The Pothi team caught up with Anil Relia to find out how his journey as a collector started
The world of art is not just about artists. The art world is made wholesome by the number of people who are connected with it. A collector makes it as fruitful as a person who is an artist. Our guest Anil Relia would be a person who would take that place – a lover of art, who loves art enough to actually collect it.
Just so you know who is, Anil Relia is one of the most prolific art collectors in India. He has an especial love for portraits.
Somewhere back in the 70s, when Anil was a child it became evident to him and everyone else that he wasn’t really interested in the family business. He was from a typical business family where art was not in its universe and rarely ever figured in their conversation. It was not something that “responsible” people did to make a life.
Anil Relia was not your regular kid. While everyone in his family was involved in the world of business, Anil loved to draw. It was, obviously, his family’s desire that he become what every family wants a child to be – either join the family business or become a doctor or an engineer.
“The only thing I ever liked to do was make drawings and scribbling, which I did around the house. I wanted to be an artists. I did not know about any other subject. I did not know anything else, though being a doctor or something else was what really happened. My elder brother was a doctor. So, my choice was different.”
Thankfully, Anil Relia’s parents were sensitive and decided whatever their son wanted to do was good enough for them. For them it was simple, whatever their son wanted he could do that but eventually he had to come into the fold and join the family business. What they wanted as a son was that their son needed was a degree.
“I had no idea about MSU. All that my brothers said was that I had to do something. They discovered that my interests were towards art and we discovered MSU. And life took me there,” Relia explained. “I actually got into fine art by chance. I just go to know that for this exam you did not need a regular entrance but a portfolio. And I had a decent portfolio,” he says talking about he got into MSU.
“It was in third year when I did something that was to do with art. While I did good graphic or printing art at that time and I decided to make something out of art,” he says. “I did cutting-pasting and started work with Bidhanwala. I did not get a salary. I did not have to worry about my subsistence but I still did work. In fact, I did five shows by then,” he adds.
“I kept doing this and I got commercial work for graphic work. I did lot of commercial work which involved printing cards or brochures and that worked for me. In fact, I made some money doing this,” he says.
It was in 1994 that Relia met M F Husain. “He wanted to do some thing with the actor Madhuri and he wanted to create a serigraph. He wanted glossy, film kinda stuff. After a few projects with him, he became a friend, we did many projects together,” Relia adds.
In 1998, after a conversation with Husain, where he told Relia to forget about regular commercial work and concentrate on his graphic work, that Relia start looking at graphic as the real thing. He made the prints of great artists after taking the royalty for their images.
Actually, when he was in second year, he first decided to buy a piece of art that he liked. After that it became a habit with him to acquire art that he liked. He bought art, especially portraits, from scrap dealers and those who sold antiques and other such things. Over the years, he collected what he enjoyed. The fact is Anil Relia became a man who knew art enough to love it and collect it. His love for art was not a business. He knew the art he loved.
Without collectors, art would only be a public statement. Without means for artists to earn a living it takes a cultivated sensibility of a connoisseur or collector to generate an open market. However, we need to look for connoisseurs more than collectors. The collector might have a herd mentality, but a connoisseur knows the technique how the art was made. Without knowing this he embodied it and we think his art education went a long way in his journey.
Today, Relia is the brain behind the Archer Gallery. Archer has some of the best artists in its roster. In his desire to make art accessible to the common person through its limited-edition serigraphs.
His association with Amit Ambalal resulted in his first big show called ‘Tasveer’ in 2002, where of the 600-odd paintings and photographs that he had collected over the years, around 150 were put on show. The show even included miniatures and portraits, some of which were from the 17th century. Today, Relia’s dream is to build India’s first portrait museum. He also does a major show every year, which then is turned into a book.
So, how does Relia decide how a piece of art becomes valuable? Since Relia himself a fine art graduate from MSU, he looks at an artist as a person who is passionate enough to create a variety of works, even as they support themselves doing some other work for their subsistence. The important thing for an artist to become valuable is to have a body of work, which they are able to showcase once a year. “This will also bring in the press and a conversation will be started by the artist about his work. As an artist keeps doing this once a year, at least, automatically there will be a buzz around his work and he will become a valuable artist. If you look at the Progressive Artists Group, it is not like there was only a Raza or a Souza. There were many more artists but they could never persist in their work and eventually disappeared. So, consistency in your career as an artist is very important. The trajectory of an artist journey is important. He must just keep doing work because in the end the work matters the most,” he says.
Talking about emerging artists, he advices that a young artists must focus on making work rather than spend time trying to sell it. “They must figure out a way of sustaining themselves. It is a matter of time before they become important figures. If they survive for seven or eight years doing odd jobs and continue to do their real work, it will definitely become something worthwhile sooner than later. If you look at guys like Husain, they really struggled for decades. After Husain came to Mumbai, it took him nearly a decade to do his own show. So, basically, you have to keep at it.
With that simple but crucial bit of advice, the Pothi team came back with a few important takeaways: buy the art you love and build your collection over the years, and figure out a way to survive so you can carry on with you passion.