For artists in the city, the Covid-19 period has been a time of reflection, when demand for art has ebbed at a dismal low, but left many with the steely determination to survive. Experiences of seniors, therefore, definitely act as balm to younger artists who have yet to find their moorings.
Walk into the studio of senior painter Madan Lal, whose works have won recognition nationally and internationally, and one finds hundreds of paintings and sketches lining the shelves and cupboards and an easel never without a work in progress. A 1987 graduate from the Government College of Art, Lal says: “Life is never free of struggle, but survival is the key word. The prices that I am being offered of late by national galleries after the Covid outbreak are 50% less than what I was getting earlier. I do accept this and sometimes when I work for architects I am asked to match the colour of the art piece with the sofa upholstery and I go with it for I have to continue working as a freelancer now.”
Once out of college, Lal started freelancing with advertising agencies and it was only in 1990 that he got a job as the director of the Design Centre. Ups and downs continued as he left soon after to pursue painting full time, moonlighting in between at an institute of fashion and design to make ends meet.
Reminiscing, he adds: “When I was a student the college faculty was supportive and told us about the ways to survive, which is not the case now and students with masters of fine arts degrees find themselves at a loose end.”
Photographer Diwan Manna, who is also chairperson of the Punjab Lalit Kala Akademi and has worked for years as a freelancer, says: “I did all kinds of things to survive, including wedding photography, which meant walking on the roads of the city with wedding processions and clicking pictures or taking up a small assignment as a programme manager. Even now I sustain myself by doing industrial photography. Such is the condition of artists not just in India but all over the world. Only a handful manage to sell big and very often after their lifetime.”
Sidharth, a 1981 graduate from the College of Art, says he often got into trouble at the institute for his outspokenness. Essentially self-made and now recognised for his work in art circles for his unique style and play of colours, Sidharth says: “I did get a degree from the college but I was given just the pass marks of 35%. With marks so low I could not even get a schoolteacher’s job. So I moved to Delhi with a bus fare of just Rs 10 in my pocket and did odd jobs till I became a housekeeper of sorts for a business family and also tutored their children. However, I have no regrets because I did find my recognition as a painter past the age of 42. In fact, I am also grateful to the college for the treatment meted out to me for otherwise I would have been an art teacher in a village school all my life.”
All three artists who have made a name for themselves in their field have this message for the younger artists who find themselves without work or any means of sustenance: The road may be long but they will be able to realise their dreams with hard work and, above all, passion.