Prem Chander is Delhi-based artist with a passion for abstracted figurative forms. He graduated in Applied Arts from College of Art, University of Delhi, in 2012 and holds a Diploma in Fine Arts from Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi (2008). He is also an accomplished photographer trained from the Udaan School of Photography, New Delhi (2013). Prem held his first solo exhibition titled “Subliminals” at Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi, in October 2022. He has worked with various agencies, design houses and prestigious organizations as a professional creative designer and has also been teaching and training young proteges in a few institutions in the NCR region. He has got to be known as “Gatta Artist” for his fascination for creating art on cardboard.
1. When did you decide and what prompted you to become an artist? Please give a brief account of your challenges and struggles in your journey as an artist. Any role models?
PC: As I was raised in the CR Park locality of Delhi, a place where numerous artists have made their abode and work studios, the eclectic and creative vibes of the locale overwhelmed and inspired me to take up fine art as a profession. The people and the locale – chaotic, vibrant and festive –made interesting subjects. In those creative alleys, the well-known artist, Naren Sarkar, would draw in his house lawn, which drew my curiosity and attention. As a young boy, I would often sneak into his garden and look closely at the well-decorated plants and would find myself sitting there, soaking in the scenery. Sometimes, I would carry a pencil and a few rough papers or cardboard so that I could draw them. I would see him drawing with great patience and thoughtfulness and with his encouragement, I began dabbling in art. Professor Sarkar noticed what I was doing and appreciated my efforts while suggesting and correcting my work. My young mind became inclined towards looking at things from different perspectives and angles. Since the beginning, I was inclined towards black colour for my art and used black pen, charcoal, pen & ink, and black oil pastel. This was partly because using a single colour was more affordable, and also due to fact that the power and charisma of black rendered it ‘colourful’ for me.
Later, in my school days, Manoj Nayak, an artist and teacher in my Delhi school trained me in various basic art forms, including still life, drawing, sketching etc.
I consider Prof. Naren Sarkar as my role model – it was because of him that I was inspired to draw and paint. I kept on practicing my art on cardboard despite being well acquainted with other conventional media like oil, acrylic and watercolour, simply out of a sense of fondness for the surface. Cardboard for me is a unique texture where art expressions can be more genuinely expressed. Due to my love for cardboard, Prof. Sarkar gave me the title “Gatta Artist”, and I have gladly accepted that name for myself.
I had almost given up on painting when I began my career as a graphic designer, because the full-time nature of my profession left little room for me to pursue my passion. However, here too, Prof. Sarkar became my saviour, since he had also experienced similar things before, and did not want me to give up on my dream of becoming an artist. He took me alongside him to various creative art workshops, classroom assignments and photo-shoots to keep my creative mind active, and to also provide me with a wide exposure to artistic activities. This exposure helped me gain a unique perspective of art when combined with visual communication.
I had no place to myself where I could paint. Often, I would sit in public places to do sketches of the different people I saw. However, I still lacked a space where I could sit with a larger paper/canvas and more paints. Ever perceptive, Prof. Sarkar noticed what I lacked, and invited me to use his personal studio space.
Isolation from the outside world made me turn to art, and I found an expressive outlet through my paintings. When Prof. Sarkar also joined me in the studio and took up painting after 50 odd years, it provided me with the necessary morale boost. Every day, we would paint in silence and later would come out of our respective reveries to discuss what we had painted that day. During that time, I started developing a certain painting style, which Prof. Sarkar was quick to notice and encouraged to take it even further.
Late Shri Dhiraj Choudhury, the renowned Indian painter, who was also Prof. Sarkar’s close friend, would also visit him at his house in Delhi quite frequently to watch him sketch, and I am still an ardent fan of his work. His avuncular attitude and motivating talks further inspired me to keep painting. When I showed him some of my work, he was visibly surprised and happy, and encouraged me to pursue my style even further.
My early career was also influenced by Ms Roma Sharma, an Arts teacher in Triveni Kala Sangam, New Delhi. She familiarized me with colours, techniques and art forms whenever I visited her home studio.
When I look back in time, my journey has been packed with many highs and lows, yet the constant support and guidance of Prof. Sarkar has kept me going. I am still that seven-year-old boy who would paint using what he could on what he could. It was a lucky chance indeed that I chose his particular garden on that day to sit and sketch.
2. What art projects are you working on currently? What is your inspiration or motivation for this?
PC: I recently held my solo painting exhibition at the Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi and the series was titled “Subliminal”. My next project is a solo show at AIFACS Gallery, New Delhi in beginning of January 2023. I will be including some of the paintings which I could not accommodate at the Lalit Kala, along with a few new paintings. The central theme of paintings is the trinity of man, animal and nature and how similar they are in their manifestations of emotions like anger, love and joy as they have always co-existed. The artworks capture the inseparable common element in all three life forms while painting them in abstract depict the interplay of emotions, body shapes and inseparable reality.
I continue to be inspired to paint by my mentor, Prof. Naren Sarkar, who also took up painting after a long gap of five decades. I am motivated to keep painting out of the sheer pleasure of indulging in the beauty of art. I am able to direct my experiences and observations on the canvas of cardboard, and am thus able to express myself in totality.
3. Contemporary art has become very diverse and multidisciplinary in the last few decades. Do you welcome this trend? Is this trend part of your art practice?
PC: Yes, I welcome this trend and it is a part of my art practice. Contemporary art has no set barrier or set rules. That’s why my work is beyond any rules. I have explored human mind and the way it manifests through gestures and expressions. The human mind has been an object of awe and wonder for as long as humankind has existed, for the simple fact that it is not known how an individual may perceive and generate meanings. You are not consciously aware of what exactly art means to you, yet you find yourself enchanted by it. And that is when you realize that you have entered the subliminal realm. Following this line of thought, I painted extensively and came up with my “Subliminal” painting series.
Biman Bihari Das, Paresh Maity, Adwaita Gadanayak, Waswo X. Waswo, Rajesh Deb
Visitors to the show "Subliminal" at Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi
4. Does art have a social purpose or is it more about self-expression?
PC: Every work of art has an undeniable social purpose. Art is used as a means of conveying certain ideas and beliefs. The world’s most influential works of art have been known to be the socio-political documents of their times. However, in my case, my paintings are absolutely about self-expression.
I have been fascinated by the idea of how thoughts really come into our minds. And what is more incredible to me is how these thoughts shape us and find their manifestation in subtle acts, expressions and human behaviour. Through years of introspection, I have tried to paint those thoughts onto papers and cardboard. I started out with conscious strokes and well-thought-out forms. However, as time went by, I experienced that the lines, forms and the spaces in my paintings began to blur and eventually transform into an unconscious and unaware movement. The cardboard or the ‘gatta’ was also a constant reminder of my childhood struggle with painting. All these elements converged into a unique exterior to depict emotions with a childlike innocence.
For me, art is a form of self-expression which brings us to a point where all pretenses are left behind.
5. Where do you create your art (workplace/studio)? What is your process?
PC: I create art in my mind, but I paint at Prof. Naren Sarkar’s studio at CR Park in New Delhi. I usually start out by giving a outline to the form, and then progress towards endowing the form with an expression. My hands create the exterior, while my observations help provide depth to the expressive details. When I travel, I like to observe people and the surroundings and I sketch them in my sketchbook, or I observe them and paint them later at the studio. Somewhere, I find that my years of art training fuses with uncouth unconsciousness, and I create a painting which at times surpasses my conscious intent, and comes out as a raw, unbridled articulation.
Prem Chander working in Prof. Naren Sarkar's studio in CR Park, New Delhi
6. To what extent will the world of art change in the post-Covid period – both in terms of what is created as also the business of art?
PC: Initially, the world of art suffered due to the unprecedented lockdown throughout the world. Galleries were shut down, and artists were unable to present their works to the public. However, gradually the digital media paved the way to many creative ways in which people could experience art online. There was a worldwide collaboration between art galleries, and many galleries and museums offered virtual tours to people globally. There was a surge in the purchasing of painting supplies since people now had the time to sit down and devote ample time to painting. So, the Covid period did impact the world of art as well as the business of art in a major way, and changes will continue to occur in the post-Covid times as well. After all, isn’t change the only constant?
7. Tell us about any other interest you may have besides your art practice. Does it get reflected
in your art?
PC: My interests apart from my art practice include gardening, photography, graphic art and sketching in different places I travel to. And, of course, they all reflect in my art.
(All images are courtesy of the artist, Prem Chander.)
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