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Zen and the art of investment
November 12, 2005
He's a journalist's painter, a quote-a-matic machine who speaks only in quotes, every phrase flung away to be recorded faithfully in copy.
Satish Gupta, popular artist, not only because he sells and can be "understood" even by the dumbest socialites, is also a painter's painter -- silk shirt, gold bands in his ears, a peaceful retreat in the heart of the city with its green-green-green space.
Finally, he's a people's painter, varying his matrix to a popular mood that he defines as a personal journey that he isn't averse to sharing with the world at large.
His canvas is his life: sometimes make-believe (as all art must be), often real (as too it must), occasionally fantastic (no surprises there). And so, if you're looking for the life and times of Gupta, told succinctly, here are the broad brushstrokes of an artist's journey as a parallel of this work.
He started painting early: "I sold my first painting as a student to Satish Gujral for Rs 80."
The early years were spent in search of the shunya, or empty circle: "I must have painted it 10,000 times to arrive at an emptiness." A zen-like experience at Rumtek monastery, Sikkim, marked a change in his work: "I felt totally porous; I felt the universe flowing through me as though I didn't exist; I felt like wanting to merge with that whole space."
Having achieved that perfect state of emptiness, he felt emboldened to add "fullness to nothingness", from which his desert series and first-ever paintings of figures emerged: "I began to see the desert through the eyes of a camelman; he became my alter-ego..."
Personal troubles (his parting from Amita, suicidal inclinations, finally a matrimonial proposal that Amita spurned) added to his physical grief: "I went totally stone deaf."
Hospitalisation and the detection of a tumor in his brain followed: "Between my engagement and my marriage (to Amita) my brain was cleaned out."
That again brought in a transformation in his journey: "My experience was very intense," he says of his recovery from the benign growth in his head. "Transformation", his next series, combined figures with an evident spiritualism: "I hate being typecast; I hate being branded; I hate being a prisoner of myself. My spirit is free."
That's when he began work on a new series: "I've been painting in a frenzy. I can feel the stillness coming back. I see life in my work not as linear but a spiral to which you keep coming back."
Therefore, when Gupta's "Cosmic Matrix" opens on November 16 at the capital's Visual Arts Gallery (accompanied by the launch of his book, I am the Dewdrop, I am the Ocean by film director Ashutosh Gowariker), art collectors are assured another experience from the painter who claims 50 per cent of the exhibition has been pre-sold.
This time round, the work is clearly inclined to the spiritual, based on the thousand Buddhas of Alchi monastery, but interpreted in all the religions known to India.
There's the Buddha, but Mahavira too; there's Ganesha, but Hanuman as well; there's Durga and Krishna and Shiva too; and Christ and Allah and Guru Nanak to boot; and for good measure, there are the five elements as well, aspects of which have always been part of his work.
And yes, the show includes some huge sculptures of the phases of the moon, in copper, brass and steel, shell and water completing an installation aimed at "filling" the senses: "Water and the moon have always been with me in all my work."
Already he's working on his next collection, on all the oceans of the world, an indulgence he can enjoy as he travels, because money is liberating: "It isn't important as an end, but as a means," says Gupta.
With prices for the 40-odd works at the show ranged between Rs 350,000-18 lakh, Gupta is also a collector's painter -- early "Thar" works that sold for Rs 75,000 a decade and less back are now trading for Rs 800,000-900,000.
Before Satish Gupta has his next zen moment, it might be wise to invest in his current works. The value, governed by the demand-supply "spiral" of limited edition series, is the bluest of blue-chip buys -- clearly better than the shunya of his early beginnings.