He was a visionary in the art forms he adopted and the subjects he pursued. In the 1960s, when Indian art and artists were finding a language of their own, Jeram Patel was burning wood with a blowtorch and engraving on it; pursuing what was called blowtorches on woodwork, a medium that came to be associated with him, apart from his evocative abstracts. On January 18, the artist breathed his last at his Vadodara home. The 86-year-old had been suffering from neurological problems for a while.
“An existential painter, he was Bohemian, but also a powerful artist. He was a little egoistic perhaps, and that strong personality reflected in his work,” says artist Manu Parekh.
An alumnus of JJ School of Art, Mumbai, Patel was one of the first Indian artists to experiment with blowtorches on wood. While he had to abandon the technique due to ill heath, in the subsequent years he dabbled with colours, turning once again to black and white, and even wood works. “Black has a mystery of its own, an enchanting quality,” he had stated.
A faculty member at MS University, Baroda, he was also part of the J Swaminathan-founded rather short-lived Group 1890, aimed at spearheading a new movement in Indian art, looking for an indigenous language to take on the western idiom. “He is one of the most underrated artists. An introvert, he never really marketed his works,” says Ashish Anand, director of Delhi Art Gallery, who has several works of the artist in his collection. He adds, “His hospital series in the 1960s is perhaps some of the best works produced by an Indian artist ever.”
Curator Ina Puri, who curated his 2011 exhibition at Harrington Street Art Centre, Kolkata, says, “He was an extremely private person, simple and quiet. He was always excited to show his work to a different audience; he was a complete gentleman.” Puri recalls her last meeting with him in Vadorara, two years. “He will be thoroughly missed,” she says.
“He was a very fine artist and person. Extremely affectionate and helpful, it was enjoyable being around him,” says Delhi-based artist Arpita Singh, who worked with Patel at the Weavers Service Centre in the ’60s. Singh shares his love for films. “He always had a film ticket in his pocket. If there was nothing much to do, he would opt for watching a film.”