‘Extreme expression comes only if you freak out’

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WHO Born in Kerala, Baiju Parthan is a Mumbai-based painter and new-media artist with a BSc in botany, a BFA in painting and a post-graduate diploma in comparative mythology. He has participated in several solo and group shows across the world, including in New Delhi, Lisbon, Tokyo and Hong Kong. He will open a new-media show at The Guild gallery in Mumbai on 17 January.

Baiju Parthan 55, artist
Baiju Parthan 55, artist, Photo: DNA

Which incident changed your artistic vision?
My exposure to the flower power movement from 1978-83 — the hippies in Goa. I learned that life can be defined in innumerable ways and each interpretation is legit. I read lots of eastern philosophy and I was exposed to rave music — fullmoon parties of jamming all night. This extreme creative expression comes out only if you keep the rules aside and freak out.

What feeling have you never been able to transmit into art but wish you could?
The feeling you get listening to music that really moves you — not lyrics, but the music. It’s a pile of emotions you can’t arrange sequentially, such as when I listen to orchestral music or Indian classical. I wish I could affect people with that same intensity.

Who are you closest to?
My cats. They are such pure elemental expressions of life force in a manageable package.

Is there an aspect of your parents you want to avoid?
I had no issues with my parents’ life; they were very hard-working and rather naive individuals, overtly concerned with the opinions of people around them. My issue was with the social and cultural reality I found myself smothered in. I felt totally alienated for some reason in my teen years in Kerala. Art was my way out. Kottayam was a township and I could feel the social surveillance strongly. That’s why I now enjoy living in the anonymity of Bombay.

How do you fight against notions of mortality and finiteness?
When I’m totally immersed in art-making I do transcend the feeling of finiteness. That’s why I selfishly cling on to the art-making process, refusing to share it with anyone. At this point in my career I’m supposed to have assistants — but I don’t have any for the above reason.

One dark emotion you admit to?
Rage. Extreme helplessness turning into rage, which is probably a survival mechanism — like a cornered cat that pounces on you.

Gaurav Jain is Literary Editor, Tehelka. 
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