17.01.24 to 29.02.24

Jeram Patel: A Reconstruct

Jeram Bhai, as he was fondly called in the art fraternity, had an illustrious career as an artist, teacher and mentor—spanning almost sixty years. He was strong in his convictions, firm in the stands he took, had his own ideas and thoughts about art. A true artist of great power, energy, imagination, he would work only when there was an impulse, intense enough to express himself, in drawings, paintings, and the medium he liked to experiment with—blow-torch on wood.

Jeram Bhai lived all his adult years in Baroda city, now called Vadodara, and taught at the renowned MS University Fine Arts Department. He worked from home; home was the studio and the studio, home for him. He lived a simple life, in terms of sartorial needs, and never indulged in any sort of luxury. His graceful, energetic presence was admired. From a distance, he appeared to be a “tough person,” but upon approaching and getting closer to him, those perceptions would melt away. In the brevity behind his words, lay vast life experiences. He was sensitive, friendly, supportive, and encouraging, which could be felt through his small yet forceful sentences uttered during his conversations with artists, friends, and art lovers.

Jeram Bhai, always clad in white kurta-pyjama, used pillows and bed sheets that were also white. In his later-stage drawings, a thick mass of black ink on a white canvas/paper would emerge seemingly from nowhere. However, his preference for black and white was never lacking in a variety of shades.

In one of my write-ups, I had once referred to him as an archaeologist, an excavator who knew where the 'treasure' could be found. Yes, every time he created images with 'intense presence' in his chosen medium, we could observe the originality, skill, and precision in his ‘digging’.

My close association with Jeram Bhai, for almost fifty years, has been enriching and illuminating. His powerful images also, created in different mediums, never fail to be thought-provoking and illuminating. Artist, art thinker and poet J. Swaminathan, who was also a friend of Jeram Bhai, mentioned in one of his articles in Contra (the journal he edited in the sixties) that if an image is strong enough in itself, it has a 'reality' of its own and has to be seen as such.

Jeram Bhai's works, all of them, are a testimony to this observation. No wonder, given their many shared views on art, J. Swaminathan, Jeram Bhai, Ambadas, and Himmat Shah formed the 'Group 1890,' which in itself became a milestone in the history of contemporary Indian Art. It is worth noting that Octavio Paz, the Nobel laureate Mexican poet and art writer, was friends with this group and indeed appreciated the works of Jeram Patel as well.

We know that Paz was a friend of Andre Breton, and other surrealist poets, writers, artists, filmmakers. The sensibility which ran through them was somewhat akin to the members of 'Group 1890’. But that's where the ‘common’ between them ends, as the works of the Group 1890 members are not surreal in their essence or approach, and somewhat rooted in their indigenous bond.

Jeram Bhai's artworks are a 'product', a manifestation of the mind that conceived and executed everything in an original manner. Whatever works we see in different phases, which came from him, were fresh as ever.

The overall presentation in this show authentically decodes/reconstructs his art. As here, the works from different places have found a place, in quite a number, and have been arranged fundamentally to ‘catch’ him unearthing his creative genius. When the works of an artist of the stature of Jeram Patel are presented, with a lot of thoughtfulness and care, with the regard they deserve, then his sensibilities and capabilities effortlessly resonate with the viewer with a discerning eye. And all his works, one believes, are mounted in this show deservedly.

Here, I would like to quote a few lines from one of my write-ups done earlier:

Jeram Patel’s seminal contribution to contemporary Indian Art is well recognized and is rightly seen as unique, in terms of evocative imagery and charged energy, which manifests existential, as well as spiritual queries and intents, in a free yet assertive manner. Starting from the blowtorch on wood, in the early sixties he gradually moved on to the black and white drawings, done in ink on paper, in a sustained way.

And in the last five decades or so, he has expressed himself unfailingly, creating an oeuvre of visually absorbing and enchanting works on larger format as well. He has changed the very intent and notion about the genre of drawing; so much so that one would like to refer to them as artworks and not just drawing. These works done with Chinese ink, using pen and brush both, do not construct the images by delineating forms—recognizable or unrecognizable—instead he charts the course of these black and white works in a most fascinating manner.

Jeram Bhai did use colour in drawings at times but it is the black and white tone which captures our mind like nothing else.

Gazing at any of his works transmits a ‘sensation’, while the 'realization' of some known and unknown realms takes place. This is where the viewer starts deciphering/re-constructing the inner world of an artwork by him. These enigmatic encounters, the 'charged' realizations, of the questions of the entire cycle of life and death, continue to unfold, making the act of viewing an absorbing experience.

This is also to be noted that the sheer use of material, with its sheen and its feasibility, play a pivotal role in all of Jeram Bhai's artworks. In this context, the paper, canvas, wooden blocks, the act of chiselling of wood, and the pigments themselves entice us, each on their own.

Thus, the charm of viewing his works becomes doubly satisfying and enchanting. We are attracted to the material, as well as the images 'formulated', constructed, imagined on them. This is most evident particularly in the use of a blowtorch on wood and the images crafted on wooden blocks in colour. These works provide a sense of both painting and sculpture, reflecting the extraordinary visions Jeram Bhai had across his creative pursuits

Prayag Shukla                                         

Art Critic & Poet