From his early wide-angled landscapes to today’s exuberant, ceremonial bulls, the evolving tells an interesting story.
A story of discovery, and change. Of metamorphosis.
It is another matter that the facts of his life themselves make for a gripping transformative tale. “My parents are modest farmers,” says Dinkar, who has been holding solo exhibitions since 1995. Dinkar comes from a family of agriculturalists in a small village in Jadhavwadi near Pune. He is the first in his family to make it beyond the fourth standard. “In the village school, we didn’t have textbooks or notebooks, so we would write using a slate and chalk,” he says.
Dinkar’s vocation had begun to emerge even then. “At five, six years of age, I remember I would use the slate to keep drawing pictures rather than writing,” he says. Playing in the fields, he would make little animal figures from the wet mud.
Studying art in college was a difficult choice. “I felt the pressure of maybe doing something more mainstream, which would help my family financially. But then painting was what I did best, and I knew I would have to find a way through that itself.” After high school, Dinkar attended the Kala Vishwa Mahavidyalaya at Sangli and later moved to the Abhinava Kala Vidyalaya, Pune. The library at college became his portal into the larger world of art. It was in its cool, dark interiors that he encountered the works of two great artists that would guide him to discovering his own vision. The first artist was the great early-19th century landscape artist known as the “painter of light”: JMW Turner.
Now, anyone looking at an animal portrait by Dinkar today, warm and informed by a distinctly Indian aesthetic, would find them difficult to relate with Turner’s cool surveys of the English countryside. But that is precisely the way an artist’s vision brews itself – in an incalculable chemistry and from unlikely ingredients.
“I was simply transfixed by Turner’s works, spending hours looking at the prints of his paintings in the library. It was as if they brought out a hidden passion in me. I yearned to follow in his footsteps,” says Dinkar. Charged with purpose, he immediately started working on landscapes of his own.
Dinkar’s other inspiration was Dutch master Vincent Van Gogh. “The way he used colour and light to capture nature, the beauty of his brush strokes and more than anything else, his commitment to art, those has stayed with me,” says Dinkar. “I still get inspired by Turner and Van Gogh.” Through works initially modelled on these two masters Dinkar was well on his way to finding his own unique expression, when practical life introduced a road block, as it often does.
“My art degree nearing completion, my biggest worry was how I would sustain myself financially,” says Dinkar. To make a living, he decided to take on commissioned works. The work brought him a decent living, but left him with no time to paint on his own.
“One day I woke up,” Dinakr recalls, “And I felt almost crushed by the frustration of my life. I decided then and there I will live very frugally, but giving up on art was not an option.”
He resumed being a full-time artist; and the change in circumstance also brought a new maturity to his art. “I started working on different themes, drawing inspiration from my surroundings and experiences,” says Dinkar. In other words, he had started to head home.
Finding his spirit animals
Like the animals he has begun increasingly to depict, Dinkar’s work is a study in dynamism. His oeuvre is marked by his experiments with style, composition and materials. His Monuments series, a collection spanning close to 100 works, sees the use of thick impasto – soon to become his technique of choice — knife work and bold strokes to depict the interiors of a past in its present.
On the other hand, in his Mumbai-centric Victoria series, for which he won four National-level awards, we see a departure from Dinkar’s previous work – the artist now tries to capture the city with charcoal and transparent acrylic colours using a fan brush to blur borders. The frames feature mostly horses pulling a tonga; the animal symbolic of the individual mired in a busy, impersonal city.
As we trace the development of Dinkar’s art and see the artist move beyond the mimetic phase, the animal motif starts taking centre stage. The depictions of the animals become vessels for the artist’s self-image. So as the artist moves from commissioned works to his own paintings, the tonga-pulling horses of Victoria, set – and one can even say, bound — firmly in their context, give way to the raw beasts of his well-known “Ashwa Chitramala” or Horse Series. No longer forced to labour, the horse is removed from the city, and any discernible landscape. Striding space, he is a pure blur of energy made concrete.
The horse is kinetic, robust, colourful, a symbol of the unbidden, unconscious primal id. “I started painting these horses because I was now more confident about my art and who I was,” says Dinkar. “The horse is free because he is shedding artificiality and external pressure.” To celebrate his identification with unbound nature, the horse is frequently seen foregrounded against the sun or the moon.
With its canvasses rendered in primary colours of red, blue and yellow and bristling with energy and fine musculature, the best-selling Horse Series has found Dinkar much commercial success. And through animals the artist has found a vocabulary to articulate his themes: the play of light and colour, the fine dimension between realism and abstraction, a celebration of nature.
Dinkar spends three-four years over each of his series, rendering anywhere between 50 to 100 paintings in his Pune-based studio. The bull is his current muse and as always the choice of animal is far from arbitrary.
While the horse traditionally has more machismo, being a symbol of speed and virility, the bull in its association with farms and fields is a gentler, earthier creature.
“I do not use bulls to depict anger or confrontation, as in the sense of matadors and bullfights,” says Dinkar. “My bulls are drawn from their synergy with the soil. These are animals that have a special significance for crop-growers.” He recalls the harvest festival of Bendur from his childhood where bulls and other cattle, so essential to readying fields for seed-sowing, are bathed, garlanded and adorned “as bridegrooms.” Dinkar’s bulls on acrylic today are children of those calm giants as well as a logical fruition of the clay animals the farmer’s son made all those decades ago.
If the horses are atavistic and pure energy, the bulls are drawn with more controlled, graceful lines. Despite their obvious power, their hides are patterned and feminised with graceful, curving motifs– making them androgynous in their comfortable energy. Their harmonious advent marks the artist delving deeper into his past and self and his corpus coming into full flower. Dinkar’s art understands change, and most importantly the value of acceptance in translating that change into another, more luminous language.