An evening with Wasim R Kapoor
— with & by Aritri Chatterjee
(Reading Time: 28 min Approx)
Wasim Kapoor is, what you can say ‘Art’ personified. The moment I entered his room, my eyes got stuck at the painting of a meditating Budhha, he was making. It took me for a while to make myself believe that I am witnessing the eminent artist Mr. Wasim Kapoor painting at his very own house. The aura of art occupied the entire room. He made us sit and offered tea just like every ordinary welcoming house owner. Over the cup of tea, I introduced myself to him. At first, I was hesitant to ask such a great personality for an interview.
Finally, when I managed to did; with a humble smile, Wasim Kapoor, took the voice-recorder close to him and said- “Hello…hello…Is this pitch fine?”
Then and there, I understood why they say ‘Art sets you free’.
I am sure with glittering eyes you all are excited to know what happened next…how did the interview went…well, in short it was an honour and privilege for me to interview him as he addressed some highly crucial issues, solutions and suggestions governing the Art & Artists, Artistic sensibility and Art-education itself.
With happiness and immense interest, I asked him the first question-
What made you to be an artist? How it all started?
“Well, this is an interesting question. I spent my childhood at nursing home for almost fourteen years, due to an accident. I had 4 brothers and 2 sisters. They were all studying at school and often come to visit me with my parents. Among them, my elder brother Shamim and sister Yasmin used to visit me from their way back to school with my father. They used to show me their drawing copies. When I was 2 and half years old, I started to copy those drawings. My father noticed my interest in paintings and decided to arrange me a drawing tutor. Seeing his advertisement in ‘The statesman’, Mr. Amar Nandan from Indian Art College came to teach me at the nursing home. At first, he was in dilemma about how well I’ll be able to perform seeing my critical condition. But then he returned next day and started his crucial endeavour of teaching fine arts to a bed-ridden kid with plaster in almost the whole body. He was the one, who introduced me to the art of the great painters such as Jamini Roy, Nandalal Basu, Michel Angelo. I started oil painting at the age of 12 years. I got selected for ‘Academic All India Exhibition’ and AIFACS, Delhi (All India Fine arts & Craft Society). By the time I was 14, I had participated in numerous national level Art Exhibitions.
I returned home from the nursing home at the age of 14. My whole life was changed. I used to walk with crutches but still I was painting all day. My teacher said, I should now apply for Indian Art College. Bipin Goswami was the principal then, he told my father that I’ll have problems to sit and paint but my father was adamant. He wanted me to learn from the bests. Though reluctant, finally he agreed to accept me and make special arrangements for me in the corner of the classroom. I created a good impression among the professors with my performance.
I couldn’t just stop learning. When my class in first year was over, I used go to other senior year classes and learn. Seeing my national record of exhibitions, the senior professors sometimes allowed me to attend those classes. It so happened that a day came, when my Prof. Chittaranjan Das was on leave due to illness, he instructed me to take classes on his behalf for the fourth-year batch. I got the opportunity to study under the tutelage of the greatest and best painters of my time – Atul Bose, Gopal Ghosh, Rathin Maitra, Devi Prasad Roy Chowdhury and the entire Indian Art College. Many a times, my prof. Chittaranjan Das used to come to my house and teach me portrait painting using my family members as models.”
So, how did you get your first big break?
“First break…rather, that one big break…which came to me, was by the hands of the veteran Actor Victor Banerjee. I started a series named ‘The Anti-Burqa series’ in the 80’s. There was a painting titled as ‘Victim’ (6ft. /5ft, portraying a mother-daughter duo in Burqa) got exhibited at Birla Academy and received high acclamation. It was also featured as the cover of ‘Desh’ magazine later. So, Victor Banerjee went to see that exhibition. After coming home, I received a call from his secretary saying Victor Banerjee is coming to my house to meet me. I was surprised and shocked at the same time. Near 4-4:30 p.m. he came to my house. My room was filled with paintings then. Victor Banerjee entered my room and started picking my art works from here and there. I was startled, that he came to talk… then why is he taking my paintings…! After a while, he took all those paintings in his arms and said- “These are mine now.” I did not have the audacity to say no to him. I said-‘Okay’ (smiling a bit).
He said-“These are going to be in my private collection. Also, I wish to organise an exhibition with your paintings. When can you be ready?” My world turned upside down then. My paintings are still at his house as his private collection. I was the 4th artist; he did an exhibition with; after Jamini Roy, M.F.Hussain, and Bikas Bhattacharyay. That was my major break. I’ll be forever grateful to him for that.”
Well as they say, good things come to good people. Wasim Kapoor smiled with joy in his eyes.
Your paintings deal with the dark side of human emotions such as pain, suffering, and struggles women go through. What made you select this as your theme?
“I don’t think I was the one who selected this theme, rather this theme selected me to come out into the world. I try to observe what’s happening around me whenever I go out. I paint what I see; I try to paint the reality. I feel it’s necessary to speak for those whose voices are unheard. Thus, I came up with the ‘Boy-series’, ‘Girl child-series’, ‘Prostitute-series’. Look, painting, poetry, theater is all the same. It speaks for people; just their way of communication is different. What I try to depict through my painting, my father tried to do the same with his poetry. It’s a responsibility of every creative person, whether be artist, poet, actor to highlight the unjust, crisis, problems of his/her society so that we can come up with solutions and build a better world for our children.”
You have expressed earlier that Artists Rembrandt has been an inspiration to you. Can you please tell us, why so?
“Rembrandt is an inspiration for each and every artist under the sun. Pablo Picasso once said that he has not seen any great artist like Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn. The reason why his works amaze me is that, he pours his inner-feelings, his emotions into his paintings. The marvelous use of light and shade in his painting is what I grew up seeing.”
Expressions always play a key role in your portraits. Most of them feature faces having their eyes closed. Can you please tell us the significance rather symbolism behind it?
“You’re right they’re symbolic. Well, when I’m working in a portrait someone is paying me for I can’t indulge these symbolism. They make sure I portray their beautiful eyes (with a subtle laugh). But when I’m painting for myself, I try to showcase a sense of mystery in my artworks. Closed eyes can make you wonder about various emotions. I try to make my audience think. That’s why; most of my portraits have closed eyelids, clouds to signify a sense of spirituality yet serenity. One of my paintings was bought by Santa Ghosh, the chairman of DCPL group. 75% of that painting depicts the vast sky and in the corner there’s a transparent woman figure in veil. I was told that the painting has become poetry. But then I laughed and said- ‘Please let me know when you write it because I had no idea when I painted it’”, laughed heartily.
What are the problems the art world is facing today? With consideration to Kolkata, India?
“The sale as in the financial reciprocation of art has always been in a complicated state. Not just now, buying a painting is the last priority of household expenditure. You can buy furniture, curtains, electronic goods and even exchange or get rid of them when they get old but you can’t do that to a painting. Once you buy a painting, no matter it’s by a famous artist or non-famous on; the wall you hang it on, was the wall waiting for that painting only. So, the business approach of painting is always facing tantrums. Also, with the current state of economy in India as well as Bengal, it’ll be silly to expect people buy paintings with the rapid rising price of daily needs. So, business is needed because last 5-6 years our country is facing a terrible economic turmoil. I have no words to express this unfortunate time we’re facing”
How do you define the Art-culture of Bengal?
“Bengal is the oracle of Art and creativity. Take anything you’ll get singing talent, dancing talent, creative writing skill, even painting and acting too. I believe creativity is in the rug and bones of Bengal. You won’t get this amount of talent in any other state. You’ll get businessman, doctors, engineers but Bengal is highly enriched with art and culture. All that Bengal needs is the increase in the number of buyers, which can only happen if the economy develops. There’re terrific artists in Bengal but people to value their art and perspective is becoming less these days. Take in account the initiative taken by Anthelion School of Art; they are getting refreshing talents every month from Bengal. So as such there is no issue or problem with the Art Culture of Bengal and it is highly enriched.”
What is the most challenging part of being an Artist?
“The most important thing is to fight; not with anyone else but with your own self. It’s very necessary to have an aim in life. You must decide where you want to reach as an artist. You’ll be criticized at first even maybe for a long period of time but you mustn’t give up. You have to accept rejection as lessons and carry on with an indomitable spirit. You must learn to take criticism. You have to have patience. Art is worship; you can’t give up in the middle of your prayer.”
What steps are needed to be taken to stage The Art Industry of Kolkata in the global platform?
“I always suggest artists to build some sort of a connection with the buyers. It’s important to let people know about your line of work. Also, politics is interfering hugely with the art world and leaving harmful impacts on it. It’s tragic to see how an artist spends his/her money on the canvas, the equipment and most importantly the efforts to make a painting. But everything gets denied because of socio-political mis-prioritizing. An artist wants nothing more than to be recognised. It’s really sad that we are failing to give that minimum too, these days. The media goes on putting third-class discussions and issues with no intellectual value all day in their respective platforms, but they hardly cover news on good art, artist, art-trend or exhibitions these days. I rarely see news-channels in exhibitions. It does not matter whether you appreciate or criticise an artwork, but at least you must consider the budding artists and their efforts and let your people know about them. That’s the responsibility of being the mass media. If we ignore our own culture like this it’s evident an artist will stoop to depression.”
In Bengal the pressure of safe career choices with financial solvency is always a big thing for Bengali parents. In that case, how should one prepare his/herself if they aim to be an artist?
“This is true that every parent wants their children to be successful and financially independent in life but it’s my humble request to you all that please support your child if he/she wishes to be different. Not everybody is born to fit in the left-brain crowd. If you suppress your child wishes for the sake of society then nothing can be more upsetting than that. Every child is capable to change the world for better. I always tell myself that I might be the luckiest artist in world history who was immensely supported by his parents and family. Without their love and support, I wouldn’t have come this far.
And to those who wish to be artist and decide to make their work public, you need be strong from the inside. Suppose, you make 10 paintings; 5 of them will not be good, 2 of them will be ordinary, 2 of them will be better but there’ll be 1 of them that’ll be extra-ordinary. You got to keep fighting till you paint that extra-ordinary. Don’t care what people say, it’s their job. You keep doing your job. You must learn self-criticism in order to succeed in any creative field.”
What according to you is the state of Art education in India, especially in West Bengal?
“Every artist needs to have knowledge about the history of art. How can you stand and speak for modern art if you don’t know about the modern art movement? Every great artist you take in account, you’ll see how they started from the basic. Rabindranath Tagore is the ‘Father of Modern Art’ and look how deep his knowledge was about the art form. First, you acquire knowledge in every possible way only then you can explore.
Art education along with practical learning & practice, is very much needed to be a good artist. I will definitely praise this unique art school – Anthelion School of Arts and its head Dipayan Banerjee for taking such an initiative to progress the art form of Bengal, I kudos their idea of making their courses free from age-limit and focusing both on theory & practical. That they are also developing books is something that will help not only their students but all the students of Fine Arts in India.
Art is supposed to set you free and it can come to you at any point, at any step of life. I’m sure no one has taken such an initiative in last 5-7 years span. ”
What will be your suggestion or advice to the budding generation of Artists?
“As I said earlier, inner-strength and aim is very important. I am personally a fan of the budding young artists. They’re giving a tough fight. I have come across artists from core villages that are self-taught. They’re equally talented as the student of art colleges. Never try to just imitate & copy, try to set a mark of your own. Young artists these days are powerful and highly energetic. I feel proud to see young women artists these days too. They are doing remarkable work and sometimes better. Because before the name of the artist in the signature is visible, the painting speaks and that’s all it matters. Just believe in yourself and I am sure you’ll be able to achieve it.”
Last but not the least, what would have you been if you haven’t been an Artist?
Smiling for a while…“Do you know what was the happiest day of my life?
The day, I fell off from this very bed when I was six months old. That was the best thing ever happened to me because it made me meet my purpose of life. Otherwise, I would have been living an ordinary life. Maybe looking for a job…or getting into my family business.
My life started the day I had the accident. I don’t care for the future because I’ll never know it. I don’t care for the past because I’ll never be able to change it. All I know is that ‘Today’ is mine. And I’ll keep on painting because that’s what I should be doing. I am lucky that I am different and I am satisfied with my achievements.”
I was out of questions but he didn’t run out of answers. We continued the discussion for some time more and I realized how endearingly he feels for his country, for his people. His respect toward his work and dedication toward art is exquisite. An evening with Mr. Wasim Kapoor will be forever cherished by me. As a writer myself, I will always remember what he said –
‘Art is supposed to set you free’.