PHOTOGRAPHY – ABHEET GIDWANI
From painting walls of a chawl to exhibiting his work at some of the coveted art galleries across the world, Sunil Padwal’s stint with his first love, art, has come a long way. Padwal’s artwork is laced with a hint of nostalgia, longing, and anguish towards the wrong happenings in society. After completing his Bachelor of Fine Arts from Sir J. J. Institute of Applied Art, Mumbai, in 1989, he took up painting about the socio-political scenario of the society that we are in. But 2005 turned out to be a turning point in his life wherein he explored his relationship with art in depth. His artwork became more intimate and he started documenting life from a new perspective. Padwal’s noteworthy work has been exhibited in groups and solos in major galleries around the world, such as Hong Kong Visual Arts Centre, Hong Kong, Agora Gallery, Soho, New York City, Intex Colours on Canvas, Dubai, UAE, Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai, among others. A staunch believer that a work of art should not set boredom, he keeps his approach dynamic toward arts, eventually producing what can be termed as ‘masterpieces’.
[Q] Was there a pivotal moment when you decided to follow your path as an artist?
Somehow, I always knew I was good at art. I was pretty okay with my studies. So, early in my life when I was in the 6th or 7th standard, my drawing teacher saw some spark in me so he told me to go and join JJ School of Arts. After my SSC’s Algebra exam, I came home depressed and my father saw that. My father and mother, both came from a very humble background and when he saw me depressed, he asked me what happened. I said that I think I’m going to flunk, he said don’t worry for you’re very good at art. My father’s assurance to me then was quite a turning point in my life.
So, after I cleared my SSC examination, I went to meet my school teacher but he said he doesn’t have any influence per se but he only knew the peon there. He told me to go and meet him. I met the peon who assured me that I had bright chances as my work was good. They shortlisted me. Luckily, I got through in Fine Arts and then I did well there. But then my father told me to pursue Applied Art because would make me financially more stable. So that’s how I shifted to Applied Arts.
I used to live in a chawl, where I used to paint the entire wall of the chawl. When I went to JJ, I was on cloud 9. I saw a completely different side of life there, and I felt so nice about the freedom and everything that came along with it. There is something about the JJ campus. For me, that’s where it all started.
[Q] Where does your art come from?
If I had to distinguish my Art practice, before 2005, I used to do a lot of paintings and the work was socio-political. It was about the angst about the urban living person, just like us, and my work revolved around that. But after 2005, I started doing very intimate drawings, which are more about today’s reality. It is about my preoccupation with documenting the city the way I see it and lots of other small things, which probably you and I, or any other layman wouldn’t notice. Just mundane kind of things. So, it is my preoccupation to see those things in a different light. My practice right now is to capture those, maybe photograph them or draw them, based on the things which are seen along with the memories which keep on resurfacing in my work. Currently, I’m in that zone where I’m actually playing with the notion of how we see time and how my present is governed by my past. It’s a very complex kind of project, the art which I am producing right now. I also collect lots of old objects and objects that are dear to the people whose lives I have touched. I’m trying to somehow exchange that through my art. So, there’s an amalgamation because it is interlaced with so many different stories and narratives. It’s like a poem without words and all of it comes from reality and the past. So, I’m actually sitting down and creating a semi-fictional kind of work. As I said, I have collected lots of things from the past and I create something which looks old but is not old. I don’t expect people to get what I’m doing, but my thing is that it should emotionally give something and I’m on that kind of a trip right now.
[Q] Can you tell us about the process of making your work?
Generally, I’m at it 24*7. As I said the last show which I did, it was all about the way I see today’s reality. The one which I did before that at Kochi Biennale, it’s called ‘Room for lies’. It was a personal biography in two small rooms with all sorts of things which I have gone through were presented in that. The one before that ‘Numb’ was about a different state of my being. Earlier I did a show called ‘Myopia’ which was about the myopic vision of the society. So, my projects are all idea-based. Every time, it is the idea that keeps on changing and unless and until I have something really interesting, I don’t showcase, apart from group exhibitions and fairs and all. But if I’m showing solo, I have to have something concrete content-wise. I have not shown in Bombay for 10 years now. I have shown them in different places. In Bombay, I’m waiting for something which motivates me a lot. But in short, I’m in the thought process 24*7. Like me coming here for the interview, the state of Bombay, or why people still don’t behave properly to others, the way they dress up or talk, to a beggar who came up to me walking in a certain manner, the news – all of it adds to my thought process. It all keeps piling on, so when I sit to work, they all come together. You keep on using experience to create art. It’s not like you go to work and create something. It can come from what your reading or some foreign language film that you’ve watched – you never know what triggers you or motivates you to produce art.
[Q] What sets your mood for painting?
I generally like to listen to Indian classical music a lot. Like when I sit down, I need a quieter place, with good music because I don’t operate without good music. But that is a secondary thing. For executing something, you need some kind of nice ambiance or atmosphere. But the spark or idea can come anywhere, say traveling, etc. But yes, two things – one is the execution and one is just forming the idea like the first spark, the first click where you say, ‘Okay this can turn into an idea for a nice art exhibition or a series.’ So yes, there are two different things
[Q] Have you been commissioned to paint for someone of high profile that we don’t know of?
As I said, there are two significant period of my art career. So earlier, yes, I would get commissioned quite a lot and I enjoyed that period where I just went with the flow with a different kind of art altogether. So, while I was doing that, I got invited and I met big celebrities. I was in awe of stars who are very humble, who know about art and not just art but what’s happening around them politically. I’m kind of biased towards people who are more sensitive to the realities of this world. Of course, I respect everyone because whatever they are, it is because of what they have done. They must’ve done something great to be where they are now. But saying that, I like those people who have humility towards people, who can appreciate other people’s creativity. For example, Harsh Goenka, he is one person who saw my work and he called me. I had met Shahrukh Khan once. I was creating something for him and I still remember that he looked after all my assistants and everyone. I mean who does that in today’s age. That’s the kind of humility I’m talking about.
[Q] What piece of your artwork would you like to be remembered for?
I think I’m still young. *laughs* It’s just too early to answer. Ask me that when I’m 90. I hope I live that long though. But honestly, as I said, the kind of work which I’m doing in the last 5-6 years, I’m more biased towards that and I’m liking this part of my journey, right now. Of course, what I did in the past has made me what I am right now. But I’m liking the recent artwork that I have produced in the last 4-5 years. I don’t know if 20 years down the line I will still be proud of it or not, but yes, compared to the last 30 years, these are my favorite as of now.
[Q] As an artist, are there times that make you feel like some sort of vulnerable feelings are worth it to make artwork happen?
I’m extremely sensitive and I’m only good at work which inspires me like that. Vulnerability is a complex thing, it’s not easy to answer because it can work on different levels for different people.
[Q] Is vulnerability necessary for you to create artwork?
No, but as I said, I’m only good at that. I mean, I probably wouldn’t have survived because I can’t see myself doing a bank job or something. Sports and art are somethings I like, and I probably would have done something in sports had I not been an artist.
[Q] Would you say that your work is introspective?
If you think about it, all art is. Right? And if it’s not, then what’s the point if you can’t challenge your own existence. When you asked why am I doing art that’s because I have to look inwards, outwards, and everywhere, otherwise I can’t produce it. But it’s not just about that. That’s one part of it. There are many other aspects to it.
[Q] Do you have a favorite painting, which inspires you?
I have a lot of favorite artists but if I had to pick one work, it’s actually very difficult because there are so many works that I like. According to me, there are two kinds of artists, one type is Anish Kapoor amongst others, who are brilliant at what they do and their work looks amazing. But I also like artists whose works are not simple to understand and you really have to study hard. I also like artists who can make fun at someone else’s expense while maintaining their integrity. It very difficult in art to maintain the integrity and do something shocking. I don’t like artists who do something only for the commercial value, where there is no content or conceptional art involved in that, especially those who handle socio-political issues. I like artists who can do that. I also like artists who are rooted in traditional art, art practices, and yet their art is extremely evolved. There are so many in that category where they are not bothered to use the new-age techniques. They are still very old school and they still believe in doing their work alone. They don’t hire other people to work for them. I don’t have anything against people who hire, I mean it’s their idea. But I generally like people who do idea-based work and on their own.
[Q] Which artist of the past would you most like to meet?
Leonardo Da Vinci, for sure. I have this thing for drawing and his drawings are just amazing! I’d also like to see all Renaissance artists like Raphael etc. while they paint. Even today when we go back and see their artwork, it is amazing. They were ahead of their times. There are a lot of gifted artists even today, who back in the day, would create their own canvases, pigments, etc. without any kind of scientific advancement. Even sculptures when you see, like Michelangelo’s work that has the blades and the transparency showing. The work itself speaks for how hard it is. They spend a lifetime doing that. So, I would have loved to see them in action.