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Artists are like wifi that is connected to a greater force, says artist Jagannath Panda

Artists Jagannath Panda takes Santanu Borah through his journey as an artists and tells him why the \”secret\” drawings he made at MSU were a disruptive event in his student days when he studied sculpture. This is Part 3 of a five-part series. You can read part 1 here and part 2 here

The rustic charm of Jagannath Panda is undeniable. Even more so his deeper understanding of the artistic process. The first thing that comes to my mind as I go through his birds, a series of paintings that he has made, is the mysterious allure of these works. But since my job today is to talk to him about the disruption in art, I head straight to the question. What does Jagannath Panda think of disruption? “Disruption can be seen in many ways. It can be both positive or negative,” he says.


In order to understand what he means by disruption, we have to go back to his early days, a young boy who dabbled in the arts more seriously than others. “My journey from Bhubaneshwar to M S University, then to Delhi, and then to other countries, were filled with a lot of interesting experiences. I think disruption helped me understand myself and the existential space I occupied.  Disruption in your art practice can always help you understand that you need to be active and understand the times you live in. That brings you a lot more enthusiasm and that enthusiasm can sustain your creative energy,” he says.

He believes that true disruption has a positive effect on every artist. “Each individual when they move and explore, there is a sense of curiosity and quest. The understanding they come to and as well as the confusion around them because of this, the frustration and the celebration, happens in a psychological space. Hence, it can open many doors,” he says.

Jagannath’s journey as an artist started early, though he did not really think about what an artist means at all at the time. “From my childhood I enjoyed drawing. I made things like Ramayana stories or stuff I read in that magazine Chandamama. Those little experiences helped me understand my inclinations as a maker of art, though I never felt artists should think like this or that,” he adds in his simple yet endearing way.

“After I finished tenth standard, I joined the B K College of Art and Crafts in Bhubaneshwar. There we not only got a grounding in art but also in craft. We also explored art history. It was the seed of my what my experiences would be as an artist later on,” he says.

He did his bacherlor’s degree from BK College and then moved to M S University in 1992. After 1994, he moved to Delhi. In 1997 he got a Japan Foundation fellowship. After that, he made it to the Royal College of Art in London.


Talking about his experience in B K College, he says, “In B K college, the best thing was that my teachers wanted us to work very hard. They believe in honing our skills. I began to appreciate the long history of art and craft in which we were hued.”

The hard work principle so affected Jagannath that he would work post his classes, late into the night. Often, he would stay back in the college for three or four days and spend his time perfecting his skills. He agreed with what his teachers said – most of the day during classes a lot of time was spent mingling with others and to perfect your art you needed time alone. “My teacher taught me terracotta in a very traditional way. At that time, I had no idea how to use it to make contemporary art. But the good thing is I learnt to understand the material quality of clay and how to prepare it. We even made a kiln and fired it. That really sharpened my skills and made my foundation strong,” he adds.

Despite being trained traditionally, his first breakthrough came in 1987, when he got a state award for a sculpture he made. His desire to experiment and be disruptive in his practice served him well. “I joined B K College in 1986 and nearly a year later I got a state award. The idea was to go beyond the absolutely traditional. So, I powdered the base of a heater into a white powder and I got an interesting texture to my sculpture. I made a little crying baby because I wanted to make something of my own. Though my teacher was traditional, he told me we could experiment. I explored the material on my own. I would stay back in college for two-three days and did a lot of work. I got a sense of what it meant to make something by hand. My skill improved and that in turn made me confident. This really helped me in M S University where I joined as a student of sculpture,” he says, recalling his early days.

“B K college was a great experience. My teacher at the time was Dinanath Pathy. He would invite many senior artists and we learnt a lot interacting with them. I also began to understand how important spontaneity could be,” he adds.

Baroda was a broader horizon for Jagannath. “Baroda gave me a new perspective. It taught me to look at contemporary history and the art world. My horizon got wider. I had the opportunity to read books in the library. It was a great learning curve because so many of the senior students made marvellous work and we had the company of great teachers like Raghav Kaneria and Gulam Mohammed Sheikh. I got a deeper insight into the history of arts and crafts, and contemporary art. That was the time when I did a dissertation on folk elements and modern Indian culture. It helped me see the folk elements that Picasso used. I also understood how deep the crafts went in Indian history. It was our inherited skill. I wanted to bring a contemporary sensibility to it,” he says.

Around this time, his practice was seeing a slowly marinating disruption. “I used to do a lot of drawing and collages at M S University but I never showed them to anyone. When I left Baroda and went back to Delhi, I re-analysed my journey – do I have some hidden qualities that need to be practiced? I wanted to know what my inner strength was,” he says.

As it transpired, these drawings became the fountain from where the sculptor became an artist. “As an artist you need to understand your sensibilities and strength. You need to start exploring your ideas. I did many collages, watercolours and drawing and my first exhibition took place in Delhi. It was received well. I exhibited minimal drawings and those elements became important to me. When people saw that, they realised there was another aspect to me. That gave me incredible confidence,” he adds.

“Generally, I practiced my sculpture during my student days. At that time there was this stereotype that if you are a sculptor then you did sculpture. But that idea changed. I said to myself that you don’t need to be a sculptor but an artist. And in order to be an artist, you have to explore new territory, understand new material and have a dialogue with yourself. That was a more spontaneous way of living your life as an artist,” he says, reminiscing about that big change in direction.

His belief is that with every new turn of events it gives you a better chance to explore your inner quest, in a beautiful new language. “Artists try to struggle for a new language but I wanted to be different. Some young artists say ‘this is my style. I want to work in it’. I believe that style will come because every individual that god has created is unique. They have a unique potential and there is no person like you. So, that creative individuality exists. But when you say you want to work in a certain style then you are running behind something unnatural rather than continuing your practice. If you want to be a true artist, you should not mould yourself based on some artwork by somebody else. Try to be yourself. When you practice honestly and long enough, you actually grow out of yourself and become something newer,” he explains.

Jagannath believes that following a trend is actually a dead end, that might bring temporary relief but might end up being a wedge in your overall art practice. “If you enter a trendy direction you might sell because a gallery finds it is similar to somebody else’s work and your work is cheaper. But that is not the direction to go in. Many young artists can fall into that trap. Better be yourself,” he says.

He believes that as human beings we love patterns as they can be a comfortable space, but unless you disrupt that pattern you are not going to find anything new or remotely original. “Creative practice is about entering the unknown. If you know what you want to do, there is no challenge,” he adds.

He says that society wants to label you in a way that it finds you easy to understand but the idea is to surprise everyone. One has to spear ahead like Picasso. “Picasso had so many different styles. Experimentation can bring both negative and positive attention, but the idea is to be fearless. Fear is the death of creativity,” he adds.

Jagannath’s sounding board is Indian philosophy, especially the Upanishads and the concept of Sat-Chit-Anand. “Artists are sometimes very egoistic. That is not good. Everybody wants to get attention or make big statements. However, besides ego there is the other side, a place where the me exists with a greater truth, a greater reality. The artist is only a medium to deliver that truth, the poetry of life,” he says.

“Sometimes your work becomes bigger than you because you look to a greater consciousness, which is all life. As practicing artists, we are like wifi connecting to a greater force, that all encompassing truth, the life that is around you. The source is different, it is not about me alone,” he continues.


He believes that while ego might help you succeed, you still have to find your true purpose. “I believe in sat-chit-anand. You should be synergy with the entire existence,” he says.

However, he does not feel that ego is not important at all. “Ego is important but ego should not cast a shadow on your other qualities. You have several layers to your existence, but ego should not be prime. Ego’s purpose is to tell you exist, but there is an existence all around you. Everything is changing but one thing that does not change is your soul. Everything is momentary. You may be successful today and a failure tomorrow, but the idea is to continue doing what you do,” he says.

He believes that artists like Van Gogh suffered because of the western ideal of success. “They were already there but they were not succeeding. But our philosophy looks at life within. I should enjoy what I do. My purpose is to enhance my soul. The material is not going to give you creative success in the truest sense. Hence, the material should not overpower the spiritual or your art will be just a piece of material,” he adds.

He also believes that one must give space to one’s intuition if one is engaged in a creative pursuit. “Intuitive knowledge is beyond intellect. If you understand this, you will be happy and self-contained, which is very important in producing art. Of course, that does not mean you become lazy and ignorant,” he opines.

Which is why he feels that young artists should not just go for style but rather keep doing what they do honestly, and a style will find them.

While many may disagree with him, Jagannath believes in a more direct engagement with the physical world. He believes the information overload of the virtual world can be detrimental to many artists. “You a sketch a tree and you understand nature in a different way. You understand things in a deeper way.  I would say avoid the digital world as much possible because you are bombarded by images. The idea is to find your true core, your true image. Also, you can control your virtual life to behave in a certain way, which is not possible with the physical world. In the physical world you have to be what you are and only then you will make something honest,” he says.

Finally, I ask him which are the artists he feels are fearless and the true flag bearers of disruption. And this is what he has to say: “Atul Dodiya is fearless in his use of colour. Sudarshan Shetty is fearless in creating objects. He is confident about his material. Arun Kumar is highly skilled and has a great understanding of his material. Gulam Mohammed Sheikh is a fearless story teller, just like Dinanath Pathy.”

Before we conclude, here is a little pointer from Jagannath Panda. If you wish to understand him as an artist and enjoy his work, do not look for that one or two paintings. Looks at his entire body of work. Like seasons change, so does his idea of looking at the world.












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