A Print is a Print is a Print - Jyoti Bhatt
Noted graphic artist, Waswo X Waswo, talks to eminent artist, photographer and printmaker Jyoti Bhatt about his art, print making practices and his life in this candid online interview.
Jyoti Bhatt is standing in Baroda’s ABS Gallery, a camera to his eye, photographing both the crowd and the objects at the opening of a group ceramics exhibition. His wife Jyotsna is at his side, making some small adjustments to the placement of a cleverly designed tea pitcher. As always, both are busy. Jyoti is still making photographs as he lets me in on a private joke. “You know when Jyotsna and I were both teaching at the Faculty of Fine Arts our students used to call it the ‘J. J. School of Art’.” He says this with a light-hearted chuckle, and then returns his full attention to focusing the camera.
|( Waswo X Waswo)|
I’ve come to Baroda to visit, and Jyoti has been my guide. Jyotsna later cooks a fabulous Gujarati lunch in the couple’s eclectically furnished home, and then Jyoti and I are off for more touring. At age seventy-six he has more energy than I do. Later still, upon my return to Udaipur, we conduct this online interview. To be quite honest I am surprised at some of his answers. Jyoti Bhatt remains as challenging, free-thinking, and rebellious as ever.
WXW: Much of your work has revolved around printmaking, from your very early linocuts to the digital prints of the present. What attracted you to make etchings, lithographs and linocuts?
JB: I studied woodcut, linocut and lithography as elective subjects, along with painting as my main subject, from 1950 to 1954. I did my first etching when I went to Italy in 1961. I pursued it later, first in the US for two years at the Pratt Institute from1964 to 1966, and then on and off until today.
The reason for my liking and later taking up printmaking could have been that it was a relatively new medium. Not many artists in India considered printmaking worthy for their creative expressions. Also, my paintings did not have “painterly quality”, but they did show some graphic tendency. Printmaking allowed me to use my graphic strengths and print an image in multiple ways in various colour combinations and printing devices. I could not do anything similar to this in my paintings without scrapping off the previous stages.
As printmaking mediums allowed me to make a desired number of copies I thought they could reach to a larger number of people. This might have been wishful thinking at the time, but now I would guess that the number of people who have my prints is larger than the ones who have my paintings.
|(A reverse painting on acrylic sheet by Jyoti Bhatt)|
WXW: Many collectors feel that a print...meaning a finely made original print as opposed to a reproduction...is somehow inferior to a drawing or a painting. Do you share this view?
JB: No! “A print is a print is a print”. All these art forms have some characteristics which are similar and some distinctly different. A painting, drawing or print can be considered good, bad, or ugly according to the capability of the artist. The criteria for deciding this will always have to be related to the characteristics of the medium. But one medium should never be considered inferior or superior to another. A Rembrandt print, even a mechanical reproduction, may in ways be better than my own paintings, prints and drawings. It is rather unfortunate that people...even art collectors...have such wrong notions. The discriminations prevailing in their value judgements could be due to the ugly caste system and racism many of us have inherited, and that is still there in our culture. We like to make hierarchies.
WXW: You once told me a very interesting story about a linocut of yours called “Mother and Child”. Would you care to share that story again?
|(Linocut - Mother and Child, 1961)|
JB: The linocut print ‘Mother and Child’ dates from 1961 and was made from a drawing that I had made in my sketch book in 1955. It is an image of a cat with its kitten. In 1963, as a part of the selection procedure for the Fulbright Scholarship I had applied for, I was interviewed by a jury of specialists. When seeing that linocut print one member of the jury remarked that it was a “copy” of Picasso’s work. This irritated me too much. So, I told him, “It is certainly a copy of a kind, but not of Picasso. Apart from few minor but essential changes demanded by the print medium, the image I have created in this print is a fairly accurate reproduction of the line drawing which was made by some illiterate village woman on a wall of her hut near the seashore in Saurashtra. This woman belonged to a farmer community for whom any words like Picasso , France , Africa , or cubism, did not have any meaning! I appreciate that you could see the similarity, but it is rather sad that you have no idea about so many of our own indigenous traditions because you do not find them in the books you have on your shelves!”
I feel happy and grateful that the jury members did not feel offended by my impolite reply and proceeded to recommended me for the scholarship.
|( A photograph by Jyoti Bhatt)|
WXW: What do you feel about editioning? Editioning is obviously done to enforce a sort of artificial rarity upon a print, when in fact perhaps a lot more could be made. In my opinion artists sometimes overuse the A/P designation as a way of making many more prints than the edition number would imply. What are the ethics of making editions, and second editions?
JB: The meaning of most of the terms such as “A/P” and “Edition” keep on changing and often are interpreted differently by printmakers and galleries. Yes! A/P designation has often provided a loophole for us to make extra prints which are not part of the edition. But, should the artists really need such loopholes? Aren’t they free to create the way they like, irrespective of the demands or commands from art dealers and art market? At the time when almost any image is available on the net it is ridiculous to hope that there will not one day be software which would turn any low resolution image into a high one.
In my own case, I usually keep on pulling trial proofs and feel happy or at least do not feel unhappy with most of the variations I try. On the other hand, I find it too mechanical and boring to print the final edition. I have also made an edition of A/Ps, meaning that I have numbered the prints in it like “A/P-7/15”. I have also sometimes made two editions with variation in colours, and on one occasion I made a second edition to meet a special demand. Such a practice might be interpreted as ‘unethical’ by most art dealers. But as far as I know, it has not decreased the monetary value of my prints.
The fact is that most people could not care less if the number of other people who have my prints is five or five hundred. They seem to be happy with what they have. There must be a large number of people who have Rolls Royce or Mercedes cars, Omega or Rolex wrist watches. They do not make any fuss about the number of such expensive objects. I had made three large editions, each image having 1400 copies: 1200 were for Lufthansa and 100 for a gallery plus another 100 for myself. This was part of an international project of Lufthansa Airlines and a German Art Gallery during 1983.
I have no guts to follow what the Austrian artist Hundert-Wassar had done. But I have always appreciated his philosophy as much as his work. He had numbered several of his prints where the edition size was ‘infinite’ or very large, such as “75039 / 927500945”. Just to ridicule the art dealing norms he even sold his prints from the same editions at different prices.
Some illustrated examples of my so-called “unethical” practices can be noticed in the book “Parallels that Meet” that was published by Delhi Art Gallery.
|( A print work by Jyoti Bhatt)|
WXW: As you said before, you have moved in your career from linocuts and lithographs to etchings and now the digital print. How do you find working with digital medium? Do you get the same “hands-on” feeling while making a digital print? The same satisfaction? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
JB: Yes! Though I have always enjoyed the process of creating or making an image and while doing that also exploring the potentials of different mediums, tools, method etc. I think that my main focus in most of my work has been the image and the meaning it can convey, (semiotics?). So, working with digital prints does not really make any difference. In fact the term ‘digital’ is used by us only as a popular nomenclature. While working with oil paints one is simultaneously working with its chemistry also. But, we do not use the term ‘chemical’ as a prefix for paintings done with oil paints.
Most of us work with computers and use ordinary keyboards that have English alphabets and so-called Arabic numbers. A computer turns our ideas into digital media without our knowing anything about how the digitalization of a shape or a colour works, actually and theoretically. A computer is a high-tech advanced form of a tool. While looking at the depth of my etched marks I often used a magnifying glass. A computer allows me to see any detail at various magnifications. It allows me and helps me and provokes me to see with my own eyes, on the computer screen / monitor, everything that is going on in my mind while I am creating an image. So far I have not found any tool more versatile than a computer. It is a modern age ‘Kalpa- Vriksh’ for artists.
Of course I have several personal problems that do not permit me to get the best from the wonderful opportunities one can avail from this technology. Apart from that, the cost factor and the discriminatory idea that an etching or a lithographic print is considered better than a digital one are also important factors that discourage many artists from trying their hands with digital media. Those kinds of prejudices about different media should not hold artists back. It is not the medium that is important in art; it is what is done with it!
(This interview has been reproduced from Art & Deal Magazine for The Art Daily)
Beyond Pain : An Afterlife
|(Vasudha Thozhur with the artists at the show)|
Sakshi Gallery and Project 88, Mumbai present art works by the riot affected women of Godhra in a show called, ‘Beyond Pain : An Afterlife’. The show is a decade long project anchored and put together by Baroda based artist Vasudha Thozhur, in collaboration withHimmat, a collective that helped 16 widows of Naroda Patiya who were relocated to Vatva, in Ahmedabad, India Foundation for the Arts and Khoj International Artists’ Association.
|(A work on display at the Homelands show)|
The Graphic Impressions Show
|( A print by Akhilesh)|
Korean art in Chennai
|(One of the works on display at the show)|
Chennai Chamber Biennale brings a collection of contemporary Korean art to the city featuring 15 of Korea’s best artists with 134 canvases spread over two floors.
There is a heady mix of genres and styles, — from American modernism to traditional Korean art, from a colourful take on urban living to sober portraits of hazy winter evenings, the exhibits capture a wide range of emotions and offer great insight into the contemporary artistic practices of Korea.
K-Art has curated the show and Lalit Kala Akademi and InKo Centre with Hyatt Regency, Chennai, have organised the show, the first in a series of bi-annual exhibitions. The 15 artists are also offered a chance to explore Tamil culture with guided tours to Mahabalipuram, DakshinaChitra and Kapaleeshwarar Koil in the hope that it will add to their artistic journey.
The show is on view till the 7th of July 2013.
( News reports by Sushma Sabnis)