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Friday, May 1, 1998

Calendar art, big name not enough to appeal-buyers 

Suneet Chopra  
A perusal of the art galleries of the Capital reflects one thing clearly. The art that sells is that which people can understand. Gone are the days when the awkward Delhi art buyer either picked up something with a big name attached to it, or something that matched the furniture, preferably of the calendar variety. All that has changed. And this I found out when I saw an oleograph of Ravi Verma's Shakuntala penning a letter lying on her stomach in a forest, in a friend's bathroom. I realised that Indian art had come of age.

True, while good realist art, even of younger artists like Sanjay Bhattacharya, Rahul Arya, and recently works from the first one-man show of Apaarjit Chopra, sell well, the market is not indiscriminate. This was evident from the exhibition of Sudip Roy where his realist watercolours that show a powerful hold over light and shade seem to have fared the best.Painstaking building up of images too, seems to be the element that has found Apaarjit Chopra, also a designer of book and magazinecovers, his best buyers, a number of them going to well-known collections in the capital. Generally, the Delhi art buyer wants well-executed work primarily. He does not as yet care much for its originality, which is why copies of well-known works sell almost as well as originals.

This may be fine for the seller, but the art investor must beware of this. Copies, however good, of well-known artists, never appreciate in value over the years, except in the case where the artist who makes a copy earlier on in his career, and later acquires a reputation for good original work. There is no way for an art investor to side-step the pitfalls of art history or the risks of backing the wrong horse where originality is concerned.

How should one go about it then, especially when choosing the work of a younger artist? The first thing to do is to see how serious the artist is as a practitioner of his or her art. Does the artist know how to draw and paint? Is his or her composition skill above the ordinary? Are the worksproperly executed? And finally, do they make a contribution to art today?It is from this angle that I propose to look at the work of three young artists who have recently shown their work in Delhi: Sudip Roy at the Art Today; Apaarjit Chopra at the Academy of Literature and Fine Art; and M S Prakash Babu at Triveni. All three have works that range between Rs 5,000 to about Rs 30,000, or so. All three are from different traditions. Sudip Roy is from Calcutta and excels in water-colours and wash-painting. Apaarjit Chopra is from Delhi but trained in San Francisco, and equally at home with watercolours, acrylics, oils and computer-graphics. Prakash Babu is from Karnataka, with art training from Davanagre, Ahmedabad and Santiniketan, but his style is that of the young contemporary artists of Kerala.

Sudip Roy has done extremely well with his realist watercolours that averaged between Rs 12,000-20,000. His work reflects a firm hold over architectural elements and light and shade, though his best works have anundefined aetherial look in the haze or with smoke softening the contours of objects. Apaarjit, who blends a photo realistic approach with the composition quality of surrealist art and our own deep-rooted narrative tradition, has attracted the largest number of buyers for canvases at around Rs 25,000 to Rs 30,000 that represent a strong synthesis of all three trends. Similarly, Prakash Babu is at his strongest where he synthesizes the strong composition tradition of Santiniketan with the symbolic tradition of the South. Works of all three are a good investment as they reflect technical competence, a capacity to assimilate different traditions in the visual arts and the capacity to present them in an original manner.

Generally, buying works of younger artists is risky, but if they show a talent in all the three qualities we have outlined above, such buying is a safe bet.

Copyright © 1998 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.

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