists.

On heading a prestigious institution

I'm aware that as the dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts, my responsibilities have amplified. But having been associated with the institution since 1980, first as a student and later as a teacher, I'm conversant with its academic and administrative structures. The institution has a long history and tradition of nurturing talent with a spirit of openness, freedom and constant experimentation. And I have been a part of it for decades. So, I have accepted the new role with all humility, while continuing to enjoy the two things which have always been dear to me - printmaking and teaching.

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