NOTHING CAN compel Rameshwar Broota to paint, for he believes that only when he has something to say, will he put his brush to canvas. In a creative career spanning five decades, Broota has painted no more than seven paintings a year and when he is immersed in photography, Broota doesn’t paint for long periods. “There can be no compromises on aesthetics, honesty and freedom of thought,” reflects Broota, here on the invitation of the Chandigarh Lalit Kala Akademi for a lecture-and-slide show of his paintings and photographs.
The presentation on Saturday evening brought the audience closer to Delhi-based Broota’s body of work, a journey that resounds with deep thought, philosophy and experimentation with form, technique, colours and textures. Art came to Broota early on in life, as he looked at his two older brothers draw and create art which had a deep impact on him. “They were brilliant and should have been artists. Instead, I took up art,” smiles the painter, recalling how he would draw all the time, instead of doing his school work, a passion that continued in college.
The Delhi School of Art was the next step, though deep inside, Broota wanted to be part of the Indian Army, a wish that could not be fulfilled and one that pained Broota for a long time. “Even while working in the art college, I would think of life in the Army or police, but as I began working on my art, it took over my being,” recalls Broota, adding how the world outside was both tough and replete with struggles, without the guidance and support of teachers and lack of money. Not only was it difficult to find work in the field of art, to sell art was not easy. And, that’s the time when Broota was invited to teach at Triveni Kala Sangam, a space that gave him just the ambience and energy to work and also have the human contact that gave him new perspectives.
Broota’s art has undergone many transformations, each series a chance to look both outwards and inwards. The streets of Delhi, with its labourers, bony and stark figures, poverty, gloom, became the subject of Broota’s art for years, a reflection of the struggles of life. Satire, too, emerged in his paintings, be it a comment on politicians during the Emergency, with inhabitants of the jungle sipping coffee in a drawing room, as the files sit closed.
“And, then one day, I knew that I had nothing more to paint about these figures, a tough phase, for here you are desperate to paint, but know inside that this subject is over. It was a time to think, reflect and then the image of apes came to me. The figures, malnourished apes depicted the animal instinct of man, the corruption of bureaucrats, a comment on our society,” harps Broota. This series led to a long wait and contemplation, metamorphosing into the man series, one that remains an integral part of the journey.
“As I look back, I see that my work changed every 10 years and this series also led to the emergence of a new technique. As I searched for a new subject, I painted the canvas, rubbed it clean, again and again, looked at it after a few hours, wondering what to do with a canvas full of colour and then I began to rub the wet paint and images began to appear and it was the beginning of this series. As the paint began to dry, I began using the knife to scrape the paint and carving images and later meticulously using blades to scrape layers of paints. I wanted my art not to be limited and talk of universal issues and that’s how the man series is, talks of humanity, the struggles of us, the body, the muscle, the veins, no clothing.speaks of struggles down the ages, it remains a constant,” says Broota, talking about how architectural forms, signs, symbols began finding way on to the canvas, replacing the man.
Art, says the painter, has to be aesthetic, prompt people to think, reflect, transform and for him, constant experimentation and looking at life around with new perspectives is paramount. Photography, too, began with an urge to connect and communicate and is a medium that like painting has great depth, with Broota working in the dark room for hours, to work on photographs with many dimensions, with the artist negotiating many new images, paths, spaces, shadows, light.