Mukesh Salvi brings his memories of childhood alive on acrylic on canvas using lines, bold strokes and a stunning amalgamation of elements that speak vividly of the relationship between rural folk and the world around them. His paintings stir up deep feelings in the viewer and are a platform where elemental feelings of all kind have a place- whether happy or sad. His backgrounds are extraordinary- bold and breathtaking colours that make one stand and stare. His nostalgia for days gone by and the beauty in everyday moments – playing games, quarrels with siblings, meanderings on his bicycle speak eloquently on canvas.
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?
From the time I was a child, I have been deeply interested in art. Beginning with when I was in first grade, it is what has captivated me. Unlike children who enjoyed playing while outdoors, I used to spend hours sitting at the market and sketching. I wouldn’t feel bored at all. Sometimes, I would spend as many as 6-7 hours painting. My favourite activity was to paint and thankfully I had parents who supported me. They never insisted that I only focus on my academics and ignore my passion for art. From that time to my time studying sculpture and graphic art and my fine art studies at Jaipur, my artistic style is an amalgamation. My dad asked around for resources and supported me a lot throughout my life in my art. My paintings are nostalgic, depicting the people I grew up amongst.
Do you have any studio rituals?
I don’t really have any set rituals when I work. My art depends on my mood. If I feel like it, I paint a lot for hours on end and if I don’t feel like it, I don’t do anything. I do not keep very late hours though unlike most artists.
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?
I have been fortunate not to really go through the phase where I have had to struggle a lot though I know a lot of people who have gone through it. I have not had to take up commercial work just to sustain my lifestyle. I have been lucky to have the freedom to indulge my creativity. Even when I needed money, I got the kind of work which I enjoyed doing. There was only a very short time, maybe a few days when I had to worry about having enough money to buy a cup of tea, but I quickly got work so it was never a sustained worry.
Looking back at your trajectory as an artist, how would you say your work has developed?
In my childhood, art was about caricatures and making cartoons. Then came my fascination with colour and my fascination with realism and still life – when I was in school. My fine art studies gave me a deep understanding of techniques of art, art history and in-depth studies about painting and art. By then I got to know about the possibilities of studying further about art. My early works were using tempera and watercolour. Beginning with a series on God, I went on to create artworks in the style of Rajasthani miniature paintings and next came my landscapes series. My experiments with the colour red became the topic of my first solo show.
What inspires you? Where do you find ideas for your work?
My sources of inspiration have been many– from the lives of the people from my village to nature. I believe that nature has two protagonists- nar and nari. I have also been fascinated with colour since I was a child. The timeless sculptures in the Ajanta caves also fascinate me and I like using them in the background as blurred images.
Are there any artists you admire?
I really love Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin. I especially like Van Gogh’s distinctive use of colour and brushstrokes, which I feel were path-breaking for the times he lived in. Despite starting relatively late in life, Van Gogh left a legacy that will forever be remembered.
What was the first artwork you sold? How did it make you feel?
When I sold my first painting, I felt infused with a new energy. I felt as if I had been given fuel for my work. I was staying away from my family at that time and really felt like I have earned money with my own hard work for the first time. It brought about a period of immense creativity and productivity for me. How this came about was interesting. At one point, the colour red consumed me. I used the colour on canvas with a dry brush and modified the sketches that I began while I was in college. Employing bold lines and distorted faces, I used big canvases for an added effect. These paintings became part of a solo show I had in Jaipur in 2006 and received a lot of appreciation and positive feedback. Despite it not being common for artworks to be sold in Jaipur, many of mine from my red series were sold and I felt that my creative expression was very well-received.
Have you ever had a period of being creatively blocked? How did you/would you work through it?
There came a time in my life when I felt I just couldn’t paint anymore. I was going through a phase where painting bored me. I felt stuck. It was then that I went to Bharat Bhavan in Bhopal and I spoke to my mentor, Yusuf. He suggested that I keep painting. Keep painting till your hands ache, he told me. Those were the days when painting even a very small canvas would feel like I was working on a big-sized one. Yusuf told me that the day I get completely angry and frustrated with the whole act of painting through my difficult emotions is the day I would find something new– a new inspiration and perhaps a new style. And that’s what happened.