“Finishing artwork needs more skills than creating one”

Sunny Dua
(Jammu painter Suman Gupta’s solo painting exhibition titled ‘Sacred Vision’ was inaugurated by former Union Minister and noted scholar Dr Karan Singh at Amar Mahal Museum and Library on Oct 20, 2019, Sunday and was open till October 31, 2019. We interviewed the ace artist about his exhibit, source of inspiration and his art.)
Spanish painter Pablo Ruiz Picasso regarded as one of the most influential artists of the 20th century has said and I quote, “To draw you must close your eyes and sing”. For an avid lover of music and nature this is something that also goes true with highly acclaimed Jammu painter Suman Gupta who would have been a great musician if not a painter. Started painting at an early age, he never came from family of artists who instead were more geared towards business and entrepreneurship. It was only his mother Sheela Mahajan who used to write Shalokas or Mantras from Vedas in a diary and that was all what connected him to some kind of art and literature.
Suman’s resolve was strengthened after reading an article in ‘Time’ magazine in Central Library of Jammu University (JU) about visual artist Andrew Newell Wyeth, a realist painter. Andrew Wyeth who for fifteen years painted a German Helga Testorf without the knowledge of either his wife or Helga’s husband became a source of inspiration for Suman. Thereafter Suman never looked back and rose to become a professional painter and win many awards and honours. He held exhibitions of his works around the globe and attended several national and international camps besides was on board of Lalit Kala Akademi (The National Academy of Arts in India) on several occasions. An avid lover of music, a law graduate, Suman is a self taught painter who by all means is impressed with works of Andrew Wyeth and considers him in high esteem. Taking a cue from Wyeth, Suman too has worked with his subject for 25 long years and feels sad about losing him to the clutches of death. For him his subject Makouru Ram was a perfect figure that blended with nature, a subject that he paints the most. He has finished almost 700 master pieces majority of which are either on permanent collections of some galleries around the globe or donning the walls of prestigious institutions.
Having grown up in Jammu, he always felt the need to be a painter and started humbly by painting on paper with water colours. Today, Suman expertises in water colour dry brush on paper and egg tempera techniques of painting. His eighteen works that are on display at Amar Mahal Museum include sixteen paintings and two drawings including his self portrait. Interestingly, Suman has blended his self portrait with nature and established that he cannot be separated from nature. In an exclusive interview to the Daily Excelsior, he said when he doesn’t paint he watches birds and that’s where nature again creeps in.
Giving details of his work, state as well as National award winner, Suman said in egg tempera technique any material is blended with egg yolk to make pigment and in dry brush technique layers of layers are put on canvas after squeezing water colour out of the brush before applying on canvas. Suman also uses another technique where he blocks natural white on sheet or canvas and after completing the painting uses same white colour as part of painting. This natural colour of paper acts as white and adds to the beauty of canvas, he revealed.
Painting since childhood, the Jammu artist has also painted nudes besides nature admits that his keen interest in music had brought him into the school band as rhythmic guitarist but while in university this interest took a back seat and he was completely drawn towards painting. He often calls his paintings as Magic Realistic form of art. Out of three basic types of visual art including representational, abstract and non-objective, Suman specialises in first one wherein he loves to paint, sketch or draw nature but ensures that his imagination blends with his subject as well.
His painting ‘Song of the Soul’ featuring his favourite subject that has a special place in his heart. Drawn by the innocent face of Makouru, Suman had painted him lying on ground. Explaining how and when he paints, Suman said, “For me it’s important to work on a single canvas like any regular job with tea and lunch break added to it. This is done without any interruption in my studio at Channi Himmat, Jammu but once the work comes to climax the toughest part begins which is finishing it”. “Finishing artwork is tougher than creating one”, he asserted.
Like his mentor, he also doesn’t let anyone enter studio until work is finished. “Since the package of what we call it ‘Life’ comes with lots of ups and down, artists are not required to get perturbed and look for an opportune time to start painting. For an artist it’s the painting that distracts him or her from stress and makes one move on. That’s how master pieces are created”, he said adding that despite new mediums of expressions like photography and digital art, a painstakingly done painting remains at the centre stage of art world.
Referring to buyers of art in Jammu, he said that lack of awareness as to where the original art work is available, inability to differentiate between original and fake art and a complete ignorance about value of art pieces is what leaves artists high and dry. Despite all odds artists are still continuing to put in their best of efforts which is why Suman Gupta has been able to sell one of his art works in seven digit figure to become highest ever paid artist in Jammu and Kashmir. He said while spending money on palatial houses if a budget for art is kept by people it will add to their home’s aesthetics and also increases its value but for that awareness is needed.
In his message to young artists, Suman Gupta said, “One can learn techniques of any art including art of writing, reading, painting, acting or playing instruments but to become an artist one has to has somewhere in ones’ heart and soul a ‘commitment’ towards his passion. This never dying spirit ultimately brings that real inner-self out in artists and makes them acclaimed artists, he said. Being one amongst less than just ten artists who use egg tempera techniques in Jammu and Kashmir, he urged government to preserve whatever art is available be it frescos, wall murals, sculptors, paintings or other art works scattered all over the freshly carved out Union Territory of J&K.
Offering his services to the present dispensation to protect and preserve art in UT of J&K, Suman Gupta quoted Dr Karan Singh who while inaugurated his exhibition had said that source of recognising any cultural civilisation is nothing but an art which must be protected for generations to come. Art, Dr Singh had said speaks about civilisations and stays testimony to behaviours of subjects. Suman advised art students to have patience and instead of dreaming of overnight success develop passion and commitment towards their works and also stay organised and disciplined. When asked to comment on those who paint from photos, he said that this cannot be rejected but essence lies in painting with imagination and making world see what it can’t see.
Well contended from his works, it’s appreciations and recognition that he had been getting the only regret that haunts Suman Gupta is a missed opportunity to meet his favourite artist Andrew Newell Wyeth whose work still has biggest influence on his life. One of America’s best known twentieth-century artist whom he refers to as his Master died in his sleep in 2009 before Suman could reach him. The only consolation is that he could get to visit his master’s place after his death, visit his studio besides see his work and is in possession of a hand written reply from Andrew that he treasures. Suman Gupta before running brush on the white canvas runs his imagination which enables him to visualize what he intends to express by blending landscape with his subject and also plans how and where to place his subject in the entire scene. Colors and sketches run in his mind before they are put on the canvas. It’s like putting a soul in to a body that Suman experiences before touching canvas. Visualization helps him focus and make his creativity and imaginations flow on canvas like water in a stream. Most of Suman’s works have stayed confined to beautiful landscapes of Jammu and Kashmir. The subjects that he depicts also get a typical face cut of Dogra clan.