United Fair provided a very good opportunity for me to meet and speak to artist from various genres. Moreover, it was a delight to meet artist Raj More, who is a visual story-teller of my own city Mumbai.
Hailing from a small town, Raj is settled here and now became a voice of Mumbai.
I spoke to him about his works. His confidence, faith and meticulous observation of the city is astonishing astounding. For him it is not only a commercial city with heritage buildings, vast Arabian sea and a city of historical importance; but it is a city which nurtures glamour and glitz along with poverty and dirt; super cool attitude with fast pace of daily life which can be clearly observed on its always energetic streets. He has a unique style of painting the city. It is not just a ‘cityscape’; capturing the greatness of the city through presence of man- made structures; but it is a personified city with its distinctive traits, represented with people and their environment in this city. Following views of Raj More makes his approach clear and also presents Mumbai’s new dimension to us:
JK: : Hi Raj, There are many painter working on theme of Mumbai city; what appeals you to work on it?
R.M: I came to Mumbai around 15 years back. I saw many artists painting this city but it seemed all the same, as they painted main places of attraction like Gateway of India, monuments and city roads with varied people trodding on it. It was a physical presentation of Mumbai. I did not want to involve in such art. It is a well known fact that Mumbai has a lot of socio-political drama and it is the commercial city. It was necessary to tell the story of the development of this city; the character that it has imbibed, the people- their struggle and status that adorns the city with riches and rags at the same time; displaying the duality. Maharashtra became independent after 1960 movement. At that time it was basically Kamgaranchi Mumbai (Worker’s Mumbai- the worker were basically employees of Mills which are now locked up forever) who lost their jobs after mills were closed down. The new means of survival, independent identity and self dependence had to be explored, which gradually made it so powerful as to be commercial city. From then onwards folks from all walks of life and other states come here to settle their lives as well. So I reflect their aspirations, dreams and how they survive and it is the core of Mumbai which I paint. I reflect upon the environment in which I live. There are different levels of societies surrounding me, I develop its character through people and always have a message in every painting. Till now I have had three exhibitions on this concept; first ‘Salam Bombay’ was about people’s struggles and establishments. Second exhibition was based on logistics named ‘Lifeline 786’. The public transport is an inseparable part of commoners and the rush of transport network. Third exhibition was ‘Metrospection’ which dealt with Bollywood, rehabilitation, Mumbai as a dream city, Dharavi, elite areas and so on. The intricate and subtle veins of classes and masses and its intertwine, that put life in Mumbai is appealing me.
JK: Did you ever have apprehension of comparison?
R.M: No, my paintings have never been compared, because they are completely different from others. They are figurative and every painting has a message. They have a language and having expression or language in painting is very important for mute communication between observer and the painting. As I have stated earlier, my paintings are not ‘cityscapes’ but Mumbai’s society- impoverished and elites as well as; you can say they are like two sides of the same coin.
JK: Agreed, but what about competition? You cannot deny it.
R.M.: I have competition; but with self. I cannot paint if I think of competing with other artists. My contemporaries like Jitesh Kallat, Sudhir Patwardhan and others work on the same theme but I never think of competition with them, I have a warm friendly attitude towards them. I appreciate creation and condemn competition. Competition in Art is based on Art Market. If you deliberate on this point, you will find that after recession of 2008, many promising and upcoming artists stopped working, because they feared getting less or no price for their creation. Famed artists had few rays of hope. But I personally feel that painting is not related to market ups and downs. I feel artist should continue painting. And stop judging the work in comparison with others or the market status; Art should have its own space. So, no completion for me, I just keep on creating.
JK: Have you modified your work over the years?
R.M.: There has been considerable difference between the initial stages and now. I did my first show in 1999. It was based on rural setting, important places in native place. Even though I did it, I was not completely satisfied with it because it was just a landscape. I was praised for my landscape works but I was resolute not to work on landscape for longer period. So I stopped and then environment in which I stayed in Mumbai, grabbed my attention and I felt like telling its story and since then started personifying it. After that exhibition till date I am working on Mumbai theme. I capture the present times and environment around me; it’s the present time and it is important to present breathing or live city.
JK: Which points do you consider important to develop your concept?
R.M.: For me, painting is like a film. I give a 3-dimensional effect to every image. Composition is also very important and powerful in framing the work; it forms the base of good painting. I learnt this in photography study. It makes my painting accurate. There is a movement – if you see the bull, the crow, local train, rickshaw or truck in my paintings they appear to be moving.
JK: What boosts your confidence?
R.M: That, I should like my own painting as a viewer. Involvement in it and development of the concept and completing it as I contemplated is very important for me. If it is done, I feel self confident and I work with more zest and zeal. Also people’s appreciation boosts my confidence.
J.K.: How is your work process?
R.M.: Intensity to put my ideas makes me go. It is a continuous process. I used acrylic colors which dry instantly, so I have to be quick, perfect in applying strokes and dapples. Acrylic perfectly matches my psyche. When I work, it is a one man army and it is essential for me to complete the painting in one sitting.
J.K.: Have you ever had Vada pav (Indian burger); utterly Mumbai’s snack for public and snack cum food for poor?
R.M: Vada pav and Misal! No soul in Mumbai or just a visitor would miss these tasty, cheap and fulfilling snacks. Vada pav is one of the identities of Mumbai city; the city where no one remains hungry. And the specialty is that it tastes good only when eaten at roadside stalls. Now-a-days posh malls are coming up and they have food joints where Vada is sold in attractive packing at higher rate but it does not match the taste of roadside preparation. This snack adds to the beauty of Mumbai.
JK: Which personalities have inspired you?
R M: Frankly, I have no inspiration from painter community. I do not follow any of them. I have learnt from my own experiences and work. I never felt the need getting inspiration from others. Yes I am impressed by Van Gogh, Picasso, but they are not inspirations for me. IN India Hussain was a role model for me and let me clear it that I admire Hussain for his initiative to popularize Art among the people and also to make Indian Art known on the international platform. He had his energy and truthfulness in his actions.
I am inspired by film makers. I like seriousness and concentration that goes into film making. My favourites include Kurosawa, Guru Dutt, Mani Ratnam and even the upcoming Directors who genuinely make film. I try to give the effect of movement. My paintings are films. I like cinema with message be it any genre, but I don’t like humorous films without any useful content.
JK: Any new film you watched recently?
RM: Recently I watched ‘Stanley ka Dabba’ which is a small budget film, the camera was not high-end camera, and still the effect is good. You would find lot of Bollywood impact on my paintings.
How many days do you work on one painting?
It takes almost one month for one painting. I start right from visiting the location, observation, research, sometimes capturing the scenes in camera, then I decide upon the composition and lastly take up the tools (I usually work using knife) and start painting with acrylic continuously till it is completed.
JK: What are your future plans?
I intend to do installations and films.
JK: That Great! Wish you all the best for all your future plans and this show.
R.M: Thank you.