Prominent Indian artist Jatin Das, painting for well over five decades now, has come down heavily on the state of the contemporary art market. In one of his rare interviews in recent years, the prolific artist reflected upon his illustrious career and maintained that the art world has undergone a sea change and that many young artists compromise for their bread and butter.
"There is now a sea change in the art world. People talk about art market and art business. When somebody comes to see your work, they call him a client! And there are a lot of players now. Art students are more interested in commercial art or go abroad to study about art investment. This word did not exist before. People visited studios, sometimes multiple times, to look at the works. Nobody bargained. There was great camaraderie; there was no art business. Today, a lot of young people say, 'sir, we have to compromise for our bread and butter," Das said.
"I just don't feel like exhibiting, although I have lots of works. I sell very little. I'm not in the art market. Some people feel sorry for me that my works are not in auctions. They don't realise that in auctions, artists don't give their works. It is either buyers or gallerists who do it. It is all hype and high society, and it has become a glamorous world now," he added.
Das also said that a lot of the artists these days paint for upcoming exhibitions. "Some even see the gallery size and paint accordingly. My friends or I never painted (for) an exhibition. Only when we felt that we had a body of work that gels, would we exhibit."
"We all had the idealism to work passionately with commitment. The idea was not to become an artist or earn money; that was not the concern for any of us. Some people used to work in advertising for money, but then they would do theatre, or write poetry and things like that," said Das, who studied at Mumbai's Sir J.J. School of Art, under Professor S.B. Palsikar.
Das has held 68 one-man shows in India and abroad and has participated in numerous national and international exhibitions and camps for artists.
Responding to a specific question on the complaint by several contemporary artists that traditional artists, like himself, consider themselves more important, Das said that a "real artist doesn't exhibit for the public".
He reflected that when a painting is sold, he is happy, but "just for a minute". And then he is sad that it is gone. He said he doesn't paint for sales, but he lives on the sale of his paintings.
"Any creative person must keep away from the limelight, or it's not a discipline of arrogance, you must be able to spend time on work," he added.
His ongoing exhibition Jatin Das: Artists & Friends. Over Fifty Years will be on display at the Lalit Kala Akademi in New Delhi.
"There are 500 portraits in this exhibition, made over 50 years. It requires you to slow down, and look at details and ruminate on the experience. To take time with things. We were drawing all the time; I still think the mark of a great artist is drawing. That is something I tried to show with this exhibition," he added.
"This exhibition is not about sales or money; this is a personal endeavour, a display of intimate conversations and a lifetime of drawing, my friends and conversations," he said.
He went on to state that he is "influenced by every artist, by every part of nature, by everything around me" and that he does what he likes, "and what I don't, I destroy".
"I paint in oils. I don't like acrylic much, but I've done some. I like to draw and do water colours... It's an integral part of me. Funny how people ask, 'You also draw?' Every artist must draw, paint, do murals, graphics, everything. You have to do all kinds of things. Play with the mediums like a child," he concluded.