Growing up, contemporary artist Jayakumar G was always fascinated by the world around him. His father was a social worker and mother, a house nurse. So Jayakumar always came in contact with people from different strata of the society. He recalls meeting a drunk man who always came home to beat his wife and children, a man who would beg on the streets, people who would struggle to fend for themselves and their families.
He admits that as a child he was depressed by these scenarios. He recalls going up to his father and asking him ‘Isn’t there anything that can be done to end their misery?’ Watching these people struggle still continues to disturb him. That’s perhaps why he chose to mirror these socio-economic struggles in his paintings.
By juxtaposing reality with his vivid imagination, using men and women as his subjects and portraying their fears and insecurities, he compels his viewer to see beyond the mere painting and read his thoughts.
From being a kid who doodled in books and drew on walls, Jayakumar has indeed come a long way. Having travelled across the country and the world, studying and teaching aesthetics, this 54-year-old artist is now heading the visual arts division at Bangalore University. He is currently exhibiting his works — oil on canvas, reverse paintings and drawings — at an exhibition titled Enigma- Going Beyond the Unknown at Bangalore’s newly-opened gallery, Art Houz. I caught up with the veteran to know more about his creative journey.
During my school days, I was very interested in drawing. All my books had doodles in them. Even walls in my house had my artwork, which my parents preserved and didn’t repaint. But I didn’t know what to make of my talent. I didn’t know anybody who was in the field of art and I was not aware that there was something called ‘art school’. So I continued with my leisurely drawings without any thought about what the future held for me.
One day, my father met a signboard artist who needed help with painting. He sent me to work with the painter. I started meeting him every evening and within a year, I aced the art of writing in different fonts. But soon, I got bored. Later, my father met a portrait artist during his work, and the artist noticed me and my talent. He was the one who suggested that I join art school. The next day, my father sent me to Ken School of Art and I enrolled myself with a tuition fee of just `20. I continued to study art during the day and pursue my studies in the evening. I went on to start my graduate studies in B Com, but halfway through, I discontinued.
After completing my studies at Ken School, I travelled to Maharaja Sayajirao University in Baroda. In 1983, I received a scholarship from the Inlaks Foundation and went abroad to do my masters at Royal College of Art, London.
Before moving to London, I turned down a job as a teacher at Maharaja Sayajirao University. I wanted to travel and broaden my horizons. After completing my education at Royal College of Art, I stayed there. I took up a teaching job at The Falmouth School of Art and held a few exhibitions. To say the least, this trip taught me how to survive on my own. When I joined college, I did not speak with anybody and I had no friends. I even wrote a letter to my parents telling them that I would return to India soon. Then gradually, things changed. My classmates started noticing my work. They started hanging out with me. I bonded with them only because of my art.
After my stint in London, I travelled to other parts of Europe — Belgium, France, Italy, Greece. All through my travels, I met interesting people, not just in museums and galleries, but even on the streets. People like musicians, jugglers. I have spent nights in the Roman Railway Station just talking to people. All this has enriched my life and the way I look at people.
At the request of my teacher at Ken School, I set up a graphic studio at Ravindra Kalakshetra. During the same time, Chandrashekhara Kambara, founder and vice-chancellor of Kannada University at Hampi wanted me to head the art division at the university. I was in two minds about it. But as I examined the 700 acre barren land where the university was to be built, I made my decision — I wanted to move away from the mainstream art field and do something that would help people. I am proud to say that the first piece of work that was constructed at the campus was a 15-foot sculpture of a mother that I created. After seven years here, I moved to Baroda to head the graphics department at my alma mater, before coming back to my roots to set up the visual arts department at Bangalore University.
On his paintings…
I am inspired by what I see around me. I read newspapers, literature, I watch TV and I talk to people. I examine them, I try to understand their point of view, what goes on in their mind, how they cope with their problems like poverty, illness, disaster, death, etc. I use familiar elements like a man and a woman and place them in an unknown context. To unravel the meaning hidden in the painting, you have to go deeper into its universe.
And how art can create awareness
Art as a language, as a form of expression, lets painters tell the world their story. But more importantly, it sensitises people to what surrounds them. It compels them to think and notice the subtleties behind a portrait. Even if it is just a drawing of a smile, art helps them open their eyes to what’s behind that smile. And I feel more people should be exposed to art so that they respect their surroundings.
Advice for aspiring artists
There is a beautiful world out there, chase it. You are young and energetic. You have all the means to achieve what you put your mind to.
Published on July 22, 2014 in The New Indian Express.