The Story of Indian Art #13: Satish Gujral

A look at the life and work of Satish Gujral, a legendary painter, sculptor, muralist, graphic designer, writer and architect.

“I have never painted or created for anybody, only for myself.” – Satish Gujral

Satish Gujral - painter, sculptor, muralist, graphic designer, writer and architect

Satish Gujral – painter, sculptor, muralist, graphic designer, writer and architect

Satish Gujral at a glance:

Born: Jhelum in pre-partition Punjab (now in Pakistan)
Year of birth: 1925
Date of birth: December 25
Most famous works of art: Mourning en masse, Days of glory, Raising of Lazarus, and more
Spouse: Kiran Gujral
Education: Sir J. J. College of Architecture
Most notable national award: Padma Vibhushan

“He who is stationary cannot be creative.” His words pretty much sum up the man who defies ‘categorization’, the legendary Satish Gujral—painter, sculptor, muralist, architect, graphic and interior designer.

Did you know? The former Prime Minister of India, I. K. Gujral, is Satish Gujral’s elder brother.

At the age of eight, a sickness terminally impaired his hearing. During his early years of sickness, “entombed in silence”, as he said, he read Urdu literature and went on doodling with a pencil on paper. In 1939 he joined the Mayo School of Art in Lahore to study Applied Arts. The School’s curriculum included various techniques for stone and woodcarving, metal smithery, clay modeling, drawing and design, to which was added scale- drawing and copying of the ground plans and elevations of old buildings.

Mourning en masse by Satish Gujral

In 1944, Satish Gujral joined Sir J.J. School of Art in Bombay in 1944 to study Painting. During the three years he spent there, Gujral interacted with the Progressive Artists Group (PAG) in Bombay, which included S.H. Raza, EN. Souza, P.N. Mago, Jehangir Sabavala, M.F. Husain, and others.

The rebel in Gujral could not accept the PAG’s total adaptation of techniques and vocabulary of European Expressionism and Cubism. He searched for a kind of modernism rooted in Indian traditions.

In 1952 Gujral he left for Mexico on a scholarship for an apprenticeship with Diego Rivera (1 8W 1 957) and David Sequeiros (1898-1974). The social content dominated his paintings and graphics, and the anguish of the nations who lost their homes and families during the partition of the country came out in angry, sweeping gestural brushwork in his paintings.

Raising of Lazarus by Satish Gujral

Raising of Lazarus by Satish Gujral

His search was on for what was living and life- giving in the traditional arts and crafts of India, and he diversified his sculptural materials with machined industrial objects in steel, copper, glass, often painted in strong enamel colors. Later he tried out junk sculptures, introducing light and sound in them.

From 1952 to the late 70s, Gujral had scores of solo shows of his sculptures, paintings and graphics in Mexico City, New York, New Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta, Montreal, Rome, Berlin, Tokyo, Buenos Aires, and Stockholm.

Since the late ’80s up to the recent years, Satish Gujral’s paintings and sculptures further diversified both in terms of materials and content. Satish Gujral’s sculptures in burnt wood have come with a kind of visceral exposure of forms, human and otherwise.

Gujral on inspiration:

All my life, I have admired many artists, but not beyond five years. After that I feel that I have nothing more to learn from that artist and I move on. It is important for your creativity. All these big artists have the same style that they have showcased over the years again and again. They don’t allow the public to use their brains. I did exactly the opposite and I paid for it as well. Every time I tried something new, I’d lose a huge number of admirers, but I have never painted or created for anybody, I did it for myself.

Gujral’s work can be found here.

To read other editions of the series, click here.

Avinash Subramaniam

Avinash has been an advertising writer, fiction writer, poetry writer, freelance writer and serial wronger. Other roles he has been in include those of an editor, brand builder, and teacher. His interests include advertising, scrabble, body building, chess, cinema, making money, reading, internet culture, cricket, photography. To hear him air his thoughts, follow him on Twitter @armchairexpert.


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