A deep love for the simple life, where honesty and trust are given easily inspired award-winning artist Anuradha Thakur to put brush to canvas. Her extensive travels and work among tribes in various parts of the country inspire the vibrant hues of her artworks. The generous use of black and white, her ability to capture subtle emotions and her masterful use of texture make her artworks unforgettable. From the Gond tribals of the Gadchiroli region to Rajasthan and the Adivasis of Maharashtra, her fascination with the bond between tribal people and nature and their organic way of life continue to energize her artistically. Artflute’s Sridevi Padmanabhan caught up with Anuradha Thakur to talk about all things art.
It’s always interesting to know about how an artist’s background has influenced his art? How did where you grew up and the experiences you’ve had shaped the art you make?
I come from a very small village. The school was part of the extended campus of a sugar factory. I remember how the drawing teacher at school inspired me because of how much he loved my paintings. Each morning he would show the students one of my new paintings. He is also the one who asked my dad to enrol me in a fine arts college. Those were the days when even the boys in the village did not leave it to go and study in a faraway city. My dad heeded his advice though and I went to study fine arts in a college in Pune.
What is your attitude towards risk and sacrifice- two themes that recur a lot when it comes to artists? What risks would you say you have taken in your career?
At the fine arts college, western styles of art were taught to us. In India, most fine arts colleges emphasise western styles of art and teach students western techniques. Right from the beginning, I have never enjoyed painting in that style. After I graduated from college, I had almost stopped painting completely. At that time, I began working for NGOs that worked in tribal and rural areas. I travelled a lot in those areas and as part of my work for them, I had to draw a lot and make sketches. This was because hiring an artist for it was expensive and since I wouldn’t charge them high prices I ended up doing it. Slowly, I began feeling that the daily life of people in rural and tribal areas could become the inspiration for my paintings. I had also realised that in cities, people were so guarded with each other and diplomatic. Trust is not given easily and there is a lot of fear. On the other hand in rural and tribal areas people are very open and I always felt very safe. I really enjoyed my interactions there. Eventually, from 2005 onwards, I began working on my first tribal life series of artworks. To convey the sense of direct and straightforward communication that my subjects had, I used black and white. My first series had only black and white colours. Slowly over time, I incorporated colours. Especially after my travels to Rajasthan, my paintings also became immensely colourful.
Looking back at your trajectory as an artist, how would you say your work has developed?
During my stint working with the non-profits, my command over line drawings and sketches was very evident. So in my initial paintings too, you would clearly see visible lines. Now that has changed slightly. The line has been diluted a little. However, I would still say the use of black and white and prominent lines are distinctive features in my artworks. Another aspect of my paintings is that it reflects the colours and forms of the region I am inspired by.
What inspires you? Where do you find ideas for your work?
Tribal life never fails to inspire me. I really enjoy attending rural and tribal festivals and my artworks tend to be about festivals. I even conduct workshops for tribal children and women and for whoever is interested. I travel to those areas a lot, live there for periods of time and observe their lifestyle.
Are there any artists you admire?
I love the paintings in Ajanta and also those by Amrita Shergill. They have influenced me a lot.
What was the first artwork you sold? How did it make you feel?
My first exhibition was organised in Pune and had only black and white paintings. Typically art colleges do not teach you to use black. The artists there were a little confused and didn’t seem to know whether they should approve of the series and appreciate it or not. After the inauguration of the exhibition when I was sitting in the hall, a gentleman came up and sat next to me and we chatted a little about paintings. After he left I realised he was the head of an NGO and he had left his visiting card on one of my paintings which said ‘sold’. I was thrilled!
What has been the most memorable compliment you’ve received for your work?
When the Prime Minister’s office chose my painting for their
walls and let me know how much they liked it I was on top of the world. I have no political connections or affiliations and so when they contacted me and chose my painting I was really happy.
Have you ever had a period of being creatively blocked? How did you/would you work through it?
It was during the initial period I was frustrated and unsatisfied with western art styles. I never did commission paintings and all of that. It was through working for the NGO that the period passed and I was able to find inspiration. Since then I have never ever lacked inspiration. I always have a canvas ready in my house as well as a studio with more than one easel.
What is the most challenging aspect of being an artist?
In my generation being an artist wasn’t considered very impressive. A science degree, engineering and becoming a doctor was considered impressive. However, I have followed my passion and have travelled the world. I have been invited and hosted in cities around the globe, conducted art camps, held exhibitions and received a lot of acknowledgement. So despite the initial lack of regard, it makes me happy to know I have received so many opportunities to share my art with people everywhere.
What can we look forward to from you next?
I am working on a couple of series but what has captured my imagination right now is rural life in Himachal and that will be the subject of my next series of paintings.