Artist Veer Munshi tells Santanu Borah why living the life of an artist and following a process that even includes mundane chores, is important in becoming an artist. This is Part 2 of a four-part series. You can read the first part here
As expected, life change once Veer Munshi made it to Baroda. The environment made him see the entire practice of art very differently. The young landscape painter had now come of age. Surrounded by exciting minds who were engaging in contemporary ideas, Veer finally began to see the raison d’etre for his creative longings. “My history changed after Baroda. In Baroda my whole concept changed, from a stream it became an ocean. For instance, if you paint still life the style is more or less the same everywhere… pot, apple, drapery seem to be everywhere. But in Baroda my first teacher, Nasreen Mohamedi, taught us differently. She urged us to get our own still life, get found objects and make them the subjects of our work. My horizon, obviously, broadened with the likes of Ghulam Mohammed Sheikh, K G Subramanyan and Rattan Parmu engaging with us and pointing us towards newer directions,” he says, dwelling on his initial trysts with some of the greatest artists of post-Independence modern India.
What truly influenced Veer was the fact that he was able to see that making art was not a simply a chore-like activity but a process. One did everything and lived a life in the pursuit of art, in order to find a unique voice that echoed their inner desires. “It was not much about the teaching along but more of the environment around us. There was more freedom conceptually and at that time the figurative narrative art movement was at its zenith. It was provocative. it was Indirect teaching… like KG’s toys, calendars and so on. I would not say there was something like direct learning but by impression created around the students.”
A seemingly “non-artistic activity” that has stayed with Veer is about his teacher Nasreen Mohamedi. “Nasreen would actually sweep studio before we began any work. While initially we did not quite get it but it was a truly holistic way of teaching. We were not only practicing art academically, but also learning about hygiene, how it applies socio-politically, especially in these Covid times. I was about how you practice your life and these value systems only kept growing and made us the artists we are today,” he recounts.
That art was a lifestyle made Veer realise that how you grew as a person affected the art you made and, in fact, enhanced its quality. “Baroda was modern in some sense. The world came here. There were students and teachers from all the states and even foreign countries. An entire cross section of cultural discourse happened here. As you may know, to make good art you have to grow as a person,” he adds.
Elaborating on this growing up process, Veer says that it wasn’t always easy. “There will always be differences with your fellow students and mentors. When you are a student your emotions take over how you act. We would react to something, blast out what we felt and then it would fizzle out. There were times I felt this is not what I have come for. So, I did not paint for two years. One has to grow beyond one’s known vicinity. One must do as much as possible. In order to mature as an artist, one must not ignore skill. A student must learn everything, your plate should be perfect. You should not lose your gift by following trends. Otherwise, your journey becomes an adoption or too derivative. Art is an individual journey,” he adds, emphasizing on the need to practice hard but stand alone.
Heritage and tradition are two words that will surface often when you have a tête-à-tête with Veer. To him they are like anchors. He explains it thus: “Heritage and tradition, our way of life is very crucial. In Baroda I was often confused. Eastern art influenced me, Jamini Roy was fine but the post-Independence western movement was something that I did not much resonate with. I was confused, but luckily Sudir Patwardhan and Ghulam Mohammed Sheikh revived our traditions. I found it easier to identify with that. Miniatures were our thing.”
“With this view firmly planted within me, I began to study the social life in Gujarat and decided to paint it. I followed the Rudali women, or women who are professional mourners. I found their life quite in intriguing and made paintings that reflected and celebrated it,” he adds.
Soon, he was on his way to find a direction that would define his entire life as an artist, but not before a few obstacles in his way.