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Home > Discover Mumbai > Art and Culture > Personalities


  Exploring the frontiers of Art with Baiju Parthan 

An artist, painter, philosopher, writer, software expert and botanist is how you could begin to describe Baiju Parthan, a well-known personality on the Mumbai art scene. Parthan has held successful solo exhibitions in Mumbai, around India and also internationally at galleries in London, New York, Hong Kong, Levekusen (Germany) and Dhaka. Parthan has an amazing array of degrees, which include - a Bachelor's Degree in Botany, a Bachelor's degree in painting (BFA), and a postgraduate diploma in comparative mythology.

In his works, Parthan aims to bridge the gap between the virtual and the real. He believes that, though the tangibility of painting and traditional media is very important, one cannot exclude information technology and new media from art practices. Mumbaibest spoke to Baiju Parthan in an attempt to discover his views on life and art.

Tell us about your background to art ? How did you start off as an artist?
I have always wanted to be an artist, but having spent my early years in Kerala, I found it difficult to follow my impulse for art, in a predominantly Marxist or Communist scenario. In Kerala, your identity is defined by what you do and what you do has to be, in some way or the other, constructive. I started painting aroundthe age of ten, by trying to imitate the work of other artists. By 1976, I completed my degree in science and was doing a diploma in civil engineering. It was about this time that I began avidly reading books on the history of art. It was then I realised that this was what I wanted to do.

I went off to Goa, where I studied art for a five year period. One of our teachers, Laxman Pai, was a renowned painter who had just returned from Paris. This was a formative period for me, a period of growth and orientation. It was also the time of the hippie or the flower-power generation. The openness and freedom of Goa was in total contrast to the conformism of Kerala. I came across many deviants, fellow artists, musicians and others from all across the globe in Goa.

Most memorable were the full moon parties on the beaches where world-class musicians would perform live. These performances affected me deeply. They were mostly loosely structured, extempore improvised music performances. You could say some of my paintings reflect this improvising which I discovered in the music of that time. I began to be interested in music and took sitar lessons for a year. I also studied the jazz flute, when I came to Mumbai, later. I think I have always been interested in the process of creating rather than in the end product.

While in Goa, I became deeply involved in philosophy. I read widely in Indian and Western philosophy. What drove me to philosophy was a strong sense of incompleteness. I came to Mumbai in 1986. By this time, I was a bit disillusioned with art and had turned my attention to philosophy. I also took up a post as an illustrator for The Times of India and Illustrated Weekly, and also did work for Science Today. Most of the cartoons were science-based. This lasted for about six years. I continue to write today for Gentleman magazine.

I gradually returned to painting towards the end of the eighties. It was Ashish Balram Nagpal, of the Sophia Duchesne Gallery, who introduced me to art collectors and art lovers in the city and gave me my first solo show.


Your paintings have been described as cosmic. What are your reactions to such comments ?
My perspective as an artist is not always confined to the personal, due to my studies in philosophy. I tend to deal with ideas, rather than issues. There is also the notion of transcendence in the broadest possible sense. Images from science and mythology are important ingredients of my work. I use a lot of archetypal imagery, depth psychology and metaphysical references. So on the whole my works do contain cosmological references.

Of late, I have started to experiment with installation art - art that you assemble together where context plays a major role. I am working on what is termed as 'interface art'. This is an art form which employs interactivity as its principal element.

You have been quoted as saying that an artist should be articulate. How does the computer play a role in today's art field ?
As an artist you should be able to clarify things for yourself, which in turn makes you capable of clarifying things for others. When I deal with metaphors and images in my paintings, I am aware that a number of readings are possible. Every painting is open to various interpretations and that, I feel, is what makes a work of art timeless. There is the possibility of an almost infinite number of interpretations at all points in time.

Today, artists like myself, have begun to experiment with computer software and information technology. My recent exhibition displayed computer-based works. Today's artist cannot exclude information technology from art practices as this technology is redefining the way we communicate and relate to each other. Through 'interface art', I attempt to extend the conventional 2Dimensional surface of the painted image into cyberspace. This is achieved by replicating the painting as an interactive interface on the computer. The combination of the original painting and its interactive digital version together make up my completed work of art.

How would you describe the current art scene in India ?
There is still the residue of our love for all things European or western. We suffer from a colonial hangover. Our artists still crave to be approved by the west. If you exhibit your work in New York or London that is taken as a sign that you have made it. However, there are a number of artists who are now consciously beginning to break away from this need to be endorsed by the west.

Today, we have a globalised economy and consumerism is the in thing. Indians are perceived as software wizards. This has brought in a new confidence among Indian artists, and an urge to go global with the full knowledge that the work we do is as good as the work from any other country in the world or even better.

Some of Parthan's Exhibitions have been :
1992 Solo Ex., Masterpiece Gallery New Delhi.
1992 Solo Ex., Sophia Duchesne Gallery Bombay.
1996 Solo Ex., Chaze Gallery Margao, Goa
1997 Solo Ex., The Gallery Madras.
1999 Solo Ex., Gallery Sumukha Bangalore.
1994 Group Ex., Contemporary Miniatures, C.I.M.A Gallery Calcutta.
1996 Group Ex., 'Four visions', The Gallery HongKong.
1996 Group Ex., 'Chamatkara', Indian Contemporary Art, Whiteley's Gallery Organised by CIMA London.
1996 Group Ex., 'Within the Frame', Indian Contemporary Art, Visual Arts Centre HongKong.
1998 Group Ex., 'Gegenwartskunst aus Indien', Exhibition of Indian Contemporary Art Leverkusen Germany.
1999 Group Ex., 'Icons of the Millennium', Nehru Centre Bombay. 1999 Group Ex., 9th Asian Biennale Dhaka, Bangladesh

By : Patrick Coelho

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