Tag Archives: Indian artist

Behind the Scenes of Creativity

What does it take to create a work of art? The sort of art that goes beyond merely engaging your senses, but informs and educates as well. There are many steps before a talented artist showcases his creative idea to the viewer. When all we have to admire is the finished product itself, we can only surmise and conjecture about its creation.

A unique event right here in Villa Montalvo Arts Center, will unveil all that goes into the creative process. Artist Mrugen Rathod and curator Sandhya Gajjar are to be featured on June 29th, 2018 in an Art Forum sponsored event that promises to go behind the finished product to reveal, engage and excite.

When you think of the termArtist  – the image that springs to mind is of an individual who is given to solitary spells of creative endeavors, completely at ease with spending long periods of time alone. And many artists are typically not the sort who will let you peek into their works in progress. It is their ‘sacred space.’ However, collaborations can yield some surprising results. Collaborations of the right sort…

Mrugen Rathod and Sandhya Bordewekar Gajjar are enjoying just such a discovery on the beautiful grounds of Villa Montalvo. Gajjar will be documenting Mrugen’s creative exploration as he adapts to and creates work in a new environment. They are part of the Sally and Don Lucas Artists Residency Program (LAP), and have been sponsored by Art Forum  –  an organization based in the San Francisco Bay Area, promoting  contemporary South Asian artists from various disciplines.

Mrugen Rathod:

Mrugen Rathod is a well known name in the Indian art world. He graduated from M.S University Baroda, with an MFA from the Baroda school of art. His site-specific art installations challenge artistic conventions and strive to lend his voice to the events that unfold around him. Whether it is highlighting the plight of the Olive Ridley turtles in Kerala, bringing awareness to the increasing pollution on the Vishwamitri river, or adding his efforts to revive a traditional craft form like Bellaguntha; Rathod’s art is all about involving viewers and encouraging them to ask questions. “For me, my art is about ‘doing.’ I learn more from being personally involved in the environments that I create in,” says Mrugen.

His artistic concepts are shaped by the existing socio-political-ecological-cultural settings he chooses to work in. He is keen on creating awareness in the ecological and environmental areas of life, through his work. He speaks passionately about the experience on a Kerala beach, when he ‘created’ replicas the Olive Ridley turtles whose numbers were depleting at an alarming rate. Using eco-friendly, locally sourced materials like bamboo and plantain leaves, Rathod used the knowledge of local artisans to create the armatures and shells of the ‘turtles.’ He then filled them with an organic dye and worked all night to ‘arrange’ them all along the coastline. As dawn broke over the sand, the turtles ‘bled’ and turned the incoming tide red. The impact was captured by his camera as passersby stopped to ‘investigate’ and participate in his scene. “This was the real art experience – interacting with the locals as they stopped, asked questions, learned about their environment,” says Mrugen. And as the tide washed in, the ‘turtles’ disappeared into the ocean waters without a trace – emphasizing the artist’s intent to make a statement about decay and impermanence, both in life and in his art.

Some of Mrugen’s installations require considerable time and planning. His documentary film titled ‘Shore‘, spotlights Bellaguntha – the traditional craft of Odisha. Once considered a ‘heritage’ in Odisha, Bellaguntha has been eclipsed by the more popular and now mainstream art and crafts like Patachitra. Stylistically, the two share many similar motifs, drawing from the same myth and lore of the region. But because of the remote location of the craftsmen, Bellaguntha has sadly not had its share of the limelight. Beautifully crafted, delicate brass plates are shaped and joined together to create flexible ‘fish’ forms, called ‘Pithala Macha’ (brass fish). The fish motif is a nod towards their traditional mode of sustenance and occupation. It also signifies the Matsya incarnation of Vishnu from the Dasha avatar (10 incarnations) – derived from the mythology of the region.

With the help of Patachitra artists, he created illustrated booklets featuring the traditional ‘Macha’ or ‘Matsya’ form. Mrugen then worked with local sand artists, using their popular status and visibility, and created over-sized sand sculptures of sea life all along the Odisha coastline, culminating in the Bellaguntha fish motif. As people gathered about to watch the process, examine, photograph and investigate, Mrugen and his team distributed the booklets of information printed in three languages. They also documented the work and printed leaflets which went out as newspaper inserts in three major cities of Odisha. The leaflets contained only pictures – seeking to make a visual impact. There was no other information provided. Through his efforts, Mrugen not only created an awareness in real time, he also brought a forgotten heritage craft to the fore. “In a sense, Patachitra supported Bellaguntha, and sand sculpture supported my work… bringing all these ideas to the same platform,” says the artist. To him, this was the most gratifying part of this project, which took him nearly 2 years from concept to realization.

Mrugen values the experience he gains from residencies such as the Lucas Artists Residency Program, “I especially benefit from the exchange of ideas and inspiration from other artists engaged in their own work. I also gain an understanding of different local environments”.  Needless to say, there is tremendous exposure to be gained from such opportunities. He is currently working on creating work by including the famed California Redwoods and the Hetch Hetchy reservoir into his collaborative project at Villa Montalvo. 

Sandhya Gajjar:

Sandhya Gajjar’s association with the art world, also began at M.S. University in Baroda, but with English Literature and Art History. She has been writing extensively on Contemporary Indian art over the past 35 years, for many leading newspapers and art magazines in India. Sandhya has undertaken research projects related to cultural documentation. Her involvement as Founder member of the Heritage Trust paved the way for working with issues related to local tribes in Gujarat. 

In Art, as in Life – theory always follows practice,” says Sandhya, Artists create based on their personal experiences. It is up to the historians and theoreticians to identify the basis for that creativity, and formulate a ‘language’ to fit that expression. The real challenge is to forge a collaborative relationship with an artist who is willing to accept such an ‘intrusion‘ into their creative space. The responsibility to aid the creative process and complement each other’s energies towards a mutually beneficial process weighs heavy on both sides. 

The main aim with a collaborative endeavor, is ‘creative resonance’. Such a collaborative opportunity results in an exciting challenge and a richer experience for both parties. Needless to say, the viewer stands to gain the most out of this experience!

“Documenting The Creative Process”, opens on Friday June 29th, 7pm at Villa Montalvo.

Pavani Kaushik is a visual artist who loves a great book almost as much as planning her next painting. She received a BFA from the Academy of Art University, San Francisco. Her new avatar requires creative juggling with the pen and the brush.








“Textured Triumphs” – Basuki Das Gupta

She draws you in.  Dominating the space inside you… her eyes half-closed, her manner very still.

Upon her forehead is a massive red Bindi that captures your attention. Her many hands jut out about her form, meshing with snaking vines, leaves and foliage.

She is cloaked in a primordial stillness –  as she sits cross legged, in Padmasan.  

Her mouth is unmoving, painted red. Yet, she speaks to you of things she holds within herself;  the many-layered, many-nuanced feminine energy. Her voice is the embodiment of the Positive, of all possibilities, of the Divine

Her names are many… Devi Ma… Kamala… Durga…  Bhavya

She is ever-changing in all ways but remains the same in an elemental sense – as “Shakti” – Strength. 


From her origins in the musty air of West Bengal’s Bishnupur, she has travelled across the seas to be amongst us.

And the man who has led her to us is Basuki Das Gupta.

She has been depicted several times over, in as many styles.  Basuki’s hands have given life to his personal vision of Her. She has been honed, layer upon layer, from many different materials – wrought by various tools, shaped by hands that speak their own language.

A language of inspiration, of childhood memories enriched by temples fashioned with mud and clay, walls decorated with relief sculptures – replete with the treasures of myth and lore.

Childhood Experiences: 

Children form strong bonds and memories by internalizing through “touch'” – for something to be “real” to them, they have to touch and explore it. This is why children’s museums have ‘Tactile play’ as part of their exhibits. And this is also why children’s toy design is a huge industry!

Basuki’s childhood explorations in the famed terra-cotta temples of Bishnupur is the stuff of storybooks. He is open and candid about his experiences, refreshingly child-like in his expression. To hear him relate tales of his life in the village, is like a trip down memory lane to the “Malgudi Days” of the 1980s. He speaks of roaming the halls of the temples, listening to music, dancing to its tunes, with an effervescent group of friends and family – a full, rich, sensory experience.

“Nature was our playground,” he says with a laugh. Life, for the young Basuki was made all the more real, because he was able to imbibe, touch and experience all of it up close. And of course it made an impact on a fertile mind like his. His greatest takeaway were the terra-cotta reliefs adorning the temple walls, begging to be caressed, to be committed to memory.  And commit them he did. It shows in every textured layer of his work.

Despite the sensory bounty of his childhood days, Basuki did not harbor aspirations to become an artist. There was no conscious thought that led him down that path. The lively cultural elements around him inspired his creativity and he felt intuitively drawn to music and painting. A visit to the famed Shantiniketan – Viswa Bharati University in Kolkata, further solidified his interest. He remembers his family’s unenthusiastic reaction to his decision to study Fine Arts at the distinguished institution, founded by the legendary Rabindranath Tagore. His father, a school teacher; was anxious that he pick a career path that was more financially promising! But in the end, Basuki prevailed.

Shantiniketan and Beyond: 

The informal atmosphere at Shantiniketan greatly aided creativity of all sorts. To a small town boy, this translated into free form exploration, which he enjoyed and thrived in. He felt truly at home there. “I learned to listen to my heart beat,” he states. Drawing inspiration from the work of great stalwarts like K.V Subramaniam, and Ramkinkar Baij, Basuki honed his skills and completed his Bachelors degree in Fine Arts in 1992. The next challenge came when he decided to pursue his Masters degree, in Mural Arts. He had to learn to separate his skill from true expression – and find his unique style, his artistic vocabulary. To quote the artist, “Where does Basuki live inside my art? I had to find the answer.”  It was a slow process of self discovery, with its usual drama of ups and downs. Every little bit added value to his journey, and he completed his Masters program in 1999.

Right out of Shantiniketan, Basuki sought employment as a teacher to help continue his own work. Channeling his love for music by composing songs for street theatrical performances, added another layer of exploration. But the bustling metropolis that was Kolkata, stifled him.

When a teaching opportunity in Tumkur (Karnataka) came his way, he took it.  This move would be the turning point in both his artistic and teaching journeys.

“I can see the sky here!” he exclaimed. This feeling of space took him deeper, helping him strive for broader artistic avenues in his work.

Being a teacher also taught him more about how to view the world and the possibilities that abound. Basuki has been a visiting faculty member at the National Institute of Design (NID), Gandhinagar (Gujarat) since 2010. He teaches a Masters course in Composition, using a hands-on, experiential method of exploration. His students come from various academic backgrounds – engineering, architecture as well as fine arts.

He prefers to teach using integrated, non-traditional methods and believes that the experience is richer when you learn in this manner. “Leaving yourself open to new experiences is the most important part of teaching,” he says.

The apple did not fall far from the tree after all – with the son taking on the role of his father!

Artistic Process:

“For me, Art is oxygen!” Basuki states, without any pretensions. If he does not create, he ceases to exist. He is simply matter-of-fact about this reality.

He maintains that there is no need to isolate yourself from life in order to create artwork of consequence. Creativity needs to happen in the midst of life with all its dramas.

Art is a great way to release negative energy,” states Basuki.

Drawing inspiration from everything around him, he “constructs” his mixed media paintings using paper, hardboard, and acrylic paints. To watch his creative process is a little like peeking into the inner recesses of our own selves. Each step needs its requisite time, patience and structuring – to formulate and “gestate” – as with a child within a womb; taking shape gradually under his hands.  He cuts shapes, gluing, painting over, and arranging them around his central sketch. Sometimes the idea takes hold in his imagination and he works to translate it into physical form directly. But the starting point is always a blank canvas.

Many artists find the idea of a blank canvas intimidating. I asked Basuki how he views it. “It is like a balanced note – playing continuously,” he smiles. “All you have to do is touch your brush to its resonating surface. It starts a vibration. Then the next step is to add another element or line to balance that vibration. And on it goes!”

For Basuki, the music of colors is just as important as the hues they speak with. His work pops with bold, vibrant pigments, enriching and enhancing them to create masterful textural triumphs!

Central Theme:

Basuki relates to textures with an intrinsic emotion that goes beyond just the academic ideals of Art. Every piece he creates has a tactile quality to it.

The ‘Devi’ element, is a central theme of Basuki’s work. He very rarely portrays male figures, and when he does, it is usually paired with a female form.

For Basuki, ‘Devi is a personification of his mother. Through his various portrayals of her, he pays homage to his mother’s influence in his life and work.

He visualizes his mother as a woman of great energy and zeal for life – picturing her with “many hands” – because she managed to do so much all at once.

She appears in his work frequently; sombre at times, vivid and victorious at others; but always dominating. A larger than life presence – holding the viewer captive with her gaze.

A powerful portrayal of ‘Shakti’ – Strength.

Career & Artistic Influences: 

With his move to Tumkur, Basuki taught at a school, while creating his art on the side. His wife Madhumita joined him, and the birth of their daughter Aronya added another element to their lives. The responsibility of a child  goaded Basuki to show his work around in the art galleries in Bengaluru. In his practical manner, Basuki philosophises that insecurity gave rise to opportunity!

A couple of failed exhibitions followed. Then a chance meeting at an art opening with senior artist,  S.G. Vasudev, helped turn the tide quite literally. Seeing the potential in his work, the stalwart graciously provided introductions to local galleries. He was a source of great moral support, a fact that Basuki is forever grateful for.  Kynkyny Art Gallery was the first to represent Basuki. And it was the beginning of his artistic ascent, to become one of the leading contemporary Indian artists of our time. His work is now represented by several well known galleries in India.

In his personal life, Basuki credits his wife as his partner in the truest sense. It takes courage to share your life with a creative sort, offer support and be a steady presence through their journey. Madhumita is his pillar of strength,  giving him a sense of reality and a constant support. His daughter, Aronya, has chosen to explore her creativity through classical dance –  a source of great pride for her father.

Another source of pride for this talented artist, is his upcoming trip to the S.F Bay Area. Sonia Patwardhan‘s venture Laasya Art, is helping promote Basuki’s work.  In his honest, engaging manner he confesses that it fills him with equal parts excitement and anxiety, since it is his first trip to the United States!  As for us, the viewers, it offers a rare artistic treat.

It is our chance to view the Symphony of Textures; charting the journey of a child – who became a man – but always remained an artist at heart.


Pavani Kaushik is a visual artist who loves a great book almost as much as planning her next painting. She received a BFA from the Academy of Art University, San Francisco. She has held art shows in London, Bangalore and locally here in California.

“TEXTURES”  (May 5 – May 20)

Basuki Das Gupta 

316 El Verano Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94306



(415) 645 3089