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Sounds and silences

Gopi Gajwani is one of the finest abstractionists of this country


"PLEASE CALL me Gopi," pleads the genial 66-year old artist. "That would make things more comfortable and puts us both on the same plane." Given his age and stature, it is not easy to drop the customary prefix of Mr or a respectful Sir, but Gopi Gajwani will have none of it. On the other hand, to put you at ease, he will relentlessly use his most effective weapon — an infectious smile, made more lethal with a light friendly slap on your shoulder. And, unmindful of your protests, he makes you sit in a comfortable chair, but perches himself on a hard wooden stool.

He is one of those underrated artists in the country, although several critics have grouped him among the finest abstractionists we have.

Low profile

The Delhi-based artist been painting abstracts for more than four decades now. "In the mid-Sixties, and Seventies, it was well known that the market for abstract paintings was practically non-existent," reminisces the artist. "If 10 works got sold, you could be sure that nine of them would be figurative. Still, I chose to pursue this form — although my sketching and sculpting abilities were well recognised — even as a student of Delhi School of Art. In fact, I have nothing against figurative paintings. If I see a good non-abstract work, I will be the first to stand up and applaud the artist."

Remind him about his low-profile status, and he smiles: "Marketing, I agree, is one of my weak areas." But there is no regret or remorse in his submission. "You see, when you do something you're passionate about, these things don't really matter. It's immaterial whether you are young or not, trained or self-taught — and for that matter, whether your work is going to be bought or not... And I have always believed that when you listen to an inner calling, one should try to stretch beyond one's boundaries — cross the Lakshman rekha, as it were. It does not matter what has been your past or what the future holds for you..."

Gopi is a consistent performer. He held his first one-man show in 1966 and since then, there have been 20 more. His works have featured in a number of group shows in India as well as Switzerland, Bulgaria, Korea, Dubai, and London. Santo Dutta writing in the artist's 2003 catalogue The Music of Colours, explains: "In Gopi's recent harvest of paintings, the controlled cascading of pure tones meet in common bond in profound and shadowy unity with the sound of music as effortlessly as the homing kite in the darkening sky... His signature is the controlled denouement of the musical potential of the amazingly wide range of tones that he creates ...

Another significant aspect of Gopi's recent oeuvre, both in oils and watercolours, is that each seems to be on the brink of the next moment... spreading out movement by movement, into the next canvas... and giving us a feeling of a profound musical experience... (one need not, however, `interpret' his works in purely musical terms, because that would be a self-defeating negation of the primarily visual experience of his paintings.

Gopi himself speaks with the passion of a musical maestro: "When the brush touches the canvas, you should feel the same pleasure of a flautist who is about to blow his breath into the instrument. Like the exactness of breath to a musician, the precision of the brush stroke holds the key to the artist."

Vibrant colours

Participating in a recent art camp in Bangalore, Gopi selected a cosy little corner skirting the Chitrakala Parishath's open-air theatre, to set his base. As one watched the diminutive artist approach the canvas with his vibrant colours, it was quite easy to recognise in him the enthusiasm of a zealous gardener. "Here in Bangalore, because of the weather and time constraints, I have chosen the fast drying acrylic medium. But, in Delhi, I would always prefer to work with oils. I like the way the oils `lick' the canvas."

Oil, acrylic or watercolour — the end result is always the same.

The magical brush leaving a silent trail. And a soft throbbing image, mingling a gentle melodious harmony of colour, form, and inspiration.

ATHREYA

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